Mei Hua Ah Bee Bak Kut Teh 华美亞B肉骨茶

BKT, short for Bah Kut Teh, was introduced to Malaya (Malaysia and Singapore) in the 19th century by Chinese coolies and workers of Hokkien origin. The name literally translates to “meat bone tea”.

Bak Kut Teh (meat Bone Tea) 肉骨茶

Bak Kut Teh (meat Bone Tea) 肉骨茶

Traditionally eaten with rice, the soup consists of meaty pork ribs simmered in a complex broth of herbs and spices like star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dang gui, fennel seeds, peppercorns and bulbs of garlic, skin on, for hours. My home version BKT only takes 45 minutes. If you’re interested, give my recipe a try 😀

Traditionally eaten with rice. Other forms of starch like noodles may be offered.

Traditionally eaten with rice. Other forms of starch like noodles may be offered.

The difference in BKT between the two countries are Singapore, clear peppery broth while Malaysia uses stronger herbs and richer broth. That said, I also noted that there are differences among the different states in Malaysia. Taking JB and KL as examples, the latter seemed to favour stronger herbal taste and darker soup. I enjoy all 3 versions.

Pre-lunch hour crowd. By the time Tony and I were ready for our 4th meal it was lunch hour and the crowd were streaming in. We had to wait a little while to get a table.

Pre-lunch hour crowd.
By the time Tony and I were ready for our 4th meal it was lunch hour and the crowd were streaming in. We had to wait a little while to get a table.

This guy came up to us after his lunch with colleagues. He asked, "Are you Tony Johor Kaki?" Wink wink, I am out with a famous food blogger! The man further offered that he uses Tony's blog as guide for his daily lunch. Isn't it fantastic?

This guy came up to us after his lunch with colleagues.
He asked, “Are you Tony Johor Kaki?”
Wink wink, I am out with a famous food blogger!
The man further offered that he uses Tony’s blog as guide for his daily lunch.
Isn’t it fantastic?

Mei Hua Ah Bee Bak Kut Teh 华美亞B肉骨茶 has more than 27 years of history not counting those started by their grandfather at a different location. The current owners are third generation and they had taken over the operation from their uncle who had no willing successor.

Mr. YK Chan, a reader on my facebook offered me more information on Ah Bee, the uncle of Johnny. His information and those from the video saves me time on research. Thank you :D

Mr. YK Chan, a reader on my facebook offered me more information on Ah Bee, the uncle of Johnny. His information and those from the video saves me time on research. Thank you 😀

I saw Johnny 朱 *Zhu (Ah Bee’s nephew), cooking in the “yard” (rear area of the shop) before coming into the shop front to help his wife, Joyce, during the busy lunch hour. When the crowd has subsided, he went back to the back and started preparing fresh pork for the next day. He mentioned that in keeping with Ah Bee and his grandfather’s tradition, they use charcoal for tea brewing purpose and cook/stew everything from rice to meat. This process of cooking takes longer time but the taste is “rounder” more flavoursome. It’s a lot of hard work. Let’s take a tour…

IMG_5561AhBeeBKTJohor©BondingTool

This pile of charcoal placed next to the kettle (outside the main dining area). It is to fuel the boiling water for tea making.

The kettle is kept boiling so patrons can refill the teapot with more hot water.

The kettle is kept boiling so patrons can refill the teapot with more hot water.

I suspect this enamel bowl is more than 30 years old. Perhaps as long as the trade had survived. There are many old stuff there, waste not want not.

I suspect this enamel bowl is more than 30 years old. Perhaps as long as the trade had survived. There are many old stuff there, waste not want not.

The shop only serves Chinese tea. You may bring your own finer cut tea leaves. Hot water provided free.  Don't even dream of coke! There are no other beverages available.  Each customer is offered two tea cups, so you'll always have a cooled standby. Ingenious? They should be Michelin starred restoran (two pairs of chopsticks in Chinese restaurants) ;-)

The shop only serves Chinese tea. You may bring your own finer cut tea leaves. Hot water provided free.
Don’t even dream of coke! There are no other beverages available.
Each customer is offered two tea cups, so you’ll always have a cooled standby. Ingenious?
They should be Michelin starred restoran (two pairs of chopsticks in Chinese restaurants) 😉

Charcoal is the main cooking fuel in this restaurant. I found this pile of charcoal in the main dining hall for cooking rice and keeping the already cooked soup warm.

Charcoal is the main cooking fuel in this restaurant.
I found this pile of charcoal in the main dining hall for cooking rice and keeping the already cooked soup warm.

Rice - cooked and kept warm by regulating the heat of charcoal.

Rice – cooked and kept warm by regulating the heat of charcoal.

In between the busy lunch hours, Johnny will go to the back area to make sure there's ample supply for his hungry customers.

In between the busy lunch hours, Johnny will go to the back area to make sure there’s ample supply for his hungry customers.
All the cooking are done over charcoal stoves and fanning by hand to regulate heat.

Johnny's wife, Joyce (lady in grey) mans the front of shop. Nothing escapes her eagle eyes and thus service is prompt.

Johnny’s wife, Joyce (lady in grey) mans the front of shop.
Nothing escapes her eagle eyes and thus service is prompt.

Talk about prompt service, our food is here!

Talk about prompt service, our food is here!

This was our 4th consecutive meal and we had one more destination to go before hitting back to Singapore, so Tony and I decided to forgo the youtiao and taupok. We'll just order main stream BKT items and shared a bowl of rice.

This was our 4th consecutive meal and we had one more destination to go before hitting back to Singapore, so Tony and I decided to forgo the youtiao and taupok.
We’d just ordered main stream BKT items and shared a bowl of rice.

The star of the BKT shop is of course the pork ribs. Meat was not falling off the bone but the texture was good. The meat was cooked through, not dry or stringy. The broth was piping hot, light aromatic herbal scent and delightful in taste.

The star of the BKT shop is of course the pork ribs. Meat was not falling off the bone but the texture was good.
The meat was cooked through, not dry or stringy. The broth was piping hot, light aromatic herbal scent and delightful in taste.

According to the video published on 4th April 2012, the shop did not sell salted vegetables and many other secondary accompanying dishes that other BKT stalls sold. Boy, I am lucky today!

According to the video published on 4th April 2012, the shop did not sell salted vegetables and many other secondary accompanying dishes that other BKT stalls sold. Boy, I am lucky today!

Next came our final dish of two items.

Next came our final dish of two items.

What's that wobbly stuff creating a motion blur in my photo?

What’s that wobbly stuff creating a motion blur in my photo?

Are you drooling yet? One comment from my facebooker was "Pork skin. Who can resist?" To those who have not tried braised pig's skin, the texture is somewhat soft, al dente chewy and has a gelatinous mouthfeel. It is not greasy as the fats under the skin has been scraped off.

Are you drooling yet?
One comment from my facebooker was “Pork skin. Who can resist?”
To those who have not tried braised pig’s skin, the texture is somewhat soft, al dente chewy and has a gelatinous mouthfeel. It is not greasy as the fats under the skin has been scraped off.

Braised Pork Belly. One for you... :D

Braised Pork Belly.
One for you… 😀

And one... two... no, three for me :p

And onetwo… no, three for me :p

Braised ork Belly and Pig's Skin. I would have wanted some Taupok (bean puffs) too but abundance is the enemy of appreciation. Next time...

Braised ork Belly and Pig’s Skin. I would have wanted some Taupok (bean puffs) too but abundance is the enemy of appreciation. Next time…

I was still eating when Tony excitedly came to me.<br />"He's in action!"<br />"Huh?"<br />I picked up my gear and scrambled behind Tony.

I was still eating when Tony excitedly came to me.
“He’s in action!”
“Huh?”
I picked up my gear and scrambled behind Tony.

Lunch crowd was trickling down by this time and Johnny went about his routine.

Lunch crowd was trickling down by this time and Johnny went about his routine.

Bags of fresh pork spare ribs were in front of the tree stump he used as chopping board.

Bags of fresh pork spare ribs were in front of the tree stump he used as chopping board.

It was a gruesome sight at first. The houseflies kept coming. It didn't bother Tony, it will not bother me. I'm sure the ribs are washed cleaned before cooking. After all, they would be stewed for hours, right? Right. Period.

It was a gruesome sight at first. The houseflies kept coming.
It didn’t bother Tony, it will not bother me.
I’m sure the ribs are washed cleaned before cooking. After all, they would be stewed for hours, right?
Right. Period.

In my humble opinion: Mei Hua Ah Bee Bak Kut Teh’s meat is more tender and the broth lighter than Kiang Kee’s. Mei Hua’s broth leans more toward the KL version than Shoon Fa which has the most tender meat and lightest broth among the 3 BKT vendors. Kiang Kee uses claypots and charcoal for heating before serving. I’m not sure if Kiang Kee uses charcoal for their “behind-the-scene” cooking.

Mei Hua Ah Bee’s Bak Kut Teh: Although the meat did not fall off the bone, they did no harm to my inflamed gums (I guess I really have to go for my dental review. I have been postponing it. The hidden pain is resurfacing!). The meat was dense but juicy. They weren’t stringy nor do they demand extra effort from me when chewing.

Mei Hua Ah Bee’s Braised Pork Belly and Pig’s Skin: Both the belly and skin were not under-cooked or over-cooked, they were just-cooked. In fact, the gelatinous texture of the fats layered between the skin and meat of the pork belly, infused with the right amount of herbs and cooking time, made each mastication an orgasmic experience. Eating the bouncy pig’s skin convinced me I can delay my trip to the plastic surgeon. I will be back for this dish and yes, taupok will be included.

Mei Hua Ah Bee’s Salted Vegetables: Simple and delicate crunch to a poor man’s diet. The vegetable is clear, not stewed in the BKT broth as some establishment does BUT… can you see it??? There’s some pork lard. Zzzzzip a dee doo dah! Adding some pork lard cubes to stew the vegetables gave it the oomph! However, there’s a sour aftertaste which I am not quite used to but can easily acquire. This dish can be opted in or out. No great shakes. And Mouse would have said, “Socks did not come off.”

In the following video where Johnny was interviewed, you can see the hardwork and hear the history of their BKT business. Straight from the horse’s, scratch that, pig’s, scratch that too… straight from Johhny’s mouth. Watch the video of Mei Hua Ah Bee BKT below (I was redirected to this video from Tony’s site)

To read on Kiang Kee BKT (Kota Tinggi) please check my blog post at http://bit.ly/15amzWp

To read on Shoon Fa BKT (JB) please check my blog post at http://bit.ly/18FqoBJ

To cook a simple home version, try my recipe here.

*The surname Zhu is about 2,300 years old and this Zhu is the pinyin romanisation of four Chinese surnames: 朱, 祝, 竺, and 諸. Depending on dialect, the word could also be spelled as Chee, Choo, Chu, Chue, Gee, Ju, or Zyu. Zhu is a Chinese surname and it means “scarlet”, “vermillion”. Since I do not have the English spelling of Johnny but I knew his surname as 朱, I have put in the romanised word Zhu.

Mei Hua Bak Kut Teh 华美亞B肉骨茶
146, Jalan Lumba Kuda,
Bukit Chagar 80300.
Johor Bahru, Johor.
Malaysia.
(Restoran Ah Bee).

Rating: 7.5/10

Happy pigging out 😀

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Comments
6 Responses to “Mei Hua Ah Bee Bak Kut Teh 华美亞B肉骨茶”
  1. audreyyoung7 says:

    Yum! Another taste from my childhood…

  2. Janet Rörschåch says:

    Sam! It just dawned on me that you have quite the wonderful life. What’s your secret? I am slowly putting together the AE Asia blogger post. Of course I want to highlight your blog, but which post, Sam? Which post? They are all so awesome! Do you have a favorite one of yours? I am aiming for the end of the month to do the next installment of my global food crawl. Have a beautiful day!

    • Sam Han says:

      Janet, I am so honoured you thought of highlighting my blog. Thank you and big hugs! I do not have a favourite post unfortunately as I am only sharing meals at places I had. Perhaps if you narrow your cuisine, I may be able to help. Once again, a big thank you for thinking of my blog 😀 😀 😀

  3. waaa looks good for the stomach 😀

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