Regardless of the true origins of bak kut teh , three very clear variations are well-recognized and have known origins: Cantonese, Teochew, and Hokkien.
Most varieties include soy sauce and star anise in the broth for flavor. But additions such as licorice root, angelica root, and other seasonings are common. In fact, bak kut teh broth can have so many ingredients that a fan of the dish could eat completely different versions every day for weeks or even months.
However, the regional variations have pretty clear characteristics. Cantonese bak kut teh often adds Chinese medicinal herbs to the broth—both for stronger flavor and health benefits. The Teochew version is most often associated with Singapore as it emerged in the Clarke Quay area following World War II. It usually has a light-colored broth with a more peppery flavor. Meanwhile, the Hokkien recipe calls for dark soy sauce along with very fragrant herbs for a powerful, rich taste.
Even though the exact origins of this popular Asian dish remain a mystery, many people agree that it makes for a hearty and flavorful breakfast. It doesn’t matter where it came from, so long as bak kut teh is available for hungry fans of meaty, tasty meals. The next time you’re in Hong Kong, Malaysia, or Singapore, why not sample the local bak kut teh ?