Origin of Bak Kut Teh: The ‘Teh’ is Actually a Name

Image: praphab louilarpprasert / Shutterstock.com

Where did Bak Kut Teh come from? The origins of this delectable dish have been in dispute for the longest time, and it seems nobody really knew. The most common explanation, however, was that Bak Kut Teh came from Klang, Malaysia.

Or, to put it more accurately, brought to Klang by a Chinese man from Fujian, China, which explains its Hokkien roots.

The man was named Lee Boon Teh, who served pork parts in various herbs and spices to Chinese immigrants who first came over to Malaya back in 1945. Back then, the dish was known as Bak Kut, or pork bone.

Image: thestar.com.my

As the dish became more popular, Lee Boon Teh’s name became synonymous with the dish, and merged into one: Bak Kut Teh.


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Today, residents of Klang remain proud of their very own original Bak Kut Teh, and firmly believe in the origin story. In fact, there are apparently more than a hundred Bak Kut Teh stalls in the town itself. The most famous of the lot, however, is still the stall originally owned by Lee Boon Teh, currently run by his grandson.

Image: PSrisuriyachai / Shutterstock.com

Did you know, there are three main versions of Bak Kut Teh? The version originating in Klang is a Hokkien version, more herbal and darker due to the addition of soy sauce. The version we know and love in Singapore is lighter and more peppery, with Teochew roots. The last one is Cantonese in origin, with a more robust and flavourful soup.

In fact, as the “Bak” in the name refers to meat in Hokkien, it is said that the Singaporean peppery version is a fusion of both Hokkien and Teochew influences, with a history stretching back to before WWII.

Perhaps the origin of Hokkien Bak Kut Teh truly lies in Klang, but it is undeniable that Klang is probably the best place for some Hokkien Bak Kut Teh.

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