Bak Kut Teh literally means “pork bone tea” in Hokkien, a local dialect. A garlicky, peppery, sometimes herbal, pork soup popular here, with variations from the different Chinese dialect groups. I wasn’t sure what to call this plant-based version as there’s neither pork nor bone. I also didn’t want to prefix “vegetarian” or “vegan” in front of it as Singaporeans can get sensitive when they see their beloved foods made without meat. The former conjures up images of “no protein and very green” and the latter, well, has too much baggage. Let’s just go with “bak kut teh” for familiarity’s sake.
The best plant-based bak kut teh I’ve had was from O’Bean. Theirs was a more Cantonese style with medicinal Chinese herbs, and interestingly, thickened with their organic soy milk. However because those herbs were used, there was a slight bitter aftertaste that not all will like. My recipe is similar to the Hokkien style that uses spices with generous amounts of premium soy sauce. The result is a soul-warming soup full of umami that you can’t stop at one spoon.
People always ask, “But how to make bak kut teh without bak (pork)?”
Current vegetarian versions will have various mock meats, mushrooms, beancurd skin and tofu puffs. As with all local food recipes on my blog, I wanted to reinterpret it with mostly whole foods. Young jackfruit is commonly used by our Asian neighbours in stews and curries. The spark came when I first saw it in Western recipes like pulled jackfruit burgers and jackfruit bacon, I knew it will work in local pork recipes. And rest assured – it will not turn your savoury dish sweet as young jackfruit has little flavour on its own unlike its ripe counterpart. What it has is an amazingly tender texture that soaks up juices perfectly and releases a delicate meaty flavour into the soup when cooked.
In Singapore you can buy young jackfruit from Tekka Market’s fruit stalls and Mustafa (chilled veggies section).
YOUNG JACKFRUIT BAK KUT TEH (SERVES 1)
- 5 pcs young jackfruit, cut into bite-sizes chunks
- 3 pcs dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked till soft
- 5 – 7 pcs dried tau kee (beancurd skin), soaked till soft
- 3 pcs black fungus
- 1.5 cups stock (reserve mushroom soaking water if no stock at hand)
- 1 – 1.5 tbsp premium soy sauce (good soy sauce should only have 4 ingredients – salt, water, wheat and soy beans.)
- 3 bulbs garlic, smashed without peeling with the side of a knife (use with few slices of ginger if allium-free is preferred, but flavour may be a bit different.)
- 1 tsp whole white pepper, smashed with side of knife
- ½ tsp whole black pepper, smashed with side of knife
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 handful coriander
- 1 chilli padi, sliced
In a pot, heat some oil over medium heat. Add jackfruit, shiitake and all spices. Fry for 2 mins, till jackfruit is well coated in oil and turns slightly darker. Add stock, bring to a boil. Add soy sauce, tau kee and black fungus. Simmer over medium-low heat with lid slightly ajar for 15 – 20mins or so till jackfruit is tender. Remove from heat, add more powdered white pepper or soy sauce if preferred. Garnish with coriander, serve with sliced chilli and rice.
- This can be made into a filling one-pot meal by adding more stock and noodles.
- If you don’t have jackfruit on hand, it’s ok to omit – still makes a decent bak kut teh with just the spices and soy sauce.
- Don’t discard young jackfruit seeds. They are crunchy after cooking and quite nutritious.
- Other ingredients that you can add to dress up the soup are: all kinds of mushrooms, firm tofu, tofu puffs, greens like bak choy and seitan chunks.