Thunder Tea Rice
Also known as Lei cha in mandarin is one of the oldest, traditional vegetarian food of the Hakka tribe, one of the Chinese dialectic groups. It seems that the tea soup; a herbal concoction that is the heart of this recipe helped the troops recover from the illness in the olden times and became popular. The name thunder to this tea rice comes from the thundering sound it made while the tea leaves with various herbs were pounded to prepare the soup.
Thunder tea rice essentially is a rice that is served with an assortment of at least 7 types of vegetables with a soup made from ground tea leaves and herbs. Though coming back to life now, this dish had declined in popularity due to its labour intensive process and the peculiar bitter taste of the tea soup it is served with. Thankfully, the modern trend towards healthy living and interest in traditional dishes has brought this ‘poor man’s food’ back in the forefront and several stalls serving this delicious dish can be found in the hawker centers now across Singapore.
My first experience of thunder tea rice was at Bukit Timah Market and Food center, one of a popular hawker center in the western part of the Central region in Singapore. Living wholesome vegetarian food came highly recommended so it was a perfect place to start the journey of tasting something traditional and local in Singapore.
The menu was simple, thunder tea rice with brown rice or the white rice. I ordered a brown rice set and promptly the cook set about picking spoon or so of each pulses, greens, vegetables and tofu. A quick stir fry with minimal spices and it was ready in no time. I got a large bowl (now with COVID its disposal boxes) with steaming hot brown rice in the middle and the stir-fried veggies mix around it. A generous sprinkling of sesame seeds and peanuts and it was handed over with the heart of the dish – a bowl of tea soup.
I was told to pour the soup over the rice to create a porridge like consistency to enjoy the dish but I wanted to taste the freshness of individual components and I must say I wasn’t disappointed. It was perfectly seasoned and flavourful. The brown rice provided a bite to the dish and the textures of pulses with veggies, greens and tofu complemented each other. Peanuts and sesame seeds completed the dish making it a delicious healthy bite. On the other hand, the tea was herbaceous and slightly bitter for my taste. On its own, I would surely put it down as an acquired taste. However, mixed with the rice, its herby bitterness seemed to mellow down and actually balanced this bowl of textures and flavours.
In all, definite a repeat for me. It is healthy, fresh and a perfectly balanced dish which can be easily replicated at home. Here is my adaptation of this nutritious dish.
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