Sunday, April 04, 2010

my first bowl of "lei cha" rice (擂茶饭)

i can't believe it took me so long to finally try this dish but i guess it's better late than never :)

i've always wanted to try the hakka "lei cha" rice (擂茶饭) but for some reason had always been distracted by some other temptations along the way. so last night, i finally tried it at suntec city food republic... and i love it! :) ps: i threw some sliced chilli padi into my mixture for an extra kick!

the "lei cha" rice is a traditional hakka (chinese dialect group) cuisine. back in the olden days, the common villagers and even soldiers in china considered "lei cha" rice as a rich source of nutrients and a medicinal food to fight against illnesses. it's made with very simple, affordable, down-to-earth ingredients that are nutritious and generally good for our diet. the preparation is not too complicated but involves a labour-intensive process of physically pounding and grinding the various ingredients into a fine texture with a thick wooden club and deep bowl. that's why it's called “擂茶” - “擂” meaning "to pound or finely grind", not the common misinterpretation of "thunder" (雷). i still cringe at the thought of how "lei cha" rice is now most commonly translated as "thunder tea rice" in this part of the world.. yes, i know the latter has more "omph" factor and sounds much more marketable than "pound tea rice".. but from a translation point of view, is just not correct *sigh*.

"lei cha" rice has become more widely found and popular in Singapore in the recent 4 - 5 years. the reason it's not quite a big hit here yet is because you either love it or hate it. i have to admit it's quite an acquired taste.. mostly because of the hint of mint in the "lei cha" tea stock, and its slightly scary milky green appearance (almost like green tea latte). i love mint in my chocolates, but having a minty taste in rice that's meant to be savoury can be a little off-putting to some.

fortunately for me, i found the amount of mint in my "lei cha" rice just enough to create a peculiar taste in the mouth yet interesting and even tasty when mixed with the savoury, sweet burst of flavours from the rest of the ingredients, together with brown rice. i also happen to like my food finely diced or chopped, slightly wet with gravy or soup/stock, with lots of variety in every mouthful, so this is just perfect for me! :) i'll definitely be back for more "lei cha" rice again.

most traditional "lei cha" rice recipes are published in chinese, i managed to find one in english from the star, malaysia (ingredients/side dishes vary from place to place, according to preference):


- 20g ikan bilis (dried anchovies), fried till crispy and chopped

- 30g baked groundnuts, chopped
- 30g sesame seed
- 15g Tie Kuan Yin tea leaves (or any superior grade tea leaves)
- 5g chopped mint leaves
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 litre water

(side dishes) stir-fry with a bit of oil; add salt to taste except the pickled radish

- 4 pcs beancurd (tau kwa), cut into small cubes and deep-fried

- 25g leek, sliced
- 250g dried shrimp, soaked, chopped and divided into three portions
- 300g french beans, finely sliced
- 300g pickled radish (chai poh), finely chopped
- 300g potato shoots (see chai choy)
- 300g asparagus, finely cut
- 300g cooked rice


to prepare "lei tea" soup:
use grinder or chopper to chop up ikan bilis, groundnuts, sesame seed, mint and tea leaves until very fine. pour in hot water and salt, and mix well. return the soup to a pan and bring to the boil. ready to serve.

add this soup to your cooked rice when you’re ready to eat.

to prepare side dishes:
1. stir-fry leeks with deep-fried cubed beancurd (tau kwa).
2. fry the chopped shrimps until fragrant.then add finely cut french beans and lightly stir-fry.
3. soak the pickled radish. chop finely, lightly stir-fry.
4. stir-fry potato shoots with chopped dried shrimps.
5. stir-fry finely-cut asparagus with chopped dried shrimps.
6. to make baked groundnuts, toast groundnuts in the oven and remove skin after they have cooled.
7. to make fried ikan bilis, heat oil and fry ikan bilis until they’re crunchy.

to serve:
invert a small bowl of cooked rice into a large bowl. scoop portions of the accompanying side dishes onto your rice. pour hot soup over this and mix well before eating. you can add whatever side dishes you wish.

some references:
- sooksfoodnotes
- thebakerwhocooks
- the canton pixie
- (in chinese)

1 comment:

carolyn said...

the basil chicken is my fave from the stall. so nice with the chili.