While my colleagues queued up for their usual fish soup at Amoy Street Food Centre, I decided to go explore the place. If you remembered my last post on this food centre, you will recall I covered an odd fusion dish combining elements of Indian and Cantonese cuisine. It is time to find another interesting dish to help tide me through the day.
I did not have to search long before I saw the eye catching words “擂茶” meaning “Thunder Tea” at LIN DA MA 林大妈’s (Stall is on the second floor). And no, the dish has no links to Zeus but more on the “Thunder” bit later.
I was always intrigued by the dish with not only its unique name but also its presentation. It always looked too healthy and bland to me.
You can be your own judge:
But what is this dish actually?
擂 “Thunder” 茶 “Tea”
Technically, the word “擂” (lei) does not mean “thunder”. While it incorporates the base word for Thunder “雷”, it actually means to “pound” or to “beat”. This links the dish back to its Hakka (a group of people from the Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, Zhejiang, Hainan and Guizhou) roots where part of the dish is made using a pestle and mortar.
Unlike the small ones we now use in our kitchens, those pestles and mortars were way larger so as to accommodate the large amount of ingredients and were used to pound and reduce the ingredients for the dish into a paste. This pounding mimicked the sound of thunder and thus the association.
The paste is then used to make a “tea” soup that is to be served with a bowl of rice topped with condiments.
The stall owner recommended I try tea soup first before mixing up the bowl of rice with all the ingredients. From then on, she suggested I alternate between having spoonfuls of rice and occasional soup.
It was surprisingly good.
Despite its bland appearance, the dish was actually quite flavourful. While you won’t get overly strong flavours (think spicy, salty or vinegary), both the rice dish and the tea soup hit the mark.
When I downed that first spoonful of tea soup, it struck me as being a very “rich” creamy soup. Although there was no cream added, the taste was oddly satisfying. A few more spoonfuls of the soup revealed another taste that I failed to pick up on my first try: The fragrance of the thai basil used to make the paste. For those wondering, the tea paste is typically made from a few base ingredients such as toasted peanuts (which gave the soup that creamy taste I noted), toasted sesame, Thai basil, mint and tea leaves.
Then came the main part of the meal.
I mixed the rice with the condiments comprising mainly of stir fried long beans, some sliced vegetables, peanuts, fried anchovies and bits of beancurd. Sounds quite tasteless right? You cannot be more wrong. The vegetables have been lightly salted when being stir fried and helps impart some flavour. The peanuts and the anchovies also add their own layers of flavour to the rice dish and also some texture. After days of meat heavy and other rich foods, this simple rice bowl felt therapeutic. I was doing my body not only a flavour in terms of the actual taste of the food (the rice was delicious) but also helping cleanse my body of all those “toxins”. Leaving aside this health hocus pocus, so long as the dish tastes good to me and also looks decently healthy, I think that’s good enough for me.
Yes, I did finish my bowl of rice. Towards the end when I had maybe 3 to 4 spoonfuls of rice left in my bowl, I poured some tea soup into the bowl and created my own Thunder Tea porridge and far easier to scoop the remaining bits out from the bowl. While I don’t recommend doing it for the entire bowl worth of rice, I think a small portion of soup mixed with the rice towards the end of the meal helps tie it all up together and also helps you mop up the remaining bits of rice and vegetables.
For S$4 a portion, I think it one worthwhile health food in the city area without having to munch on a boring salad to stay healthy.
Have you tried Thunder Rice Tea? If not, will you be trying one any time soon?
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