Jia Xiang He Po Lei Cha
Stall #3, Yu Yuan Eating House
130 Sims Ave (Junction of Geylang Lor 17)
Tel: 6742 0407
Opening Hours: 11am - 8pm; closed on Saturdays
I was inspired by Cheryl's recent entry to dig up some old pictures that I took a couple of months back to post this entry. I don't think many people know about this traditional food from my dialect group, much less tried it. I'm glad however, that Cheryl wrote an entry on Hakka Lei Cha so that more people will come to learn about it.
Lei Cha (擂茶), also known as Hum Cha, is a very popular food item in Malaysia. In Singapore however, there are only a few Lei Cha stalls located around the island. 2 famous ones include the ones at China Square Food Centre and Boon Lay. Apparently, another stall has set up at Vivocity's Food Republic. A lot of work goes into the preparation of this dish and not many people know how to make it properly these days. I don't know if the stalls will still exist when the next generation takes over. Whatever it is though, more stalls opening now can only be a good sign.
If you're familiar with Hakka cuisine, you'd know that they're famously known to be fatty and oily. Hakkas are also known to have a high propensity for salty food. Due to the environment that Hakkas used to live in where fresh produce was a luxury, Hakkas relied a lot on the preserving of vegetables which is used in dishes such as Mei Cai Kou Rou (梅菜扣肉). There's also the salt-baked chicken which I think most people are familiar with.
As far as Hakka cuisine is concerned, Lei Cha is probably the one of the healthiest dish ever made by the Hakkas. According to the Makansutra forum, it is said by Jia Xiang's owner to ease digestion, nourish the lungs and throat, and cleanse the blood and lower blood pressure. There are many sub-groups in the Hakka clan and Lei Cha belongs specifically to the Ho Po clan. In the past, Lei Cha was usually eaten during the Chinese New Year celebrations on the 7th day of the lunar new year. I read from somewhere that the reason it is called Lei Cha which translates to Thunder Tea in English could be because of the loud noises made during the cutting, pounding and grinding of tea leaves, vegetables and nuts while preparing this dish.
The Lei Cha that is served at Jia Xiang comes with a bowl of rice that has toppings of six different kinds of vegetables, including cai xin, cabbage, four-angled beans and long beans, and other important accompaniments such as ikan bilis, roasted peanuts, tau kwa, dried shrimp and chai poh. The star is the essential bowl of green-coloured soup, which has 10 ingredients including peppermint, basil, dill, tea leaves, green tea powder, sesame seeds and peanuts. All these ingredients are pounded in the mortar into a paste to form the base of the soup.
In Singapore, I've only tried the Lei Cha at China Square and in comparison, I prefer this one much better. The soup is thicker and more fragrant if my memory serves me correct. Another reason why I prefer this stall is cos of the Yong Tau Foo that they sell. Authentic Hakka Yong Tau Foo is stuffed with ground meat, unlike the fish paste which we usually get in food courts. At 80 cents a piece, it was generously stuffed with pork and made a tasty snack. I couldn't get enough of it then cos it sold off so quickly.
Some may be turned off by the colour of the soup or its smell. Vegetable haters will probably stay lengths away. I still want to encourage everyone to try this Hakka dish, just to keep old traditional foods around longer.