THE herbaceous earthy green Hakka lei cha is a dish many claim is an acquired taste.
This Hakka favourite, known either as lui cha fan or lei cha fan (pounded tea rice or thunder tea rice), is a slightly obscure dish.
It can only be found in a handful of Chinese eateries in the Klang Valley.
At Petaling Jaya Old Town, customers can be seen queueing up for a taste of lei cha’s homely flavours at Traditional Hakka Lui Char Restaurant.
The shop is run by Se Tho Kah Fei, 42, and his family.
In a bowl, a base of rice is topped with celery, Chinese leek, long beans and mustard greens, all diced into bite-sized pieces.
Then comes protein – black- eyed beans, small tofu cubes and dried shrimp accompanied by a generous serving of peanuts.
To top it off are caramelised onions for that hint of sweetness.
But the star of the show is the green broth for which the dish is named after.
Careful not to reveal all the ingredients in this family recipe, Se Tho shared that basil and Chinese tea leaves were must-haves when preparing the broth.
Brewed daily, the tea is served in a big bowl to accompany the rice dish.
Some customers choose to pour portions of the broth into the rice as they eat while others enjoy the tea and rice separately, sipping the tea when desiring an extra kick.
Se Tho said that traditionally, making lei cha was a laborious task as each component of the broth needed to be pounded in by hand using a pestle.
Now, a blender easily suffices to accomplish the same result.
At the restaurant, two options of lei cha are available.
There is the original blend with peanuts, or a slightly bitter variation without peanuts but with a touch of ginger instead.
My favourite version is the original.
The blend with peanuts offers a slightly sweet aftertaste to the herbal broth and spreads comfortingly over the rice dish.
Lei cha is typically known for hitting the bitter nodes but this one is a welcome change.
It is not too overpowering and has a warm balance of healthy goodness and simplicity.
Besides the broth, the eatery allows further customisation as diners can opt for either brown or white rice, with or without dried shrimp.
“We’ve been selling lei cha for a long time and one day, a customer suggested the brown rice option because it is considered healthier.
“Lei cha is a very simple but interesting dish, and very healthy too.
“We hope to see it becoming more popular over time,” said Se Tho.
He noted that previously, only older folk would frequent his eatery but these days, a younger crowd has shown interest in the Hakka delicacy.
The place is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 9.30am to 2.45pm.
It is often packed with people either eating in or taking away the dish.
The dine-in option with white rice costs RM10 while the brown rice option costs RM11.
An additional 50sen will be charged for takeaways.
There is no additional charge if you bring your own container.
The eatery is located at No.37, Jalan 1/12, Section 1, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.