Cheap & Good

Cheap & Good: Hakka thunder tea rice with brilliant broth in Boon Lay

The broth of Traditional Hakka Lui Cha's thunder tea rice is nutty and herbaceous.
The broth of Traditional Hakka Lui Cha's thunder tea rice is nutty and herbaceous.ST PHOTO: REBECCA LYNNE TAN

Whenever I see a Hakka stall selling lei cha fan, or what has come to be known as thunder tea rice, I never hesitate - I always join the queue.

Even if I don't see any patrons at it, I still give it a chance - unless I'm hankering after something else. But most days, I feel like vegetables.

Lei cha refers to the Hakka-style, one-bowl dish of steamed rice topped with various stir-fried chopped vegetables and other items such as cubed tau kwa and preserved radish.

It is served with a green-hued tea-soup made from a blend of herbs, nuts and tea leaves.

Traditionalists will tell you that the dish ought to be called ground tea rice because "lei" - pronounced "lui" in Hakka - does not mean thunder. Instead, it refers to the circular grinding motion of blending the herbs with a mortar and pestle.

For me, the dish always looks appetising. A calm sea of green and neutral tones never gets old. It is mesmerising, almost hypnotic.

  • TRADITIONAL HAKKA LUI CHA

  • Boon Lay Place Food Village, Block 221B Boon Lay Place, 01-96; open: 6am to 2pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays

    Rating: 3.5/5

At Boon Lay Place Food Village, I notice a stall called Traditional Hakka Lui Cha.

Here, you can opt for white ($3.50) or brown rice (add 50 cents) versions of the dish.

These days, I am all about wholegrains, so brown rice it is.

All the ingredients are stir-fried individually.

Its version comes topped with tofu fried with leek and dried shrimp, preserved radish, shredded cabbage, dark leafy greens, chopped green beans and a spoonful of crunchy toasted peanuts.

I like that the green beans are a mix of snake beans and haricot verts as each type provides a different texture when bitten into.

But at the end of the day, what makes a good lei cha fan is the broth.

And here, the broth sings.

It is nutty and herbaceous. Bright, fresh and bitter, but not overwhelmingly so.

The paste for the broth is a blend of tea leaves with herbs such as culantro (sawtooth leaf), basil and mugwort with toasted sesame seeds and peanuts.

It is balanced and invigorating. I feel a boost of energy after a few sips.

Enjoy the broth on the side or pour some into your rice bowl like an ochazuke.

The 15-year-old stall is run by Mr Wong Kwek Kwong, 66, who told me he opened two more outlets earlier this year.

He now has a stall in Ubi Avenue 4 and another, run by his 29-year-old son, at Block 127 Toa Payoh Lorong 1 - a stone's throw from the office.

My eyes widen.

I know where I'll be dragging my colleagues to for lunch next.

• Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 04, 2018, with the headline 'Thunder tea rice with brilliant broth'. Print Edition | Subscribe