Wholesome taste of heritage

The Traditional Hakka Rice stall serves Thunder Tea Rice with red cargo rice for $4.
The Traditional Hakka Rice stall serves Thunder Tea Rice with red cargo rice for $4. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

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If you are not a fan of vegetables or whole grains, this Hakka speciality could be just the dish to change your mind.

The Traditional Hakka Rice stall at Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market And Food Centre serves a mouth-watering Thunder Tea Rice with an option of red cargo rice for $4.

The stall carries the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Choice Symbol and a label which says "We serve whole grain options".

Stall owner Sanny Liew, 55, included red cargo rice as an option for customers when she began running the stall in 2009. Red cargo rice is a variety of long-grained unpolished rice which has higher nutritional value than polished rice.

She says: "Red cargo rice costs more and takes a longer time to cook, but I want to offer my customers a special variation of our traditional Thunder Tea Rice that is nutritious and delicious."

The price of $4 is a steal, considering the laborious preparation and number of ingredients that go into making the dish.

Madam Liew arrives at the stall at 4.30am to start preparing the vegetables, which are delivered fresh daily.


    Where: 02-21, Block 6 Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market And Food Centre

    Open: 9.30am to 7.30pm (Mondays to Fridays), 9.30am to 2pm (Saturdays and eve of public holidays), closed on Sundays and public holidays

The Thunder Tea is the real star of this Hakka heritage dish, she says.

The creamy, jade-coloured concoction is prepared using dry Chinese tea leaves, fresh Thai basil, mint leaves, sesame seeds and peanuts which are ground into a thick paste. Hot water is added to the paste only when customers place their orders. The resulting brew is pleasantly savoury and well-balanced in flavour.

More than 10 ingredients are used to prepare the addictively tasty bowl of rice and a variety of vegetables. The red cargo rice is cooked to the right degree of chewy tenderness.

Much time and effort go into dicing, slicing and blanching the ingredients, which include mani cai (sweet leaf), long beans, cauliflower, cai xin and preserved radish. Dried prawns, which are ground and fried in a little oil, give the dish an aromatic edge. There is also diced firm beancurd, which is lightly stir-fried with sliced leek for extra flavour.

Roasted peanuts and boiled brown cowpeas add to this splendid symphony of flavours and texture.

Madam Liew learnt to cook the heritage dish from her maternal grandmother, who occasionally pops by the stall for a "spot check".

There is no fixed approach to consuming the rice and tea. But Madam Liew says her personal preference is to eat about three-quarters of the rice mixture before adding in the Thunder Tea. This way, you get to enjoy the whole gamut of flavours that this dish offers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 17, 2017, with the headline 'Wholesome taste of heritage'. Print Edition | Subscribe