KLANG, May 26 — Ask anyone for their top bak kut teh places, and the answers will invariably revolve around a number of long-standing institutions in Klang.
Sei Ngan Chai Bak Kut Teh’s iconic name is consistently thrown in with the very best, and this prompted me to revisit the cheekily named (it refers to the phrase "four eyes", used to describe a bespectacled person) roadside establishment.
For those seeing this with new eyes, as you drive up, the first thing you’ll notice is how hard it is to find the sign.
Occupying a corner lot house, the white wall on the side spans the length of the building and is peppered with windows and a central door that provides a hint as to where the bak kut teh is.
There is a small sign on the front, but it’s mostly covered by some fairly overgrown vegetation. Fret not, however, as it’s hard to miss the tables and the crowd that spills out onto the street.
Inside, it’s organised chaos.
The distinct, heady smell of traditional Chinese herbs characteristic to bak kut teh drifts through the air, setting up an intimate meeting with your nostrils while the sound of overlapping conversations, bubbling broth and the clinking of cutlery joust for your ear’s attention.
There are two types of clay pot bak kut teh here: the regular soupy kind, and the drier, stronger kind that’s an olfactory assault from multiple tables away.
In the prep area, which, I suppose one could describe as an open kitchen concept, all but the main man who prepares each clay pot of bak kut teh are bespectacled (I wonder who the titular figure is?).
An order of clay pot soup bak kut teh for one is RM16; it scales up accordingly depending on the size of your party (for example it's RM48 for three).
For those looking for just a single portion in a bowl, it’s RM15 for a large and RM12 for a small bowl.
When our clay pot arrives, it is a sight and scent to behold: a cauldron full of dark, boiling liquid with a variety of contents including chunks of pork, foo chuk, tofu pok and mushrooms, both button and enoki. Immediately I smell a number of Chinese herbs, but can’t quite put my finger on any specific one.
The aroma is intensely medicinal like if you took a massive whiff of every single herb in a traditional Chinese medicine shop.
Less codeine, more... dong quai or Chinese Angelica.
Thick and dotted with little specks of fat throughout, the broth is decidedly rich, though this may have been brought about by our choice of pork or chu wan, which is a fatty part right above the trotter.
Black garlic makes a substantial contribution to the taste, which leans slightly sweet without being too savoury.
The rice isn’t the most fragrant, but frankly with broth this good, it’s simply a vessel to get more in, a means to a delicious end.
An additional order of soup is a must, even in the sweltering heat we, unfortunately, find ourselves in these days.
It’s a fine bowl of bak kut teh, with an incredibly complex broth that defies description.
It’s medicinal, herbal, rich, sweet, savoury, it’s all of the above and more. Words hardly suffice, only the long drive to Klang (for most of us) which isn’t one bit regrettable, does justice to their mastery of serving really, really good bak kut teh, even after all these years.
The eyes, chico. They never lie. All four of them.
9, Jalan Kepayang, Kawasan 17, Klang, Selangor
Open Monday to Sunday, 10am to 10pm
Tel: 016-741 2303
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