It’s hard not to be intrigued by thunder tea rice (or Lei Cha). The name alone is wonderfully evocative – the drama of ‘thunder’, the soothing calmness of ‘tea’, the no-frills sensibility of ‘rice’ – and befits this most unique and delightful of Hakka dishes. In a nutshell, TTR is a blend of diced vegetables (usually including french beans, romaine lettuce, chye sim, kai lan), rice (white or brown), and other accoutrements (diced tofu, toasted peanuts, sesame, white radish) that is served with a thick and slightly bitter tea soup (which I pour into the rice). There is usually some ikan billis and pork floss sprinkled on top; ask for a vegetarian version when you place your order (you may have to specify “no ikan billis”). The overall impression is one of resonant green hues, fortifying flavours and aromas, and a satisfying crunch with every bite.
Unfortunately many Singaporeans think of TTR as being healthy, detoxifying and boring. I think it’s healthy, detoxifying and one of my all-time favourite Chinese dishes. I absolutely love this stuff.
There is one main TTR franchise in Singapore, cleverly named ‘Thunder Tea Rice’. Whilst the main outlet is on Joo Chiat Road, the latest branch is in the newly re-opened (and refurbished) Lau Pa Sat Festival Market (also known as Telok Ayer Market). The market now boasts non-slip floors, a wide variety of spruced-up stalls, and a regimental bell that rings every 15 minutes. Being Lau Pa Sat, stunning architectural features come as standard.
Thunder Tea Rice
Stall 12, Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, 18 Raffles Quay
Open 08:00-22:00 daily
THUNDER TEA RICE (SGD 5.00 with white rice; SGD 5.50 with brown rice)
Fantastically crunchy vegetables and nuts; the flavours of chopped peanuts and roasted sesame seeds were present in every bite. The soup was strong and thick and herby (the basil, mint and coriander notes were all present), and the tea left a pleasant astringency on the tongue. Yet whilst the flavours and textures were spot on, I found the soup to be a little too cold, and the serving of rice a little too small. I left the table feeling happy and hungry.
TTR is a dish that is perfect for vegetarians (and non-vegetarians of course) who have a taste for very simple and natural ingredients. It’s not for those who crave mock meat, heavy sauces and punchy flavours. It’s as delicious as it is healthy; my only problem is that I can never seem to get enough…