Lei Cha cooking,another truly Hakka experience(part 2)

Cooking and eating lei cha is another truly hakka experience.The picture below shows a complete set of lei cha dish from my kitchen.

Though preparing lei cha is laborious and tedious,it is worth all the trouble because lei cha is fiber-rich and detoxify the liver if taken regularly.It is good for people having persistent cough.Sickly people should eat lei cha everyday without the groundnuts.

To avoid last minute rush,it is better to prepare the groundnuts together with the chai poh one day beforehand and keep all the finely chopped vegetables in the fridge.


lei cha
lei cha from my kitchen

The three most important herbs of lei cha:

herbs for lei cha
Herbs for lei cha: L-R:- Mugwort(艾草),Sawtooth coriander (假芫茜),Thai basil(九层塔)。

-The most important herb of lei cha is the Dwarf mugwort (artemisia vulgaris L.).In Chinese is Aicao.Dry mugwort is used in Chinese Medicinal treatment as herbs for moxibustion.Hakka Remedy for headache –  boil and drink the soup or make tea.Another one is fry the herbs and eggs together without oil.Mugwort is easiest to grow among all the herbs for lei cha.

Sawtooth coriander(eryngium foetidium) is a very popular herb here in Malaysia and is a good replacement for cilantro.Despite of their different look and texture,they are very similar in taste,both display that distinctive fragrance and pungent taste of coriander.It can be used to replace curry leaf and Chinese celery for cooking curry or soup.This herb grows well under shade and needs a lot of water.This herb is a must-have item in my Nasi Briyani Recipe.

Thai basil(ocimum basilicium L.) is an important herb for Hakka people.Hakka clan is the ancient immigrants from the Yellow River plateau.They include a lot of basil leaves in their dishes.One of this is stir-fry brinjal with fermented black beans and thai basil.


Another three herbs of lei cha:

Herbs for lei cha: L-R:- Spearmint aka Pudina(碧琪草),Perilla(紫苏),Elephant foot grass(地胆头)。

These are not optional but if cannot be found anywhere nearby,then just skip one or two herbs.Out of these three herbs above,the first two are not easy to grow here in Malaysia.Nevertheless,there are some farmers who grow lei cha herbs and supply them to the lei cha hawkers in Kuching.

Spearmint a.k.a pudina(mentha spicata) is known to display a fresh,sweet and tangy flavour,with a cool after-taste.All varieties of mints are good for cough and clearing lungs.For lactating mothers,limit the use of this herb as it reduces milk secretion.

Perilla(perilla frutescens) is a common herb found in Asia.It is a well-known remedy for food poisoning from fish and crab.Just boil about 60 gm of the leaves and drink.There are a few Chinese patent medicine containing perilla like Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Pian.

Elephant foot grass aka tutup bumi(elephantopus scaber L.) is a very versatile herb.Unofficial reports from some Chinese Herbal magazines show that it can cure leukemia.It can grow easily in Malaysia.It has a slightly bitter but pleasant taste.Hakka people cook this herb as vegetable by boiling soup with the fresh or dry leaves.

Tutup Bumi is a good remedy for heat stroke.Wash the leaves thoroughly,mash and extract the juice – that is the Hakka remedy passed down from wise ancestors ages ago. Brew tea with the dried leaves or boil the fresh leaves with dates is another option for this remedy.

The three bitter herbs of lei cha:

From left to right:- Kulixin(苦粒心),Daun capa(大风婆) and the Pennywort(雷公根,崩大碗)

These three herbs shown above are bitter and should be prepared separately to form a bitter paste.

Kulixin is the three-leaved acanthopanax(Acanthopanax trifoliatus L. Merr.)As the name implies,it has clusters of three leaves in one and the middle one is the biggest leaf.It has thorns all over the stems so it is better to use scissors for cutting the leaves.Dried Kulixin leaves taste like tea leaves but much  more bitter and astringent.

Daun Capa(Blumea balsamifera) is an aromatic herb which grows wild in the bush.Hakka people boil the dry plant of the herb and use them for bathing the mothers in confinement.It is believed that daun capa bath can help to get rid of bad ‘winds’ from the loosen bones of the mothers who have just given birth.They are unlikely to get postpartum bone pain after the bath.Daun capa,as you can see,is a herbal remedy for rheumatism.

Pennywort a.k.a pegaga(Centella asiatica) is also used by Malays.Do not add too much of this to lei cha soup as its strong herbal taste may overshadow other flavour in the soup.Lei cha soup can go without it.In Chinese medicine,pegaga is a  remedy herb for tonsillitis.After thorough washing,mash and squeeze the fresh leaves to extract juice,mix with vinegar and swallow slowly.No harm trying if the pegaga plants are homegrown and safe for eaten raw.


A bundle of lei cha herbs bought from the market.Buy two bundles and sort out the bitter herbs for this lei cha recipe.

Use a pair of sharp scissors,snip off the young leaves of the following herbs:

  • 50 g    Mugwort
  • 20 g    Sawtooth coriander(cut into 1 ” Strips,using scissors)
  • 20 g     Thai Basil
  • 5  g     Perilla
  • 5  g     Elephant foot grass( cut into 1″ strips,using scissors
  • 1 tbs of green tea leaves(dry toasted) or Japanese green tea powder
  • 1/2 tsp mushroom powder(optional)


Notice the total weight of the picked herbs is 100 g.

Do not cut or chop the herbs using knife as action like this will result in bruises on the leaves.

Wash the herbs thoroughly and proceed to the next step immediately.


Prepare 1 cup of boiling water in the wok.

  1. Plunge the herbs into the boiling water and bring to boil for 2 minutes.This is to prevent the leaves from turning black due to oxidation when the cut surface gets in contact with the oxygen in the air.
  2. Add another 1/2 – 1 cup of  bottled water and allow it to cool.
  3. Blend the herbs with 1/4 cup of groundnuts and 1/2 tbs of toasted green tea leaves.Do not add too much tea leaves which will make the soup looks black.
  4. A jade green herbal paste is now ready for the lei cha soup.
  5. To prepare the lei cha soup,just add 3 tbs of jade green lei cha paste to 1 cup of hot tea.The concentration of the tea is up to individual.

Preparing the bitter paste

  • 10 g Kulixin
  • 5 g Daun Capa(optional)
  • 5 g Pegaga(Optional)

Steps for preparing bitter paste is the same as above except water to be added is 1/4 cup of water.

Do not add groundnuts to this bitter paste.

Add the bitter paste according to personal favour.

Ingredients for side dishes
Ingredients for lei cha side dishes.


Preparing the side dishes

  • 2 pieces tofu – cut into tiny cubes and stir-fry.
  • 200 g groundnuts (smaller type) – Do not wash.Dry toasted right away and skinned or buy packed groundnuts.
  • Almond flakes,sunflower seeds or cashew nuts can be used to replace the groundnuts.
  • 1 tbs dry toasted sesame seeds(optional)
  • 200 g  grated  chai poh(preserved raddish)- stir-fry till slightly brown.

Prepare 200 g of each of the following :

  • Chai xim
  • Kai lan
  • Cangkok manis
  • Long Bean or winged bean 
  • Leeks( optional for Buddhist and Hari krishna vegetarians).

All the vegetables listed above are to be chopped.Stir fry the vegetables one by one.

Serve with a bowl of rice or puffed rice topped with all the side dishes.Add salt to taste.

Lei cha in a bowl
A bowl of Lei cha rice topped with all the side dishes.


                        Yeah,cooking lei cha is fun.































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Letup,the wild passion flower – is it a weed or vegetable?

 Letup,the wild passion flower plant can be found easily in the bush around suburban and rural areas of tropical countries.Not many people know it is the ancestor of the ever popular passion fruit(passiflora edulis) growing in our garden.Its latin name is passiflora foetida L. a.k.a  hairy passiflora.Hakka call the fruits Popop Zi or Da Pop Zi.Letup or letop is the Iban name.It is also called stinking passion flower,pop-pop bush and wild water lemon in English.In Chinese is 龙珠果,毛西番莲果。

Most gardeners would treat them as an invasive weed,not knowing that the fruits and young leaves are edible.It is a protocarnivorous  plant meaning it can trap insects on its bracts but shows no ability to digest them.


The relatively bigger passion fruit flower on the left as compared with the much smaller letup flower on the right.

Its flower is about 2 cm in diameter, much smaller than that of the passion fruit flower with a diameter of more or less 5cm.Both flowers are showy and white in color with purplish streaks.Both flowers have ten white petals and a central crown of pinkish-purple filaments.

Look carefully one can see that a letup flower has three hairy bracts underneath it.

Left- Passion fruit vines          Right- wild passion fruit vines.Notice the shapes of their leaves.

Strangely  enough,their leaves are almost of the same size except the shapes are different. Both leaves are three-lobed except that the passion fruit leaves are thicker and more deeply lobed.

Both are woody climbers for older plants but letup leaves and stems are covered in soft  hair.The mini fruits are enclosed in hairy net .Green letup fruit is a bit sour while the ripe one with orange skin is sweet.I recall memories of my primary school years – standing alone in the bush,eating those ripe fruits of letup,unaware of the danger of snake bites.The  juicy  pulp of the fruits are very  sweet,good for quenching  thirst in the hot afternoon.


The unripe wild passion fruit is enclosed in hairy net.

The unripe fruits enclosed in hairy net are dark green in color.The seeds inside are not mature yet and there is no juicy pulp inside.The white and undeveloped seeds in the green fruits taste slightly sour.Birds love the ripe letup fruits.Very often,these fruits are finished by the birds before they are ready for harvest.

Notice the differences in size and appearance of the pulp in the two types of passion fruits.

 Letup fruit with a diameter of 1-1.5 cm, is much smaller than the passion fruit.Green letup fruit is a bit sour and the ripe one with orange skin is sweet as compared to the passion fruits,the pulp of which is juicy but tastes sour .Both pulp and seeds are edible.

The passion fruit juice is a common drink and the pulp is used as topping on ice cream and cakes whilst the letup juicy pulp ,though sweet ,is not suitable for commercial purpose due to its small fruit size.

Letup shoots collected from empty land.Notice the hairy stems and leaves.

The letup shoots are edible.All parts of the plant are covered in soft hair,stems and leaves likewise,hence the name,Hairy passiflora.Notice the tendrils for climbing.Letup shoots contain a lot of potassium,660 gm per unit.Click Table 2 to find out.

In Vietnamese folk medicine,dry letup leaves are used in tea to relieve sleeping problem.In Chinese medicine,it is used to treat skin disease.Boil the whole plant in water and wash the affected area or mash the leaves and apply on the affected area.It is a good remedy for leg ulcer.

Washing letup shoots in the water.Look at the bubbles formed due to presence of saponins.


How to prepare letup?

The picture above shows that letup shoots produce bubbles in the water.Continuous rinsing is necessary until there is no bubbles left.Failure to do this rinsing step will result in very bitter dish.We learn this from our native friends and one of my facebook friend,Polly Steven who is an Iban herself , did describe this rinsing step in detail.The bubbles are due to its high level of saponins.

“Saponins are glycosides with a distinctive foaming characteristic.They are found in many plants.Saponins are bitter and therefore reduce the palatability of livestock feeds.The ability of a saponin to foam is caused by the combination of the nonpolar sapogenin and the water soluble side chain.” – source from the net.

Drain the shoots after thorough rinsing.Crush the shoots with hands followed by chopping finely the shoots.Do not thrown away the  green juice which is full of chlorophyll.


Guess what is the creamy color vegetable?
Stir-fry letup shoots
  • 300 g letup shoots
  • 1  telur tebu(sugar cane flower) – chopped finely
  • or
  • 200g  baby corn( chopped finely)
  1. Prepare the shoots as described above.
  2. Stir fry the shoots with chopped telur tebu.
  3. Add 2 tsp of light soya source
  4. Add in the green juice too.It tastes like cangkok manis and longbean shoots mixed.It is slightly bitter,a perfect choice for lei cha side dish.One can easily get addited to it.

Don’t forget its dry leaves can be used in tea and is a remedy for insomnia,but make sure have to wash all the bubbles or saponins away.

                Letup,a weed to some gardeners,

         a  delecious vegetable and a useful   

                 herb to others.





Lei Cha,the Hakka legendary tea rice….(part 1)

Lei cha and Romance of the Three Kingdoms(三国演义)


Legend has it that during the period full of tribulations of the Three Kingdoms,General Zhang Fei,a great warrior of Zhu Ge Gong Ming’s troop,together with his few hundreds men,fell sick due to an outbreak of plague in the hilly area of Hunan province.Worried and feeling weak,he decided to camp at the foothill of a mountain.An old,white bearded man then came down from the mountain and taught him to grind roasted rice,ginger and tea leaves in a pot,pour boiling water in and that was it, the remedy for the army sickness.

True enough,his army recovered from the plague and until now, people in the Hunan  area still drink this rice tea.Hakka people,being the immigrants from the Northern parts of China,also brought with them this traditional dish to Southern China and over the ages had developed into two types of Lei Cha – the sweet and the savory versions.The sweet version is more popular in North China and Taiwan.Most oversea Hakka cook the authentic lei cha of the Hopoh clan which is a savory dish full of herbal flavor.

Check here to have a peep at the heroic warrior Zhang Fei who was the most rugged and dramatic one among the three brothers who were Liu Bei,Guan Yu and Zhang Fei himself.Below is Zhang Fei in a fighting scene with Ma Chao (with English Subtitle).

At present,there are quite a number of stalls selling lei cha in Kuching,almost all are run by Hakka ladies.There is one stall having a few branches in the city.Some sell vegetarian and non-vegetarian lei cha at the same stall.Most of them use blenders to grind their lei cha paste.

Traditionally,Hakka people believe that they must eat seven types of vegetables on the seventh day of the Chinese New Year and that is why lei cha are served on that day.Since it is quite a hassle to prepare lei cha ,most families would prefer to eat outside.It is a common sight to see eateries swarming with city folks  during the seventh day of Chinese New Year which is also known as ‘Ren Ri’ or the ‘Mankind’s day’ in Chinese.Very often they have to get numbers and wait in the long queue on that day,just to have a bowl of lei cha !


There are quite a number of Lei Cha stores in Kuching City.
There are quite a number of Lei Cha stalls in Kuching City.

The picture below shows a nicely arranged lei cha dish sold at one of cafes in Kuching.Notice how the rice is topped with vegetables ? Some vegetarian stalls have garlic,leeks and chives in their side dishes.Look at the colors displayed,a good presentation indeed.


Lei cha rice topped with the side dishes.

Look at their jade-green soup,isn’t it awesome ? The secret for a jade-green soup lies in the preparation.Check it out in my next post on lei cha recipe,Lei cha(part 2).Olden way of preparing lei cha results in dark and brownish green soup which does not look very appealing even to the most adventurous eaters.


The jade green lei cha
The jade green lei cha soup.

Traditional way of preparing authentic lei cha of Hopoh Clan requires a lot of hard work which involves grinding lei cha herbs,nuts and dry toasted tea leaves together in a big lei cha grinding  earthen pot.

The picture below shows a lei cha grinding pot passed down to me by my late mom.Remembering Mom by remembering the food she used to cook for us and also by inheriting her antique lei cha pot.Nowadays,the art of making lei cha pots still remains in our city but the materials they use is very different.Most of the time we use blender to cook lei cha.I avoid using my lei cha pot because it is an antique full of sentimental values.

In the picture below,a guava(jumbu batu) stick or pestle is used to grind the boiled herbs,dry roasted groundnuts and roasted green tea leaves.Notice the lines or rails of grooves in the lei cha pot.These grooves or ‘teeth’ of the pot help to crush the nuts and herbs. A pot of boiling water or hot tea is then poured into the pot.Add salt to taste.

The tea is then served with side dishes as described in details in my next post , Lei Cha(part 2).


Left-Lei cha grinding pot inherated from my late mom Right-Grinding the ingredients with the pot.
Left-Lei cha grinding pot inherited from my late mom.
Right-Grinding the ingredients with the stick made from guava branch.

A saucer of dry toasted groundnuts is a must together with stir-fried chai poh(preserved reddish)and a generous serving of stir-fried tofu as well.For the other part of the side dishes,different vegetables can be used.The most important vegetables used are changkok manis(sauropus androgynus),long beans or winged beans,kai lan or baby kai lan.

For some,the slightly bitter vegetables like the Indian lettuce(kumak) and local mustard are included.Their bitter and yet pleasant taste do bring lei cha to a different level.

In additional to the usual side dishes,we used to cook long bean and winged bean shoots to add more flavors to the lei cha dish.Cooking lei cha is always a family thing with every female member getting involved.It is a tedious and laborious task to complete.With electric blenders and food processors around in this modern age,time for cooking lei cha can be cut short.It is good to see that Hakka ladies are quick to grab the chance for venturing into business.In the past,lei cha cooking was only restricted to family activities.


Left - Longbean shoots Right - Four-winged bean shoots
Left – Long bean shoots
Right – Four-winged bean shoots

 The picture shown below is the lei cha cooked by me alone using an ordinary blender.I cut and chopped the vegetables one day beforehand and prepared the roasted groundnuts one day earlier.On the actual day of cooking lei cha,I cooked the rice first and then prepared the jade green paste and the bitter  paste separately.This was followed by stir-frying the chai poh and vegetables.Check for the recipe in my next post- click  Lei Cha(part 2).

lei cha
Lei cha,a dish rich in fibre,nutritions and medicinal values.

  Yes,it looks very alien to people outside Malaysia,parts of China and Taiwan but once you get used to it,you might get addicted and even request for more bitter paste for the soup.


Authentic  Hakka Lei Cha of the Hopoh clan,

is  forever green and  delicious!




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