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Thunderbolt Tea
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Makan spotlight: Thunder tea rice

The best places in Singapore to get this healthy Hakka dish

Cheryl Sekkappan
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Cheryl Sekkappan
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Hawker centres are not exactly a haven for healthy food, but if there’s one candidate that ticks the box, it has got to be Hakka lei cha. The secret’s in the thunder tea – usually a thick green paste made from grinding together herbs like Thai basil, mugwort, mint and coriander. It’s so rich in antioxidants and all the good stuff that it’s said to have helped a general and his troops from the Three Kingdoms period (220 to 280 AD) beat back the plague.

The humble bowl of thunder tea rice you get in Singapore today is a texture and flavour bomb. Expect generous toppings of vegetables like sayur manis, green beans and cabbage, as well as peanuts, pickled radish, dried shrimp and ikan bilis. Hawkers usually have white and brown rice options, with some getting creative with kolo mee or bee hoon bases for the noodle lovers. And of course, there’s the fragrant thunder tea broth that you mix into the rice to bring it all together.

Hakka lei cha remains a polarising dish, as some just can’t stomach the herbaceous tea. But next time you’re at the food court looking for something healthy and filling, give thunder tea rice a shot. To start you off strong, we’ve rounded up the best places to get the dish in Singapore.  

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Best places for thunder tea rice in Singapore

Hakka Thunder Tea Rice

This famous stall at Tanglin Halt Food Centre draws a perpetual queue. Its thunder tea rice ($3.50 for white rice, $4 for brown rice) comes topped with a generous serving of vegetables, flavourful preserved radish, firm tofu as well as ikan bilis and peanuts for added crunch. The star here is the thunder tea soup, which is thick, nutty and fragrant. Top off the bowl with some yong tau foo (80 cents apiece) – the fried goodies add on the calories but are too yummy to resist.

  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Geylang

Thunderbolt Tea claims its recipe to be a century old. Run by the son of the hawker in charge of Boon Lay Traditional Hakka Lui Cha, its not a stretch to believe. The thunder tea rice bowl here (from $5) comes with the full works – expect leeks, white cabbage, long beans, sayur manis (which tastes like spinach and a hint of asparagus), firm tofu, pickled radish and dried shrimps. Every component is fresh and well seasoned, complemented by a deeply savoury thunder tea broth. There's also a vegetarian option with no dried shrimps if you like. Otherwise, go all out and get the popular Hakka fried pork, which is marinated in a secret family recipe of fermented beancurd marinade. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Jurong West

A favourite among the Westies, Traditional Hakka Lui Cha at 505 Jurong West Food Centre serves up a mean bowl of thunder tea rice ($3.50). The stall has been around for almost 10 years, more than enough time to get its recipe just right. The subtle sweetness of vegetables like cabbage, green beans and choy sum balance out savoury pickled radish and dried shrimps. Peanuts give extra texture, alongside a pale green and grainy thunder tea broth that has just the slightest trace of bitterness. They don't use MSG here, and cut down on the oil and salt too, making an already healthy bowl even healthier. 

 

  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Tanjong Pagar

Amidst the bustle and long queues at Amoy Street Food Centre, Lin Da Ma Lei Cha is the place to go for a quick, healthy, and yet fulfilling lunch. Part of a chain of thunder tea rice hawkers in Singapore, this branch offers up consistently good lei cha. The tea broth is fragrant and nutty but not too strong, and the toppings are the perfect combination of chewy and crunchy, salty and sweet. There's something for the meat lovers too – they make their own tofu with minced pork patties that you can add on for a dollar more. 

A new spin on thunder tea rice

  • Restaurants
  • Vegetarian
  • Bukit Panjang

SunnyChoice is the place to go for vegan and vegetarian-friendly food options – and we're not just talking about salads. Besides nasi lemak, bibimbap and rendang lion's mane mushroom rice, one of the most famous menu items at SunnyChoice is the thunder tea rice. While many vegetarian lei cha simply omits the dried shrimp and ikan bilis, this café goes a step further with premium replacements like fried enoki mushrooms. Cashew nuts take the place of the usual peanuts, and the thunder tea soup uses ten ingredients instead of the usual five to seven. The result is a unique tasting lei cha that's nevertheless addictive, totally worth $9.50 a bowl. 

  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Rochor

Love both thunder tea rice and kolo mee? Over at Thunder Tea, a vegan Hakka hawker stall, you can have both in one dish. The usual base of white or brown rice is swapped out for eggless kolo mee tossed in an aromatic sesame oil sauce. The lei cha kolo mee ($8) is topped with a medley of vegetables, soft beans and homemade preserved radish. The stall harvests greens from the co-owner Cai Xiaoxi's family-run organic farm, so you may get sweet potato leaves one day and Chinese spinach the next. Thunder Tree uses organic ingredients where possible, and strictly no MSG, artificial flavourings or colourings, so you can enjoy your meal with peace of mind.

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  • Restaurants
  • Raffles Place

The brothers at Ah Lock & Co. are putting are modern spin on the Hakka thunder tea rice. Drawing inspiration from their grandmother's Hakka-style yong tau foo recipe, they've combined it with elements from thunder tea rice. The result is the Hakka tofu bowl ($7.80), a well-balanced meal featuring handmade meatballs, tofu stuffed with meat paste, mani cai (another word for sayur manis) served atop fluffy rice with the quintessential thunder tea soup ($1.50) on the side. A good choice for desk-strapped office workers looking for a healthy meal in the CBD.

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