Hakka ham cha

Hakka ham cha with green tea brew
For 13 years the Liew family has been serving their recipe of fragrant ham cha at Volcano Coffee House in Kampung Baru, Kelapa Sawit. 

While Liew Lee Lee and her sisters serve their customers in the restaurant, their younger brother, Chee Chong, is the chief cook.  Regulars occupy the few tables to eat in but behind the counter, boxes are stacked and ready because this delicious Hakka meal is also popular for takeaways.

Ham cha or “thunder tea rice” is synonymous with the Hakka community who are best known for their cuisine.  The Hakka are the largest dialect group of Chinese in Malaysia after the Hokkien and in Johor, the Kulaijaya and Kluang districts are predominantly Hakka.

Ham cha is often considered the healthier choice and a guilt-free meal because of the vegetarian ingredients and health-inducing tea brew.  Then again, meat-lovers are welcome to add on the famous Hakka yong tau foo, beancurd stuffed with minced meat and cha yok, deep-fried slices of pork belly marinated in nam yee or fermented red beancurd.  Volcano offers a variety of meat toppings for you to add to your meal.

Liew Lee Lee serving green tea soup
while her sister looks on
You have to acquire a taste for this Hakka meal and connoisseurs of ham cha will say that the secret is in the green tea brew that’s served with the rice.  In fact, the distinct identity of this dish is derived from its interesting tea. 

To create the base for this green tea, ingredients like toasted peanuts and sesame seeds, mint leaves, basil leaves, sweet potato leaves and tea leaves are traditionally ground together in an earthen bowl with the trunk of a guava tree. 

The rice set includes a bowl of rice, fragrant with garlic and shallots, topped with a variety of chopped vegetables and served with a bowl of this strong green tea. 

At Volcano, seven types of ingredients are prepared separately before being added to the rice and served.  They includes sayur manis (sauropus androgynus or star gooseberry), long beans, cabbage, dried beancurd, pickled radish, red beans and toasted groundnuts. 

Variety of meat toppings to add to
your vegetarian ham cha meal
There is no hard and fast rule on how to eat this delicious meal but the Hakka way is to drown the rice with the tea brew and slurp it all up.  When the green brew is added to the rice and ingredients, it will enhance the flavour of the food but you can choose to eat the rice and drink the soup separately. 

Whichever way you decide to eat it, connoisseurs of quality ham cha sets Volcano’s ham cha apart as one of the best in the community.

Ham cha here is served in three sizes, Regular, Large and Extra-Large.  Add-on meat toppings are charged separately by per piece prices.  Volcano Coffee House is located at No. 8091, Kampung Baru, Kelapa Sawit, 81000 Kulaijaya.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 13 May 2011

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