Years ago, I waited for a bus more than an hour in a small town. I was almost frozen when an old Hakka couple passed by. They took me to their home, let me dry by their fire and fed me homemade soup. I was taught how to make my own “Lei cha” or “pounded tea,” the soup that amiable pair gifted me on that memorable night.
The Hakkas’ ancestors originated from the Central Plain in China (now Shanxi and Henan Provinces), so although they live many different places in the world, they are Han people.
Trace the origins of “Hakka” (“guest families”) and you will find the name witnesses the sorrow of generations of Hakka, as well as their relentless perseverance in pursuit of better lives.
Hakkas have survived several large-scale migrations, mostly caused by wars, since the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). Despite many centuries of farming and trailblazing in their new homelands, the Hakka refer to themselves as “guests.”
The old couple’s Lei cha was aromatic, thick and delicious. Like all Lei cha, its base was made of green tea leaves which have antioxidants and offer cardiovascular protection. The nutrients of green tea and all of Lei cha’s ingredients are more easily absorbed when ground. In winter, after consuming a large quantity of meat and fish, it is very easy to end up with an acidic constitution and an elevated cholesterol level. Drink a bowl of fragrant hot Lei cha to tonify and clean your body. There are many Hakka centenarians!
Lei Cha Soup Base
Ingredients: 300g green tea leaves (raw), 200g roasted peanuts, 200g black and 200g white sesame seeds (raw), and 100g roasted (browned) rice.*
Directions: Grind green tea leaves into powder in a mortar and pestle. Add roasted peanuts, brown rice and sesame seeds and continue grinding. Add water into ground mixture. The soup base is now ready and can be served alone as a beverage by adding hot water.
Savoury Lei Cha Rice Soup
Ingredients: 100g basil, 30g cilantro, some salt; sweet potato leaves, broccoli, garlic, green beans, Chinese long beans (long-podded cowpeas), celery stalks, dried peeled shrimp, sautéd meat, dried tofu, peanuts and dried radish. The mix of the vegetables can be changed according to the season. Choose five to seven ingredients. (Continued on page 120)
Directions: When Lei cha soup base ingredients are almost ground, add basil, cilantro and salt and continue pounding. Add hot water to turn ground mix into savoury base.
Wash and dice vegetables and dried tofu. Put frying pan on high heat. Sauté dried tofu, dried peeled shrimp, garlic and vegetables in sequence. Make sure they are not too oily.
Fill a bowl with rice or brown rice. Cover the rice with sautéd vegetables, dried tofu and dried radish cubes. Pour freshly brewed savoury soup base onto rice.
Sweet Lei Cha
Suggested Ingredients may include snow lotus, ginkgo, lotus, or Gordon Euryale seeds; green peas, Job’s Tears, Chinese yam; adzuki, rice, jack, mung or scarlet runner beans; soybeans; black soybeans; millet; wheat or red wheat; barley, buckwheat, oats or brown rice.
Directions: Sweet ingredients can be used selectively, according to preferences. Total quantity of sweet ingredients should not exceed one-third of soup base ingredients’ quantity. First, roast ingredients. Prepare soup base, add choices and mix with soup base. Grind mixture into paste. Add some sugar into mixture. Add hot boiling water into mixture before serving.
*Roasted rice is made from soaking, cooking, sun-drying and roasting rice grains as a preservation method. It can be found in a Chinese grocery store.
** This article not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.