May Heong Bak Kut Teh, a Malaysian specialty restaurant recently opened in Yeonnam-dong, is now serving up one of the most evocative and unapologetic flavors in Seoul. Opened as the Korean branch of the well-known and much-beloved Pao Xiang Bak Kut Teh in Malaysia, May Heong is an ambitious effort to bring Malaysia’s classic dishes to Seoul. Bak kut teh, or “pork bone tea”, is a popular Chinese soup found all over Malaysia and Singapore. With its heavily scented slow-boiled broth and tender pork ribs that fall right off the bone, bak kut teh is a nourishing meal like none other.
Ordering can be a little tricky, but the easiest way is to choose a selection of different meat options for bak kut teh along with an assortment of vegetables, rice, noodles, or even yu tiou (fried Chinese dough). Pork rib bak kut teh, a classic Malaysian dish, has such an intense herbal taste that it may take more than one bite for first-timers to come around. Sooner or later, however, everyone finds themselves happily dunking yu tiou into that rich, darkly colored broth to absorb the 17 herbal flavors infused into it. For something more subtle, try the Vinegar Legs – the current favourite amongst Korean patrons. Vinegar Legs, dry bak kut teh, is actually pork knuckle braised in black vinegar. It has a surprisingly sour and sweet flavor with subtle hints of garlic that balances out the richness of the fatty pork trotters. For Singaporean style bak kut teh, try teochow pepper which, unlike its Malaysian counterparts, features a clear and lighter soup with a meatier flavor and stronger pepper taste.
With the emphasis being placed on the broth, it’s not surprising that the best way to finish off the meal is to scoop up the leftover soup or gravy with either a plain bowl of rice, yu tiou, or even a plate of stir-fried vegetables or mushrooms with a drizzle of oyster sauce and fried garlic bits.
To complement a rich and nourishing meal, May Heong offers a range of Chinese liquors, beers, and traditional gongfu tea (puer, chamomile, jasmine, and many more). Serving up a rare treat for Korea, May Heong also offers durian mochi and fried durian. The fried durian is surprisingly mild, which may be disappointing to diehard fans, but still manages to be incredibly creamy, rich, and surprisingly crunchy.
May Heong’s bold and unique dishes are quickly gaining attention amongst Singaporeans, Malaysians, and even Koreans in search of the next culinary trend. And if the food itself isn’t unique enough, drinks like the Michael Jackson, a delicious grass jelly soya drink, certainly are. And if you’re curious like I was, make sure to drop in and ask about how the name came to be.
Bak Kut Teh: 9,000 KRW for a small dish (1 person), 17,000 KRW for a medium dish (2-3 people) and 25,000 KRW for a large dish. Sides: 1,000 KRW – 4,000 KRW for eggs, noodles, and vegetables. Durian desserts: 3,000 KRW – 4,000 KRW
Drinks: Tea (4,500 KRW), Beer, and Chinese Liquors (4,000 KRW up to 180,000 KRW)
For lighter and less herbal flavours try the teo cheow pepper or vinegar legs; for a thicker richer broth go for the classic ribs or pork belly. Try ordering a side of fried chinese dough (yu tiao) to dunk in the broth and a bowl of rice or noodle if you’re looking for a fuller meal. Make sure to end the meal with Fried Durian – just try it even if you haven’t been a fan in the past!
Address: Mapo-gu, Dongyo-ro 266-12 266-12
Hours: Open every day from 10:30 to 20:30 (no holidays