Lei-Cha (擂茶) or Thunder Tea-Rice is a traditional Hakka dish that consists of an assortment of vegetables placed over a bed of rice , topped off with a fragrant mixture of tea leaves and other earthly herbs like coriander, garlic, mint and basil.
Its history dates back to almost two thousand years, where it was first prescribed as a medicine to cure soldiers affected by the plague, as well as a dish that many carried around and integrated with the staples of various villages.
To me however, its importance ties back to it being perhaps the sole link to my Hakka Heritage that I have honestly never made an effort to embrace. Even up till this day, my extended family gathers for this traditional dish thanks to the efforts of my Dad every 3-4 months, and with every bite there is always some fleeting memory of my lovely late Grandmother who painstakingly made this dish (amongst many other Hakka delicacies) all the way up till her late 80s. Thankfully my dad was wise enough to learn this recipe from her.
Unlike the green minty paste that you would see in Lei-cha stalls around the island, my Grandma kept the usage of the star of the dish, the tea, simple by using just plain black oolong tea leaves as the soup broth for the dish, something very similar in fact to what travellers back in China used to do given that herbs like mint and coriander were not widely available.
One important thing when making Lei-cha is that the tealeaves, along with other herbs, are not to be blended, but rather physically pounded in an earthen vessel with an accompanying wooden pestle to bring out the true fragrance of the leaves and any accompanying herbs.
Lei-cha, which can also be found in Hakka settled areas like Malaysia and Taiwan, is also diverse in terms of the vegetables on offer be it from food stalls or family recipes. For my family, we keep it simple with Chinese leeks, Long beans, Mani cai or stargoose berry, Kai-lan, Tau-kwa (Fried beancurd) and my favourite roasted peanuts.
Most of these vegetables are simply stir fried with garlic and topped off with a dash of salt, keeping it simple and rather healthy all at the same time.
This healthily historical dish may never rival the popularity of other dialect staples like Hokkien Prawn Mee or Hainanese Chicken Rice, but to me it is a dish that connects my family to the past through my grandmother, and the present all at once