The History Behind Lei Cha Fan
Lei Cha (擂茶) literally translates to ‘Thunder Tea’. ‘fan’ in Chinese means rice. The name of this dish was referenced to the thunderous pounding sound of the green tea leaves. It might have sounded like a ‘thunder’ to the Hakkas, one of the Chinese dialectic groups.
According to the Hakka customs, they would usually serve this dish on the seventh day of the Lunar New Year to celebrate the birth of mankind (人日). And legend has it that during the era of the Three Kingdoms, General Zhang Fei’s troops fell ill by the plague when they are about to attack Chengdu. But after drinking this herbal concoction (which was prescribed by a doctor), his troops recovered from their illness and eventually won the battle!
According to my mum (who is a Hakka), Lei Cha Fan is a traditional Hakka dish which has been passed down from generations to generations. It is actually a ‘poor man’s food’ which has now evolved into a popular vegetarian hawker dish in Singapore. Ironically, each bowl of Lei Cha Fan can cost up to $10 in today’s modern food courts and eateries.
In the past, you don’t use to see so many of these Lei Cha Fan stalls around. But recently, with the healthy eating trend on the rise, more people (especially vegetarians) are enjoying this dish itself.
Ingredients in Thunder Tea Rice (Lei Cha Fan)
This labour-intensive dish comprises a total of 9 ingredients – 7 varieties of chopped vegetables, white rice and green tea soup. Occasionally, some will add dried shrimps or anchovies (
Ingredients: Diced tofu, green beans, pickled radish, Bok Choy, Nappa cabbage, Chye Sim (mustard leaves), ground nuts
In a bid to promote a healthier lifestyle, many hawker stalls in Singapore are encouraged to serve brown rice instead of white rice. Most of the Lei Cha stalls in Singapore do offer both white and brown rice.
The Green Tea Soup
Ingredients: Green Tea Leaves, Basil leaves, mint, cilantro, sesame seeds
As a Lei Cha enthusiast, I enjoy going around Singapore to search for the best Lei Cha Fan stall in town. So far, I’ve tried several stalls and narrowed down to these top 3 Leo Cha Fan stall. My personal favourite is still the Lei Cha Fan stall at Boon Lay Market Place. Their rice and vegetables are not only super fragrant but also their green tea soup which is very rich and creamy. It is their green tea soup that really stood out from the rest of the Lei Cha Fan stalls.
How to eat Lei Cha Fan?
The rice is usually served with green tea soup. The rice is typically quite dry so having the soup at the side helps you swallow the food better.
1. Thunderbolt Tea by Boon Lay Traditional Hakka Lui Cha (Boon Lay Market Place)
I’ve been eating their Lei Cha Fan for years now. In my opinion, Thunderbolt Tea (or Traditional Hakka Lei Cha) is the best Lei Cha Fan stall in Singapore. Currently, there are 3 outlets across Singapore and they even offer delivery services too.
You can choose between white and brown rice. If you chose white rice, it will costs you $3.50 per bowl of Lei Cha. Conversely, the brown rice option costs 50 cents more.
I would usually do a takeaway and bring it back home to savour all the goodness. For takeaways, they will usually hand you a plastic container filled with their green tea soup paste. Once you reach home, you will just need to add some hot water to prepare the green tea soup. Do expect to fork out an extra 20 cents if you did not bring your own takeaway containers.
Personally, I love the herbaceous richness of the paste so I usually just drown the rice with paste and mix it in. I know that it might look gross and the green-hue soup might turn you off. But to me, it’s the best dish on earth!
In contrast, my family members prefer to have Lei Cha Fan without the soup. All these boil down to personal preferences.
The creamy green tea soup paste is essentially what makes their Lei Cha Fan stood out. Their soup consists of grounded peanuts which added an extra dimension of taste. It is usually not found in green tea soups prepared by other Lei Cha stalls.
In addition, their vegetables and pickled radish are so delicious. They chopped the vegetables very finely so that it is easy to mix them with the rice and savour it.
Boon Lay Place Food Village
221B Boon Lay Place, #01-96, Singapore 642221
Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays, 6 am – 2 pm
Jurong West Market & Food Centre
505 Jurong West, Street 52, #01-12 Singapore 640505
Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays, 6 am – 2 pm
Toa Payoh West Market & Food Centre
127 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh #02-39, Singapore 310127
Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays, 7 am – 2 pm
C&L Cafe, UB.ONE – Thunderbolt Tea
81 Ubi Ave 4, Singapore 408830
Opening hours: Mondays to Fridays, 7 am – 2 pm
2. Hakka Thunder Tea Rice (Commonwealth)
This is another popular Lei Cha Fan stall in Singapore. Their version of Lei Cha is delicious as well but I find their green tea soup is not as creamy and fragrant as Boon Lay Thunderbolt tea’s green tea.
But over here, they serve Hakka noodle dishes as well. And you can even spice up your Lei Cha Fan with some of their homemade chilli paste.
As usually, I like to drizzle the green tea soup paste all over the rice. It adds moisture to the rice, thus, making it easier for the body to digest.
Their vegetables are delicious but they are not properly diced and chopped finely. They seem to serve their vegetable toppings in large chunks. And that just means that your mouth has to ‘work extra hard’ to break down the food into smaller pieces.
Hakka Thunder Tea Rice (Tanglin Halt Market)
1A Commonwealth Dr, #01-31, Singapore 141001
Opening hours: Tuesdays – Fridays ( 11am – 7pm), Weekends (11am – 3pm)
3. Singapore Hakka Lei Cha by Thunder Tree
Last but not least, we found our favourite third stall at a modern food court. It is located at the basement of Raffles Hospital in Bugis.
Their main outlet is actually in Chinatown and this Vegetarian stall in the food court is their second branch.
Their version of Lei Cha really differs from the ones mentioned above. I find that their vegetables are less oily. They also added kidney beans and roasted sesame seeds, which are absent in the Lei Cha dishes sold at the aforementioned Lei Cha stalls.
What stood out the most for me about their stall is the chili paste they served. It is very fragrant but super spicy. You will just need a dollop of it to spice up this dish.
I actually really like the addition of Kidney beans and sesame seeds which made the dish tasted more flavourful.
But when it comes to their green tea soup, it tasted pretty average.
Out of the three, Thunder Tree’s Lei Cha is the most expensive. Each bowl of Lei Cha Fan costs $7.80.
Cross Street People’s Park Centre Level B1 S(058357)
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat (11am – 7.30pm)
Vegetarian Stall (Heritage Food Street at B1)
Raffles Hospital, 585 North Bridge Road, Singapore 188770
Thunder Tree (FM Foodmaster)
#03-51 Mapletree Business City 2, 50 Pasir Panjang Rd, Singapore 117440
Opening hours: Mon – Fri (10am – 2.30pm)
As you can already tell, I’m a self-professed Lei Cha enthusiast who loves eating this vegetable rice dish. And just in case you are new to this dish, here are some tips for you!
If you are eating this dish for the first time, you might not be able to take the strong herbal scent of the soup. You will really need to have an acquired taste for this dish. And this dish, strangely, just grows on you as you consume it more often.
Do you know of any other places that serve authentic Hakka thunder tea rice? Let me know in the comment box below!