The most memorable aspect of Lei Cha Fan would be its almost fluorescent green soup that is quite the eye catcher. Often touted as health food, lei cha fan or Thunder Tea Rice repels those who scoff at vegetables and more wholesome eating options.
Chock full of basil, mint, long beans, a whole lot of other greens, peanuts and dried anchovies (ikan bilis). The word “lei” means “grind” in Chinese but, also “thunder”. Traditionally, ingredients for the tea soup was ground up and pounded using a large motar and pestle which gave the dish its “thunder” moniker. “Cha” on the other hand means “tea”, and refers to the tea soup. However, soup also contains tea, nuts, sesame and herbs like mint and basil, giving it that unmistakable green hue.
With the growing popularity of healthy rice and grain bowls as the choice meals among weary office workers, it begs the question of why isn’t lei cha fan more massively consumed? Instead the dish has been relegated to something of an underground cult following. The medley of ingredients create a flavourful meal-in-a-bowl, although some people think it to be bland. Not everything has to be smothered in heavy seasoning.
We did the searching, travelling and walking so you don’t have to. Maxing out fibre requirements requirements for the month in the process of hunting down and trying all this lei cha fan.
1. Thunder Tea Rice Pte Ltd (Toa Payoh)
Located in Gourmet Paradise, the basement food court at Toa Payoh HDB Hub is a branch of Thunder Tea Rice Pte Ltd, one of the bigger lei cha fan chains in Singapore. Brown rice lei cha ($5.80) contained all the ingredients found in most bowls of lei cha, albeit meagre.
I don’t expect lei cha fan to blow me away like some flavour bomb but, I found this to be slightly bland. The soup was also significantly lighter than the other options on this list. If you prefer much lighter flavours, then this is for you.
Thunder Tea Rice Pte Ltd Toa Payoh: Toa Payoh Lorong 6, HDB Hub Blk 480 #B1-01 (Gourmet Paradise) (S)310480 | Opening hours: 10am-10pm
2. Thunder Tea Rice (Lau Pa Sat)
Another branch of Thunder Tea Rice Pte Ltd calls Lau Pa Sat home. With a number of lei cha stalls in the city and CBD area, we had to give this branch a try to see how it stood up to competition. If you’re looking for lei cha that’s bigger on flavour, this one’s for you.
To mix things up a little we ordered the brown rice lei cha ($5.50) with an additional piece of beancurd stuffed with pork ($1.40). Even without the addition of the beancurd that was greasy, the lei cha fan itself is on the saltier side. To us, this deviates a little from what lei cha should be.
Thunder Tea Rice Pte Ltd Lau Pa Sat| Lau Pa Sat Stall 31, 18 Raffles Quay (S)048582 | Opening hours: 9am-9pm | Website
Thunder Tea Rice Pte Ltd Suntec City | Suntec City Mall, 3 Temasek Boulevard #B1-115 (S)038983 | Opening hours: 10am-10pm
Thunder Tea Rice Pte Ltd Joo Chiat |328 Joo Chiat Road #01-04, (S)427585 | Opening hours: 10am-9:30pm
3. Thunder Tree
If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of Woodlands Industrial Park, Thunder Tree’s lei cha ($5.50) is a favourite at this this health food joint, along with other items like sesame noodles ($4).
Thunder Tree | Woodlands Industrial Park E1 stall 8, (S)757716 | Opening hours: 8am-2:30pm, closed Saturday and Sunday
4. Traditional Hakka Rice (河婆客家擂茶)
Tanjong Pagar market and its surrounding area is a treasure trove of (affordable) good food, all it takes is a bit of exploring. The brown rice lei cha ($4) is a great on its own but, this stall offers handmade Hakka yong tau foo items such as bittergourd stuffed with meat ($1.20) or meatballs ($0.80).
Add on to the already well filled bowl of rice, vegetables, ikan bilis, beancurd and peanuts if you want a heavier meal .
Traditional Hakka Rice 河婆客家擂茶 | Tanjong Pagar market and food centre #02-21, 6 Tanjong Pagar Plaza, (S)081006 | Opening hours: 9:30am-2/3pm (while stocks last)
5. Lin Da Ma Lei Cha (林大妈 擂茶)
A branch of another chain of lei cha hawkers, their bowl was packed full of rice and the various ingredients. Not all lei cha are made the same, if some are too bland, there will be the ones that are too heavy, and then there’s Lin Da Ma Lei Cha at Amoy Street food centre, which is just nice.
The brown rice lei cha ($4.30) is not only good for you but your wallet and taste buds as well. The bowl was full of rice and its various ingredients with dried shrimp mixed through, giving it a nice savoury hum. A slightly creamier soup thanks to the ground peanuts, make it a comforting one bowl meal that won’t rock you to sleep after.
Lin Da Ma Lei Cha | Amoy Street food centre #02-127, 7 Maxwell Rd, (S)069111 | Opening hours: 10am-3:30pm
6. Jinyi Foodstuff Enterprise
Smack dab in the middle of the CBD, Jinyi Foodstuff Enterprise at Clifford Centre is located among a small cluster of food stalls that pull in the ravenous lunch crowd throughout the work week. Born out of the need to keep soldiers of ancient China going, the dish now serves a similar purpose for those letting loose and receiving volleys of emails.
The brown rice lei cha fan ($4.50) does a good job of keeping the army of office workers trooping on. This bowl of lei cha fan is clean and easy on the palate but with ingredients aplenty, making it a filling yet mellow lunch.
Jinyi Foodstuff Enterprise | Clifford Centre #01-K3, 24 Raffles Place (S)048621 | Opening hours: 10:30am-2:30/3pm (while stocks last)
7. Hakka Thunder Tea (客家佬擂茶)
Nestled within quiet community surrounded by HDB flats, away from seemingly possessed millennials that will venture to far out locations, is 客家佬擂茶 selling Hakka yong tau foo and lei cha fan.
Brown rice lei cha ($4) won’t disappoint and with an additional bittergourd stuffed with meat ($0.70) you get yourself a thick slice of bittergourd packed full of juicy meat. It would have been a sin not to try at least one piece of the hand-made Hakka yong tau foo.
Hakka Thunder Tea (客家佬擂茶) | Tanglin Half food centre #01-31, Blk 3A Commonwealth Drive (S)140003 | Opening hours: 11am-7.30pm, Weekends 11am-3pm, closed Mondays
There are likely to be a few more stalls that have almost totally fallen off the grid and have gone unnoticed by us. One other has been torched to the ground in the recent fire at Jurong West Market. Lei cha fan seems to have the odds stacked against it in Singapore, but with this list perhaps a spike in popularity is around the corner – one can hope.