Legendary ‘leicha’ dish deserves greater promotion as part of Hakka community’s culinary heritage

Classic Hakka food including Leicha, 'ngiong taufu', and 'choi pan'.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, April 27: ‘Leicha’ or ground tea rice, a traditional Hakka cuisine that packs a punch of green goodness, is not only a testament to the rich history, culture, and tradition of the Hakka people but also a powerhouse of nutritious and health benefits that deserve promotion for its unique flavours and its place in culinary heritage.

At its heart, Leicha features a bed of rice topped with an array of finely chopped vegetables such as long beans, Chinese leek, cangkuk manis, mustard leaf, and sawi, complemented by additions like firm tofu, preserved salted and sweet turnip, and roasted peanuts.


Yet, the true star of the dish lies in its distinctive green soup, crafted from a blend of herbs including peppermint, basil, coriander, mugwort, and the bitter ‘ku ye xin’ (that makes it bitter), harmonised with ground nuts or seeds.

(From left) Lee, Chong, and Dr Chai each grinding a large mortar in a symbolic gesture to launch the Hakka Food Festival and Leicha Day at SJK Chung Hua No. 3 on April 27, 204.

Traditionally prepared, these ingredients are meticulously pounded in a large mortar with a guava tree pestle before being cooked with boiling water to produce the thick green soup. This not only imparts a balance of bitterness from the herbs but also infuses the soup with the sweet and earthy undertones of the nuts and seeds.

Perhaps that is how the dish gets its name: ‘lei’ or ‘lui’ is the Hakka word for grind, and ‘cha’ means tea.

The way to eat it is just to mix the rice and vegetables before ladling in the soup or consuming it separately.

Historically, this remarkable dish traces its origins back to the Three Kingdoms or the Han Dynasty, where it served as sustenance for troops amidst the tumultuous Three Kingdoms period in China. Its nutritional prowess and vegetarian composition aided in sustaining soldiers’ health and bolstering their resilience against disease.

Scout girls helping to promote and sell Hakka food at the Hakka Food Festival and Leicha Day held at SJK Chung Hua No. 3 on April 27, 2024.

Addressing the Hakka Food Festival and Leicha Day held at SJK Chung Hua No. 3 today, Minister of Transport Dato Sri Lee Kim Shin commended the Sarawak Hopoh Association for their efforts in spotlighting Hakka history, culture, and tradition through food.

“This will bolster promotion to increase awareness of our unique traditions, particularly our culinary gem, Leicha, a classic Hakka dish symbolising the resilience, perseverance, and industrious spirit of the clan historically residing in inland hill areas.

“Leicha, a generous bowl of vegan goodness, embodies health and wellness, aligning with the growing trend of health-consciousness in our community. As Hakka tradition holds, Leicha is praised for its detoxifying properties, aiding in cleansing the body and gut,” he emphasised.

Apart from Leicha, Lee encouraged the promotion of other traditional Hakka fare such as ‘ngiong taufu’ (tofu stuffed with ground meat), ‘choi pan’ (steamed vegetable dumplings), and ‘toh pan’ (pink triangle-shaped kuih with filling) in order to foster a deeper appreciation for Hakka culinary heritage.

He added, “I hope for the festival’s continued growth as an annual celebration that unites individuals to explore and embrace Hakka food, culture, and legacy.”

Lee (third right) unveiling the book on the Hakka community in Sarawak by author Lee Fook Onn (second left) witnessed by others during the Hakka Food Festival and Leicha Day held at SJK Chung Hua No. 3 on April 27, 2024.

Organising chairman Temenggong Liew Shark Sen echoed this sentiment, emphasising the festival’s role in not only preserving but also sharing the rich Hakka culture for future generations.

The event also witnessed the launching of a book on the Hakka community by author Lee Fook Onn which symbolised a commitment to documenting and preserving Hakka heritage.

Lee also announced RM10,000 to support the festival’s organisation and pledged to purchase 100 copies of the book.

Sarawak Hopoh Association president Datuk Dr Chai Khin Chung, and Federation of Hopo Associations Malaysia president Dato Sri Chong Ket Pen were present. — DayakDaily