In 2010, my boyfriend and I spent 5 months in South East Asia, starting in Singapore, then travelling to Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand, Cambodia & Laos. We tried 3 different types of Laksa during our travels, but there was in one in particular that was definitely my favourite.
The Sarawak Laksa.
What is Laksa you ask? And where the hell is Sarawak??
There are a few different types of Laksa, each regions’ version using slightly different spices or ingredients.
The two main types are Curry Laksa and Asam Laksa.
Curry Laksa is a coconut curry soup with noodles, and Asam Laksa is a sour fish soup with noodles. Most Laksa use thick rice noodles, although rice vermicelli can be used in some regions.
Laksa is most commonly found in Singapore, Malaysia, and parts of Indonesia. Sarawak is the west part of Malaysia Borneo, and the city where it originates from is the capital Kuching.
Anyway, here is a little story about some of my experiences with Laksa…
The first significant memory I have of trying Laksa was in Singapore. In New Zealand, if I saw a Laksa on the menu it was usually a Singapore Laksa. So I was pretty excited to try it.
There was a small takeaway Laksa cafe on the corner, just downstairs from our hostel. After a day of sight-seeing and wandering, I decided to order one.
It had a rich, curry coconut gravy with a wonderful aroma of shrimp and chilli. It was served with a boiled egg, shredded chicken, bean sprouts, fish balls and thick rice noodles. It was incredibly filling and satisfying, and I was determined to try this again.
At the end of our trip we decided to spend 2 weeks on a beach, relaxing until flew to England.
We agreed on Penang, as it was close to Kuala Lumpur, where we were flying from. It was also reasonably cheap and we heard the food was amazing.
We found a family run guesthouse on Batu Ferringhi beach, that was run by a lovely Chinese Malay family and a retired publican from Brighton!
We made friends with a guest there who was working in Penang but was from Kuala Lumpur. He had a jeep, and offered to drive us round the island for the day.
We were telling him how much we loved the food in Malaysia, and mentioned how much we also loved Laksa. He drove us into the middle of the island, way up into the hills to a random little restaurant all on its own.
The restaurant specialised in Laksa, Penang Laksa.
Penang Laksa is very different to Singapore Laksa, it is an Asam Laksa with a particularly fishy and sour broth.
It was served by a friendly little lady, with thick rice noodles, mackerel, a boiled egg, bean sprouts and a thick shrimp chilli paste called sambal belecan.
As we were eating, our friend watched us eagerly, in which we responded with nods and mmms. We could tell he was excited for us to try it, and we didn’t want to show that we weren’t enjoying it as much as he thought we would.
I would say that Penang Laksa is an acquired taste, the richness of the mackerel and pungent fish broth was overwhelming, so I think it would take a while to get used to.
I would love to go back and try it again now I am prepared and ready for the strength! It was a completely different dish to the Singaporean Laksa, and different again to the one I tell you about next, the Sarawak Laksa.
After spending one month in Malaysia, we flew from KL to Kuching.
We asked a friend what the best food to try in Sarawak is, and she said definitely the Laksa.
We found a Laksa cafe right next to our guesthouse, it served a few other things, but specialised in laksa.
The aromatic coconut broth was packed with lemongrass, tamarind, garlic, and loads of spices, and was topped with beansprouts, omelette strips, juicy prawns and shredded chicken. There was plenty of vermicelli so was once again, super filling. I think we paid RM4, which is roughly 77p!
The Sarawak Laksa is a mix between a Curry Laksa and an Asam Laksa as it has a fish based broth with sour tamarind, plus additional coconut milk, but does not contain any curry flavourings. It is very rare to find this outside of Sarawak!
Here is my adaptation of the Sarawak Laksa, please note it is not authentic, it is a slightly simplified version with a few bits added/missing. To find a 100% authentic recipe, please check out http://3hungrytummies.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/sarawak-laksa-malaysian-monday-95.html
This is a relatively time-consuming recipe, as it has lots of different components and fiddley preparation. I would recommend making this on a day off, and not for an evening meal after work during the week!
Prep and cooking time – 3 – 4 hours
5cm piece of fresh turmeric, chopped (or 1 tbsp turmeric powder) – if using fresh, don’t forget to wear gloves!
5cm knob of galangal, chopped
250g shallots (I used banana shallots, less fiddley)
10 cloves garlic, peeled
20 dried chillies, de-seeded
6 red chillies, chopped (de-seed for less spice) – I used dutch red
6 candlenuts – ask your local Asian grocer for these, but otherwise use 10 Macadamia nuts
50g dried shrimps
2 tbsp shrimp paste – toasted (I just fried mine in a non stick pan with a little coconut oil)
1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/4 grated nutmeg
1 bunch lemongrass, white part only, chopped (roughly 5 sticks)
1. Soak your dried chillies for 20 minutes
2. Blend all of the paste ingredients together until it forms a fine paste.
For the broth:
2 chicken breasts, still on the bone if possible
1/2 kg prawns – heads and tails on
1. Bring 2 litres of water to a boil, with a decent pinch of salt, and add the chicken breasts
2. Turn up the heat, and when the water returns to a boil, cover, turn off the heat, ad let the chicken steep in hot eater for 20 minutes
3. Remove the chicken, set aside.
Return the water the a boil. Add chicken bones and prawns, and cook for 5 minutes.
5. Remove the prawns, peel, then return the heads and shells to the cooking liquor. Simmer for 20 minutes, covered.
6. Shred the chicken and remove the black line from the prawns.
1 pack vermicelli rice noodles (soaked for 10 minutes)
1/2 pack bean sprouts
3 hard-boiled eggs
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tsp sugar
squeeze of lime
18 x mangetout
1 red chilli
2 eggs, beaten and made into omelette strips
1 can coconut milk (make sure there are no additives)
6 tbsp cooking oil (I use coconut oil as it doesn’t burn at a high temperature
1. Fry one mug of paste in oil until fragrant, and oil starts to split (approx 15-20 mins)
2. Add tamarind, sugar, and lime, and cook for another minute until well mixed and oil starts to split again.
3. Add your chicken and prawn stock, and cook for 45 minutes on a low simmer.
4. Add coconut milk, and bring to a boil, check to taste for seasonings (lime, sugar, tamarind, salt) Reduce to a simmer.
5. Blanch the vermicelli in boiling water and divide into 6 bowls.
6. Repeat with the mangetout and bean sprouts.
7. Peel and half the eggs, and place a half in each bowl, along with shredded chicken, prawns, omelette strips, chilli, lime wedge, mint and coriander.
I hope you get to make this sometime, it’s delicious! Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions.