Travel Tips For Eating Laksa in Malaysia & Singapore
Laksa is popular street food in Malaysia and Singapore. There are two types of soup base for Laksa. A rich Coconut Milk Curry base or sour Assam (Tamarind). This pungent spicy concoction can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Southern Thailand.
The noodles used are either fresh soft rice noodles or blanched dry rice vermicelli.
Origins of Laksa
Historian believes laksa is a dish created when Chinese merchants settle in the coastal regions of Southeast Asia and intermarry the local women. The women began to create this hybrid Chinese-local culture called the Straits-born or Peranakan cuisine. The mixture of local spices and rich coconut milk into Chinese noodle soup creates this diversity by adding local flavor.
These women began incorporating local spices and coconut milk into Chinese noodle soup served to their husbands. This creates the hybrid Chinese-local (Malay or Javanese) culture called Peranakan culture.
In Malaysia, there is almost a different type of Laksa for all the country’s 13 states. Most of the gravy coconut based except Penang Assam Laksa which is a mouth-watering sour and spicy.
Penang Assam Laksa’s popularity is such that it was ranked as one of the world’s 50 best foods list by CNN. This version of Malaysia’s laksa is very addictive due to the spicy and sour taste of the flaked ikan kembong (small mackerel) broth infused with aromatic herbs. Typical garnishes include mint, pineapple slices, thinly sliced onion, and torch ginger flower. The thick pungent dollops of hare koh (prawn paste) complete the taste.
Laksa Johor’s spaghetti instead of rice noodles and the gravy is coconut based. It is made with prawns, dried prawns, fresh ikan and kerisik (toasted coconut flakes) with the optional sprinkling of Chinese pickled radish (chye poh) as garnish. Unique to Laksa Johor is its Italian connection, spaghetti is used instead of rice noodles. If you travel to Johor, you may find the locals eating Laksa Johor with their hands. This laksa has spicy hot sambal belacan as a condiment.
Laksam is a popular dish in the northern states and east coast of Malaysia. The state of Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu with heavy influence from Thailand. Laksam is made with thick flat white rice flour noodles in a rich, full-bodied white gravy of boiled fish and coconut milk. Sometimes eels are used. It is served with shredded cucumber, cabbage, onions, long beans, bean sprouts, ginger bud, Daun Kesum, and sambal belacan.
Traditionally Laksam is eaten with hands rather than with eating utensils due to the gravy’s thick consistency.
In Singapore, Katong Laksa is a creamy Laksa Lemak made by the Straits Chinese. The spicy soup stock is made with coconut milk and dried shrimp. The toppings are cockles, prawns and fishcake and garnished with Vietnamese coriander, or laksa leaf, Malay Daun Kesum.
The rice vermicelli is cut up into small pieces. The entire dish is normally eaten with a spoon instead of chopsticks.
328 Katong Laksa (Joo Chiat) is mentioned in the 2017 MICHELIN Guide Singapore.
Curry Laksa in Singapore and Malaysia is coconut-based curry soup which uses yellow noodles or bee hoon (vermicelli) with toppings of bean curd puffs, shrimps and cockles.
Penangites call this Curry Mee as yellow noodles or bee hoon is used instead of fresh rice noodles. Curry Mee in Penang uses congealed pig or duck blood cubes, a delicacy to the Malaysian Chinese community.
Tips for Eating Laksa
When you visit Asia, you will find a different type of soupy noodle dishes which the locals eat for breakfast, lunch and a snack in between meal. This category of cuisine is commonly found in street food stalls, hawker centers and food courts in Malls.
Eating More Greens and Protein
Unlike other noodle dishes which are mainly carbs, Laksa is a complete meal in itself. It provides more nutritious serve of greens and proteins from eating other noodle dishes. The garnish is aromatics, herbs and raw bean sprouts, julienned cucumber, pineapple, and onion slivers.
In some Chinese vegetarian shops, a vegan version of this dish is sometimes served.
Keeping the Dishes Hot
Laksa is served by adding the soft rice noodles and ladling the hot boiling fish gravy on top. It is garnished before serving. There is a stall near Ayer Itam Market in Penang where the customers eat it standing. They hold the bowl in one hand and use chopsticks to eat.
Packing it Home
The Laksa noodles and greens are packed together. The soup is packed separately in another plastic bag. Some local will use a tiffin carrier for the soup when buying the dish to eat at home.
Taste of Laksa
Curry Laksa is more palatable to the Western palate. Some Asians who are not local may not find the Penang Assam Laksa to their liking. The hare koh (prawn paste) is an acquired taste, so my advice is to take it separately on a spoon. You can dip a little to taste it with your chopstick instead of tipping it into your bowl.
Generally, check the hygiene of the stall before you decide to order. Penang Assam Laksa is a bold dish with a funky taste. You may not want to consume it immediately on arrival.
This dish does not contain nuts. It is rare to find fish bones in the soup. You may opt to exclude the raw onion slivers if you don’t like the taste.
Some laksa gravy maybe heavily spiced. Some street food stalls may garnish the dish with sliced red chilies or green Bird’s eye chilies which are very hot.
Money Saving Tips
If you’re eating with a friend, just order a bowl and share. You can order another bowl if you like the taste.