I have always loved a good bowl of laksa, but it wasn’t until I began travelling more frequently to South East Asia that I realised just how many different variants there are! It seems that every city in Malaysia has its own specification of laksa, and you can walk through any pasar malam in the country and see laksa being cooked – to the joyous faces of Malays everywhere! So let’s take a look at the main 3 variants of laksa:
Curry Laksa is a coconut-based curry soup. The main ingredients for most versions of curry laksa include bean curd puffs, fish sticks, shrimp, or chicken. Laksa is commonly served with a spoonful of sambal chilli paste and garnished with Vietnamese coriander, or laksa leaf, which is known in Malay as “daun kesum”. This is usually known as curry mee in Penang rather than curry laksa, due to the different kind of noodles used (yellow mee or bee hoon, as opposed to the thick white laksa noodles). Curry mee in Penang uses congealed pork blood, which is a delicacy to the Malaysian Chinese community, as well as parts of Singapore.
Asam laksa is a sour, fish-based soup. “Asam” is the Malay word for anything that makes a dish sour (e.g. tamarind or kokum, which is a type of dried slice of mangosteen. The main ingredients for asam laksa include shredded fish, normally kembung fish or mackerel, and finely sliced vegetables including cucumber, onions, red chillies, pineapple, lettuce, common mint, “daun kesum”, or pink bunga kantan (torch ginger). Asam laksa is normally served with either thick rice noodles or thin rice vermicelli, and topped off with “petis udang” or “hae ko”, which is a thick sweet prawn/shrimp paste. You cannot escape the fish with Asam laksa!
Sarawak laksa comes from the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. It is actually very different from the curry laksa as this soup contains no curry at all. It has a base of Sambal belacan, sour tamarind, garlic, galangal, lemon grass, and coconut milk, topped with omelette strips, chicken strips, prawns, fresh coriander and optionally lime. Ingredients such as bean sprouts, sliced tofu or other seafood are not traditional but are sometimes added. The main inclusion of chicken, which is a common meat, as well as a complete lack of curry make Sarawak laksa a good choice if you are slightly cautious in your Asian food-sampling specifics!
So what’s your favourite type of laksa? Do you have a specific regional recipe that I haven’t mentioned here? I would LOVE to hear about it!