By: Adline A. Ghani
One of the most popular types of Malaysian food is laksa, a noodle dish served in a rich, flavourful gravy or soup. Originally a Peranakan dish, it has become a favourite amongst all Malaysian food lovers because it’s an all-in-one food that’s simply mouth-wateringly delicious!
There are two basic types of laksa – curry laksa and asam laksa. Curry laksa, also known as curry mee, consists of yellow noodles or bee hoon served with gravy made of coconut milk, curry paste, spices and fresh herbs. It is customarily served with tofu puffs, fish sticks, shrimp, cockles, chicken and a side of sambal or chilli paste.
Asam laksa, on the other hand, consists of thick or thin rice noodles served in a sour fish-based soup. Its distinctive flavour comes from the use of asam jawa (tamarind paste) orasam keping (slices of tamarind fruit) that is allowed to simmer in a broth thickened by shredded fish (normally mackerel). The dish is usually served with sliced cucumbers, onions, red chillies, pineapple, lettuce, daun kesum (Vietnamese mint), bunga kantan (ginger buds) and a side of petis (sweet shrimp paste).
While we’ve established that there are two main types of laksa, the varieties of laksa are almost endless, as most Malaysian states have their own version. One of the most popular types of Malaysian laksa is the Penang laksa, which is a type of asam laksa. Perlis laksa and Kedah laksa are similar to Penang laksa.
In Kelantan, the main ingredient of their laksa is boiled and minced mackerel which is fried with onions, garlic, ginger, belacan (shrimp paste), bunga kantan, daun kesum, lemongrass and asam keping. Coconut milk is then added to create a thick gravy. The dish is then served with ulam (raw vegetables) and blended chili.
In Johor, the laksagravy is made with shredded fish, kerisik (fried grated coconut), dried prawns, lemongrass, galangal, spices and coconut milk. Instead of yellow or rice noodles, Italian spaghetti is used instead. The dish is traditionally served with slices of onion, cucumber, mint leaves, bean sprouts, a squeeze of lime juice and a side of sambal belacan (a paste made of fresh chillies and shrimp paste).
Another variation is laksam, a speciality of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, which consists of thick flat rice noodles served in a rich gravy of boiled fish and coconut milk. Like laksa Johor, laksam is traditionally eaten with the hands, like rice, due to the gravy's thick consistency.
Not to be outdone is East Malaysia’s Sarawak laksa, which has a base made of tamarind, garlic, galangal, lemongrass and coconut milk. It is often served topped with omelette strips, shredded chicken, prawns, fresh coriander, lime, bean sprouts and slices of fried tofu. With all this variety, it’s easy to see why Malaysians are simply nuts about laksa! What’s the best kind of laksa? The kinds that mum makes, of course!