By: Adline A. Ghani
Being raised in Johor Bahru, one of my most favourite Malaysian food of all time is without a doubt a noodle dish called laksa Johor. While we can enjoy a wide variety of laksa, as most Malaysian states have their own version, laksa Johor is a little bit different in that it incorporates spaghetti instead of locally-produced wheat or rice noodles. I don’t think anyone is certain of how the Italian connection came about, but nevertheless, laksa Johor is still a much-loved traditional fare.
Like all laksa dishes, laksa Johor is served in a rich and flavourful gravy, but the gravy in laksa Johor tends to be especially thick, as its base is made of a concoction of fresh shredded fish, kerisik (fried grated coconut), dried prawns, spices and coconut milk. Laksa Johor gravy is so thick, in fact, that Johoreans would traditionally eat their beloved laksa dish with their hands, like they would with rice!
To tone down the richness of the gravy, however, fresh local herbs like serai (lemongrass) and lengkuas (galangal) are added to infuse a certain zest. While the dish itself promises to make a hearty all-in-one meal, the introduction of fresh ingredients like slices of red onion, cucumber, mint leaves, bean sprouts and a squeeze of lime juice just before serving, helps to lighten things up quite a bit.
If you think that’s all the flavour that this dish can handle, think again, as laksa Johor isn’t complete without a condiment consisting of thick sambal belacan, which is a paste made of fresh chillies and shrimp paste. All in all, the dish serves up layer upon layer of flavour and texture, blending together the best harvests of land and sea.
Fortunately, I can still get a laksa Johor kick whenever I need it either at the nearest Laksa Shack outlet or at the stall near my workplace, which fortunately makes great roti canai and laksa Johor for breakfast. But the best laksa Johor of all, of course, is still my mother’s, as no one can beat her stellar recipe!
Though I love eating laksa Johor, admittedly, I’m yet to learn how to make it, as I haven’t developed the patience or skills to master it just yet. Like most traditional Malaysian dishes, it takes quite a lot of time and ingredients to prepare. As such, in each bowl of laksa Johor, one can sense the amount of tenderness, love and care that went into the process of making it. You could even say that TLC is laksa Johor’s ubiquitous secret ingredient!