But What, Exactly, is Laksa?
Sour, spicy, slightly sweet with a hint of fish – laksa is a mouth watering noodle soup dish found all over Southeast Asia. Though the epicenter may be Malaysia, laksa's fame has spread throughout Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the West.
Laksa typically consists of rice noodles in a thick, gritty gravy made from either coconut milk and curry paste or tamarind fruit and fish, depending on the locale.
Lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chili, fish or shrimp, and a long list of other seasonings blend flawlessly for a complex taste. Optional lime helps to counter the fishy taste and adds a citrus zing.
Laksa is the quintessential fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisine; a must-try for any traveler in Southeast Asia.
Where did Laksa come From?
Laksa is generally thought to be a creation of the Chinese who immigrated to the British Straits in Malaysia during the 15th century. Known as the Peranakan, most of the immigrants were of Hokkien descent and came from South China.
Even the origin of the word "laksa" is debated. The word lakhshah denotes a type of noodle in Hindi; however, laksa sounds similar to a Chinese word meaning "spicy sand" - fitting because of laksa's gritty texture.
Laksa has been lovingly adapted and modified from region to region. Laksa can even vary between street carts and eateries in the same town, depending on the ancestry and preference of the chef! Regardless of what word precedes or follows laksa on a menu, chances are that you will not be disappointed.
Some common variations of laksa include:
Hailing from Kuching in Borneo and fishier than most, the Sarawak variety of laksa does not use curry. Sambal belacan – a spicy shrimp paste – serves as the base.
Also called Penang laksa, Asam laksa is made sour by tamarind and uses pounded or shredded fish as a base rather than shrimp paste. Asam laksa is the tasty default in the foodie hotspot city Penang.
Rich and sweet rather than sour, laksa lemak is based on coconut milk and curry paste. Indian spices and chili make laksa lemak a popular favorite in Malaysia.
Popular in Singapore, katong laksa contains chopped up noodles so that it may be eaten on the go with a plastic spoon. Katong laksa is usually topped with a hard-boiled egg slices and prawns.