The many flavors of laksa

The many flavors of laksa

Laksa

CNN called it one of the world’s 50 best foods. Lonely Planet said the overall experience of having a bowl of it is so good, it’s ranked second among 500 types of food sampled by some of the most famous chefs and food writers (even beating having sushi in the now-closed Tsukiji Market, Japan, mind you). The late Anthony Bourdain once said every time he travelled to Malaysia, he must have a bowl of it. This slurp-worthy bowl of goodness is also the ultimate comfort food for rainy days as it fills up your belly and tickle your tastebuds!

Ladies and gentlemen, we present you the laksa.

Laksa

Served in most food establishments in Malaysia — from the humblest of coffee shops to high-end restaurants, this bowl of noodle soup with a spicy and tangy kick is a flavorful concoction of multiculturalism in Southeast Asia from centuries of long-distance trade. The Malays have their nasi lemak, the Chinese, their bak kut teh and the Indians, their thosai. But, the laksa, which comes from the Sanskrit word “lakshah” meaning one hundred thousand, is a creation of diverse cultures.

Trace the origins of the laksa and you’ll find its roots in Chinese cuisine, with influences from the Peranakans, a community resulted from inter-marriages between local women and Chinese traders that came to Southeast Asia’s busiest ports between the 15th and 17th century. Today, the descendents of the Peranakan community in Malaysia live mainly in Melaka, where they are also known as the Baba and Nyonya. Word has it, the laksa was created by the Peranakans by adding in coconut milk and chilies to a basic form of Chinese noodle soup, which has since evolved to what it is today.

laksa

Savory, rich, hearty, creamy, fish-based or coconut milk-based, with shredded chicken and toppings such as kaffir lime leaves, mint leaves, pineapples, onions, cucumbers, served with rice noodles (or in the state of Johor, spaghetti!), the laksa has many interpretations.  

In Malaysia alone, we have seven types of laksa, and found variations in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia as well. So, how do you tell them apart? Here, we’ll break it down to you the types of laksa in Malaysia and where to get them when you’re in Kuala Lumpur.

Curry Laksa

Laksa

The curry laksa comes with a curry paste and coconut milk-based broth. It’s usually served with yellow noodles and with toppings of bean curd puffs, bean sprouts, prawns, sliced fish cakes and cockles. If you’re in a non-halal restaurant, sometimes they’ll throw in a few slices of char siew (BBQ roast pork) and/or congealed pork blood as well.

Fun fact: After sampling the curry laksa at Madras Lane, just off Petaling Street, Lonely Planet named it the runner-up in world’s best food experience in 2018.  

Where to eat:

Madras Lane Curry Laksa, Off Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 8.00am – 2.00pm (daily)

Nyonya Laksa

Laksa

The Nyonya laksa is sometimes dubbed the original laksa as the recipe was passed down by the Peranakan community, many of whom still live in Melaka today. The laksa has a seafood-based broth, but added with coconut milk. This gives the soup a slightly creamy, sweet flavor but with a spicy kick. Similar to the curry laksa, the Nyonya laksa is also served with bean curd puffs, bean sprouts, prawns and sliced fish cakes. But what sets them apart is the additional hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced cucumbers and laksa leaves as toppings.

Where to eat:

Limapulo: Baba Can Cook, Jalan Doraisamy, Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 12.00pm – 3.00pm and 6.00pm –10.00pm (daily)

Penang Asam Laksa

Laksa

In Peninsular Malaysia, the laksa is generally subdivided between two types: One with coconut milk, and the other, without. Penang’s version is served in fish-based broth, has a sour taste and can be really spicy. Known as the asam laksa (or tamarind laksa in Malay), the broth is usually made from shredded mackerel fish, tamarind and a blend of shallots, turmeric, lemongrass and chilies ground to a paste then boiled for several hours. The laksa is served in a bowl of thick, rice noodles and garnished with cucumber strips, onions, mint leaves, pineapples and red chilies. The Penangites add in another spoonful of  prawn paste for a stronger flavor!

Where to eat:

Little Penang Cafe, Suria KLCC, Persiaran Petronas, Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 11.30am – 10.00pm (daily)

Kedah Laksa

Laksa

Similar to the Penang asam laksa, the Kedah laksa also has the same ingredients but with more local herbs and vegetables such as the daun selom, ulam raja and pucuk gajus (local herbs and vegetables). While the Penang laksa is usually spicy, the Kedah laksa is milder in taste. Those who want some kick in their Kedah laksa can add in some cili padi (bird’s eye chilies).

Where to eat:

Restoran Langgaq Bihun Sup Utara, Jalan AU 2a/17, Taman Keramat, Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 12.00 – 11.30pm (Monday to Thursday), 3pm – 11.30pm (Friday to Sunday)

Johor Laksa

Laksa

While also similar in taste to other laksa variations, the Johor laksa’s peculiarity is that it has a Western twist to it as it is served with spaghetti. Instead of a soupy-based broth, its consistency is also thicker, and usually served in a shallow plate. Made from several types of local fish, such as the ikan parang (wolf herring), ikan kurau (threadfin), prawns and coconut milk, this dish is served with various types of greens such as cucumbers, long beans, laksa leaves, Thai basil leaves and bean sprouts. Also, don’t be surprised when you’re not served with cutleries, as you’re supposed to eat with your hands!

Where to eat:

D’Cengkih Authentic Johorean Cuisine, Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 7.00am – 6.30pm (closed on Mondays)

Laksam

Laksa

Another type of coconut milk- and fish-based laksa is the laksam, which is typically found in east coast states Kelantan and Terengganu. This dish is served with flat, rice noodles, which has a more chewy texture. Laksam’s rice noodles are made of rice flour, rolled, flattened then steamed, and finally, cut into small bite-sized pieces. The laksam is then topped with various local herbs and shredded vegetables. A dollop of sambal is a must!

Where to eat:

Restaurant Tuu Dok Ko 1488, Jalan Samudera Utara 2, Taman Samudra, Batu Caves

Opening hours: 6.30am – 5.00pm (closed on Mondays)

Sarawak Laksa

Laksa

Across the South China Sea, we have the Sarawak laksa, which had the late Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef, coming back for more. The Sarawak laksa has a shrimp-based broth, served with thin, rice noodles and shredded omelette, prawns and chicken strips as toppings. Word has it, the broth is made of more than 20 ingredients, giving it a complex, yet aromatic flavor. It’s no wonder that Mr. Bourdain once called the Sarawak laksa “breakfast of the gods”!

Where to eat:

Restoran Nam Chun, Lorong Ara Kiri, Lucky Garden, Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 8.00am – 3.00pm (closed on Wednesdays)

 

Being a multicultural country, there is no doubt why Malaysia is famous for its food scene. But the laksa’s versatility and its origins steeped in rich history makes it one fascinating story of how food unites diverse cultures. That is why the laksa continues to be an appealing dish across various ethnicities not just in Malaysia, but also in Southeast Asia today.

 


Planning a foodie trip to Kuala Lumpur already? We’ve got you covered with our fantastic flight and hotel deals on Traveloka.

 

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