Laksa may not be the most popular noodle soups out there, but it's perfectly fine the way it is.
By LeAnn Nguyen
April 2, 2018
In the kingdom of noodle soups, phở and ramen reign over all others with well-loved and comforting flavors. But like the cultures from which noodle and soups found each other, diversity abound and there are definitely a lot of options lurking in the shadows, waiting to satisfy those willing to look. One of these alternatives whose name is often heard but whose flavors are seldom tried is laksa.
Laksa is a staple dish of the Peranakans, descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. As you might expect, Peranakan cuisine has roots in both Chinese and Malay/Indonesian cooking and blends the ingredients, spices, and techniques used by all these cultures. Laksa is a prime example of this culinary combination, having originated from Chinese coastal settlements in Malaysia.
One popular theory about its exact origins is that Malaysian spices and coconut milk were incorporated into recipes for Chinese noodle soups. The rich, warm noodle soup then spread to Singaporean and Indonesian Peranakan communities, where it enjoys widespread popularity today.
There are different varieties of laksa but what unites all of them is their soup base, which is made with either coconut milk or asam (tamarind), or sometimes both. To this base, noodles are added. Thicker rice or egg noodles are common but thin vermicelli noodles can also be used. Toppings depend on the specific variety of laksa being made, but they usually include some form of protein, such as chicken, prawn, or fish.
Three popular laksa variations to know are:
- Asam laksa – This tamarind-based laksa is served with shredded fish and vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, and onions. Mint and ginger can also be added. This is all topped off with petis udang, a thick prawn and shrimp paste with a sweet flavor from added sugar.
- Curry laksa – This version starts with a coconut milk base with added chilies for a kick. Toppings typically include bean curd, fish sticks, and shrimp, although chicken is also often used as a protein. The dish is finished off with coriander for garnish.
- Sarawak laksa – This laksa has a base that includes both coconut milk and tamarind, but does not incorporate curry spices, and its toppings are more protein-based, including egg omelette strips, chicken, and prawn.
If you’re wanting to give laksa a try, there are a number of places in the Seattle area where you can get your fill. We suggest checking out O’Ginger Bistro, Liana Café House, or Gourmet Noodle Bowl for their curry laksa. Other varieties are harder to come by, but you can make your own at home with ingredients easily found at your local Asian grocery store, giving you the most freedom to make your own perfect laksa.