Malaysia is a land of laksa’s. Assam Laksa, Penang Laksa, Laksam, Curry Laksa, Laksa Lemak, Johor Laksa, Kelantan Laksa and many more, but there is one type of laksa which any Sarawakian will proclaim as a signature dish of Sarawak. It’s none other than that creamy, rich, spicy and fragrant bowl of noodle soup called simply, Sarawak Laksa.
To understand why Sarawak Laksa is the crème de la crème of all laksa’s, here’s a quote from expatriate Mike Reed – a freelance travel writer of the many journals on and about Sarawak (Malaysia) – about that devlish bowl of laksa, “No dish seems to create as much disappointment when it is finished as Sarawak Laksa, but if you find the sense of loss too much to bear, you can always order another one.” He went on further… “Sarawak Laksa is a cardiologist’s nightmare of a breakfast. More cholesterol than you can shake a stick at, swimming in a delicious thick soup whose primary ingredient is santan (coconut milk), one of the richest vegetable sources of saturated fat. It’s also got enough pungent spices to give a gastero-enterologist the jitters when he thinks about what it’s doing to your colon, heaps of seafood itching to trigger off the slightest allergy, and sufficient highly refined carbohydrates to make your pancreas dance the tango.” Unquote. Wasn’t that a cheeky remark? 🙂
But why, oh why, are Sarawakians, or visitors to Sarawak so entranced by that magnetic charm of the Sarawak Laksa?
Well of course, it’s just irresistible. It’s mesmeric. It’s authentic. It’s unique. It’s just, erm…… oh so dreamy! There’s just no word to describe it. One has to try it to find out the deepest and darkest secrets of that tantalizing and sublime dish known to man.
I grew up eating Sarawak Laksa, so I daresay, I can act as an ambassador to this dish 😉
Eating out is a norm in the state. You will find this special Sarawakian delicacy almost everywhere from exquisite restaurants to roadside hawker stalls, however, I believe the best is still when you can prepare that in the comfort of your own kitchen.
I always make sure that I replenish my freezer with the ínevitable Sarawak Laksa paste on my many trips back home. Yeah, that’s right. The paste, which is central to making the gravy, is readily available in almost every sundry shops and supermarkets in most of the major cities in Sarawak. There is, however, one brand of Sarawak Laksa paste that my family swear by. It’s the “Cap Burung Layang-Layang” (Swallow Brand).
2008 was probably the last time I could savour the Swallow Brand. My súpply of that particular brand of paste was up. When my mum and youngest sister came to Belgium in July-August this year, they brought with them another brand of laksa paste to stock up my reorder level. It tasted different. Something was missing but it was difficult to tell what it was especially when the paste is a concoction of shallots, lemon grass, galangal, garlic, candlenuts, coriander seeds, dried chillies and about 20 other herbs and spices that are secret guarded by the maker(s).
I learnt from my sister that the maker of the Swallow Brand passed away not too long ago. That means the secret of the original Swallow Brand recipe remained with him in his grave. Then came another brand, the Barrett’s Sarawak Laksa paste, an offshoot of the Swallow Brand. You can visit their website here http://www.sambalsatu.com/
The Pride of Sarawak
Again a quote from Mike Reed, “There are some food experiences in this world that should only really be enjoyed in their place of origin. If they were to be prepared for you anywhere else they would lose that marvellous sense of place that they evoke so well. They belong in that place, they taste best in that place, and they should be eaten only in that place.”
But for a Sarawakian living abroad (like me), the Sarawak Laksa is MORE than just a delicious dish, it is also a dish that reminds me of home. I remembered growing up playing “hawking” with my brothers and sisters. We pretended having a hawker stall selling satay or kway teow or roti canai. While hawking, we sang our song which went like this –
I am a satay boy/ girl
Come and buy from me
I am a satay boy/ girl
Happy as can be
Satay, oh satay!
You can hear me call
Satay, oh satay!
As you passed my stall!
Now, many moons later, I’m still singing this song. Instead of “satay“, I am singing out “laksa“!!
Laksa, oh laksa, you can hear me call. Laksa, oh laksa, as you passed my stall……..
Welcome to my stall, my kitchen, my sacred domain …
I will be showing you the art of making a near-to-proper Sarawak Laksa.
You need the following ingredients –
Sarawak Laksa Paste (I used my last Swallow Brand, but of course any brands will do)
Rice noodles/ rice vermicelli
1 can of coconut milk (authentic recipe uses fresh coconut milk, so get fresh when you can). I wonder why Mike Reed said the santan is the primary ingredient. It is just one of the many ingredients!
Some fresh eggs (for omelette)
Bean sprouts (tails removed)
Prawns (deveined, but leaving the shells on, to keep the prawns juicy and succulent after boiling)
Chicken meat (I prefer the thighs – taste and cook better)
Fish Sauce (optional)
Chicken stock cube or course sea salt (to taste)
Lemon or Calamansi Lime (for garnishing)
The “visual” ingredients –
Boil some water and cook the rice vermicelli. Once cooked, set this aside.
Boil the prawns and chicken thighs separately. I usually chuck in some coriander roots and crushed ginger to give the broths a much deeper and warm taste. Reserve the stocks for later.
In a big pot, toss in the laksa paste and some water, just enough to cover the paste level. Do not overload the paste with too much water as this will make your gravy less concentrated and of course, less authentic. Boil the paste. Sieve the stock through a strainer. Note that there will be a huge residue from the amalgamation of all the “secret” ground ingredients in the paste. At this point, do not throw the residue away. Re-boil the residue for the second time. Discard the paler looking residue after the second boil.
Simmer the laksa paste stock and pour in all the other broths (prawn and chicken thigh) in the pot. Simmer on medium heat and add in the coconut milk, fish sauce and chicken stock cube or course sea salt. The degree of saltiness is really up to you. Remember, you’re the boss in the kitchen 🙂
While the laksa gravy is simmering away, boil some water. Blanch the bean sprouts for a few seconds. I like my bean sprouts al dente (cooked enough to be firm but not soft).
Break the eggs in a bowl, beat and make an omelette. Season to taste. Cut the omelette into small strips (or julienne)
Next, remove the shells from the prawns and place the prawns in a bowl. Shred the cooked chicken thighs. Set these aside.
Assemble all the cooked ingredients like so –
Now it’s time to plate up the magical Sarawak Laksa. First, take some of the rice noodles, then the bean sprouts and then the shredded chicken, strips of omelette, some prawns and last but not least, the quintessential thick and creamy laksa gravy. Garnish with a sprig of fresh coriander and a wedge of lemon or calamansi lime.
The Sarawak Laksa is served steaming hot and spicy! Mmmmmm……YUM-MY!!!
For a more authentic touch to the already yummy Laksa, there should be an accompaniment – the sambal relish! Unfortunately, I did not make this condiment the last time. The laksa tasted just as good without it, but I will definitely include this sambal relish to complete the journey of an authentic bowl of Sarawak laksa the next time my palate is screaming for this dish 😛
Here’s the recipe of the sambal relish to accompany your bowl of Sarawak laksa –
30g dried shrimps (steeped and drained)
6 to 8 Tbsp cooking oil
50g Chilli paste (back home, we used the chilli boh)
2 Tbsp tamarind juice (to taste)
To prepare the sambal, place garlic, shallots, onions, dried chillies and dried shrimps in an electric blender and process to a fine paste (if you have all the time in the world, you may use your pestle and mortar). Heat the cooking oil and fry the blended ingredients until fragrant and golden brown. Add the chilli paste, tamarind juice and season to taste with sugar and salt. Cook for about 20 to 30 minutes on low heat, or until the sambal thickens.
Someone once said this, “Sarawak laksa is a dish most craved by Sarawakians who are abroad and those who have had a taste of the uniqueness of Sarawak laksa will always be back for more”.
By the way, I’ll be back for more… how about you??
Enjoy the rest of the week!