My heartbeat frolicked with excitement when the 4 of us boarded the amazing B787 Dreamliner from Brussels to Doha en route our final destination, Kuching! Did I just say, Kuching??!! Yesssss!!! Finally! After 7 long years!
Our last trip to Kuching was time stamped “August 2008”, AND exactly 7 years later on 7th August 2015, we journeyed back to the city I grew up, schooled and have worked briefly before moving permanently to Belgium. Kuching is also the city where my younger son was born 14 years ago, hence, the city re-breathed new life to my dog-tired 7 years.
Kuching means Cat in the Malay language; not that there are countless felines roaming the city, but you can definitely tell you are in Kuching by the sight of the glorious cats’ statues adorning the city centre.
Kuching’s Signature Dish
If there’s one dish I can name and recommend a first timer to Kuching, it’s gonna be the Kuching Laksa! It didn’t take me more than a sec to come up with that dish’s name. Kuching Laksa just stands out and hits a home run anytime 🙂
So my dear folks, with only 2 weeks and a bit in Kuching, I went liberal with one of my favourite dishes! I have had 7 bowls of Kuching Laksa at different stops on different days in less than 3 weeks! That’s a lot of laksa’s considering the fact that there are zillion other dishes to try out. LOL!
Before the tastes and looks of the laksa’s faded in oblivion in my memory bank, I wanted to put everything down in writing. All comments and verdicts are completely mine, by the way.
Now join me in my quest of binging Kuchingites’ most loved brekkie 🙂
Ready, Steady… Go!
My first bowl of laksa was actually consumed in the least spoken location, in the outskirts of Kuching! It was a Sunday and our entourage of 10 people in 2 vehicles were heading for the popular weekend border market at Serikin. Serikin is a little village bordering Sarawak and Kalimantan (Indonesia). We left before 9 am to beat the humid hot weather and the crowd. The 90-minute drive from Kuching to Kampung Serikin Jagoi, Bau was surprisingly easy with good roads.
Serikin Weekend Market started in 1992 and since then, has attracted a steady flow of visitors from every nook and cranny of Sarawak, Sabah, West Malaysia, SEA and the rest of the world. The stalls at the Market are mostly operated by Indonesians. Almost every category of items is traded each weekend. I’m afraid there are too many to mention, so here’re some pictures to sum up my list…
These guys were actually modelling the Javanese headgears. LOL!
After the long stroll under the scorching sun at the Weekend Market, our tummies were rumbling and growling.
By 11.30am we adjourned to a ‘kopitiam’ for some cold drinks before we left Serikin for Bau. It was at Siang Siang Garden Foodcourt, Pekan Bau that I ordered my first bowl of laksa.
My Laksa Bowl #1 ~ In the Middle of Nowhere
Verdict: The moment the red bowl was served to me at my table, I gasped at the sight of the little, teeny weeny bowl. Man, I was hungry! It was laksa à la Bau. Rather diluted, with dry paper thin omelette strips, garnished with fried, crispy shallots and spring onions? Hmmm…. Spoilt the entire taste, if you asked me. But what can I say, with only RM 4 (0.89 Euro cent) and with 2 little prawns, I licked my bowl clean because I was immensely ravenous.
Will I go back to Siang Siang Garden Foodcourt? Surprisingly, yes, but NOT for the laksa, BUT for these!
Especially the multi-layered tea (gula apong, pandan juice, evaporated milk and tea)!
My Laksa Bowl #2 ~ No Choice
While my hubby and 2 boys checked in at a beach resort in Damai, I stayed back in Kuching spending time with my Mum and sisters.
Oh by the way, you know what? When I left Damai for Kuching, my older son said, “Mama, I know you are going to eat more laksa’s in Kuching without us, right ..”
Gee whizz! What a sneaky sly fox my son was..! But,darn… Son, you absolutely nailed it!
It was at Peach Garden Food Centre at Jalan Song, that I had my 2nd bowl of laksa. Initially, laksa was not on my mind. I had wanted to order a plate of char kway teow, but the stall’s closed for the day. Too bad! I walked around peering the many different hawker stalls trying to get some inspirations of what to eat that evening. Lo and behold, I ended up ordering a bowl of laksa!
Here goes …
Verdict: I almost cried! 2 vital ingredients were missing! Bean sprouts and wansui (equivalent to fresh coriander), and not only that, the prawns were tiny and were not fresh! Aaarrghh!! Funny, the aroma of the laksa gravy reminded me of my schooldays. Yup, cheap students’ laksa, but at RM5!
Will I go back to Peach Garden Food Centre? You bet! But definitely NOT for the laksa, but for the most addictive otak-otak and kelondong sengboi peng (iced-cold amra with dried sour plum juice). And yes, too, for the nostalgic boiled peanuts 😉
My Laksa Bowl #3 ~ The Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth …
While my 3 guys were still enjoying Damai, I made some time to meet up with former classmates. The place and time were totally at M’s discretion. M whatsApp’d me and told me that she’d pick me up at 8.30am. I knew it was going to be a laksa brekkie, but where?
Oh oh, not at the Peach Garden Food Centre again, because M was driving around that area that morning. Then she passed the Food Centre. Phew!
We parked somewhere at Jalan Song and walked to the café, which is a single storey shoplot. It has a canvas roof with ample tables and chairs. The moment I stood under the canvas roof, I smelt glorious smell of Kuching laksa whiffing past my nostrils. I was praying in silence that the laksa would taste as good as it smelt, especially after having 2 disastrous bowls the past days.
M and I found a good spot to sit, while waiting for L. I learnt from M that Li Yuan Café is L’s favourite take on and is one of M’s favourites. Brilliant! 2 favourites so it must be good, or was it?
By the way, I told M I would give my honest feedback on this brekkie 😉
Verdict: M ordered a “Special” for me, meaning more ‘liaw’ (garnishes and condiments), while the size of the bowl remains constant. There were 4 plump and succulent looking prawns, nice strips of not-too-paper thin omelette, reasonable amount of chunky shredded chicken meat, beansprouts and a few fresh coriander leaves (not wansui, though). The colour of the gravy looked almost perfect, ie more red than brown, and most importantly, the laksa gravy imparted a pleasant scent of all the fragrant spices that went in the broth. The bowl of laksa was served with half a calamansi lime and sambal belacan
Now the taste… Before even picking up the clusters of vermicelli and the garnishes between my pair of chopsticks into my mouth, I ducked the Chinese spoon in my bowl and scooped some broth to have a taste first. That’s how you know if the laksa is good or bad. The broth is the main actor, while the rests play supporting roles. Frankly speaking, I detest anyone who eats only the garnishes, which includes the vermicelli, prawns, chicken and omelette strips, beansprouts and the fresh coriander while leaving the pool of gravy in the bowl! People, that’s THE BEST bit! The broth! One invests a huge amount of time in making the best tasting laksa broth, so please appreciate your bowl of laksa and finish everything, including the broth!
Well, to be honest, I liked Li Yuan’s laksa, BUT…..it was a wee bit salty! Why oh why?! The broth itself was not too spicy, but rich and thick – not diluted – which I absolutely adore. Luckily the sambal belacan and calamansi lime added that extra umph!
Will I go back to Li Yuan Café? Why, certainly, on condition, M, that it’s on me the next time I’m in Kuching! Now, I haven’t the clue how much you paid for my “Special” bowl of laksa 😀
Thanks, my dear friend, for introducing Li Yuan Café to me and making it my first decent bowl of Kuching laksa.Jl
My Laksa Bowl #4 ~ My Evil Twin
Can #4 beat #3? Let’s see…
Again, M, my friend, whatsApp’d me and asked if I wanted to meet up for another laksa brekkie. Well, of course I did NOT decline. And again, I left it to M to transport me to the ultimate location that morning. She told me the café we were going to is one of her few favourites and is also a favourite of another former classmate, whom I did not get the opportunity to meet in August. Apparently, she said the sambal was to-die-for. Erm… okay! Believing is after seeing and tasting for myself. I was more curious with this rendezvous than my last.
Here’s the bowl of laksa I had at Jin Ming Café, Jalan Sekama
Verdict: My first silent comment was “Where’s the to-die-for sambal??!!” The sambal served at Jin Ming Café was completely different than any sambal condiment I ever had! It had the look of soy sauce, but was a thick sticky mass akin to Bovril or Marmite. When I tasted it, it was a taste I was quite familiar with, ie something that came out from a jar! Mae Pranom’s Thai Chili Paste (nam prik pao), which is often added to Tom Yum Soup!. It’s sour-ish from the tamarind plus half a calamansi lime? Hmmm….! I love Tom Yum Soup, but I was at Jin Ming Café for a bowl of Kuching laksa!
As for the laksa, I’m afraid there was nothing to shout about. It was a “Special” bowl, but what I got was 2 halved over-cooked prawns (which made it looked as if I had 4 prawns), very little chicken strips. Infact my laksa was covered by strips of omelette. The brown broth was neither diluted nor concentrated, which was okay but it was not at all fragrant. It was flavourless flat! Some spices were missing.
Will I go back to Jin Ming Café? Of course! Huh? Am I nuts? After all the negative comments?
I will definitely go back to Jin Ming Café BUT not for the laksa. Sorry, M!
However, yes…. however, I will be back there for the kolo mee!! I bought 5 takeaways of that “Special” kolo mee for my Mum, sisters and nephews. They thumbed up to the kolo mee!
My Laksa Bowl #5 ~ Down Memory Lane
My 5th pitstop was at Min Hong Kee Café, Jalan Padungan. This café was not new to me. Before I moved to Belgium, this was one for my late dad’s favourite locales. We used to have our breakfast there after the Sunday service. It was for old time’s sake that my younger sister drove us (Mum, big sis and myself) there for a scrumptious breakfast.
Big sis and I ordered laksa! Ha ha…
The presentation was lovely!
Verdict: The bowl of laksa had everything that’s supposed to be served as Kuching laksa, but there was a wee bit too much santan (coconut milk), which completely overwhelmed the real fragrance of a perfect bowl of Kuching laksa.
Will I go back to Min Hong Kee Café? Without a doubt, I’m going back to the Café for their traditionally prepared congee, fresh popiah and minced stuffed kom piah (Foochow bagels stuffed with minced meat)! I will go back for the laksa but not all the time 😉
My Laksa Bowl #6 ~ Long and Winding Quest … And Some like it Hot!
The week my hubby and boys checked out of Damai, was our last week stay in Kuching. The countdown begun. *sad*
The laksa served at Choon Hui Café, Ban Hock Road, hits international spotlight when one of Travel Channel’s most famous Celebrity Chefs turned writer and CNN Presenter, Anthony Bourdain, ate his laksa there, not once but on 2 consecutive mornings! I have mentioned about it on this post, Malaysian Laksa with the Midas Touch of Sarawak .
It was a Tuesday morning. My younger sister promised to bring us for our grand finale taste of the infamous Kuching laksa before we left for BE.
I was so looking forward to having a laksa brekkie at Choon Hui. I wanted to find out why Choon Hui and what was it that made their laksa so sought-after. In other words, I was curious!
Anthony Bourdain’s bowl of laksa at Choon Hui Cafe
BUT … alas, no laksa! Shucks!
For the record, we were not late. We arrived at the café before 9am, however – and most unfortunately – Tuesday’s an off day for the family-run laksa stall at Choon Hui Café! Sorry folks, no photo or verdict to comment on Choon Hui Café’s laksa for now. Hopefully, I will not wait another 7 years…
My sister was adamant to let us taste some of the best laksa’s served in Kuching, before we left for BE that week. She then drove to Jalan Abell. We were heading for another pearl in the oyster – Chong Choon Café. No Choon Hui, that’s fine. Chong Choon’s great as well…. HOWEVER, no laksa!!! Grrrrr…. damn, it’s a Tuesday! They’re closed!
To be honest, I have eaten the laksa’s at both Choon Hui and Chong Choon Cafés when I was still a student in Kuching. They were not new cafés, but ones that have been around in years! Since it was eons ago that I have had those laksa’s there, I could not recall the tastes explicitly, but they were definitely ones of the best in town.
My poor sis was more desperate than us. She’s like our late Dad. If she promises something, she will deliver her promise on the same day, through thick and thin, rain or shine, and even jeopardising her health, as a result. Little sis, I’m truly touched by your steadfast determination. That’s when she drove a little further in search for our next stop. It was at Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce and the name of the café? Tiang’s Café. I have never heard of the Café, but I’m open to new things and places. Then I discovered that the much discussed Barrett’s laksa is served at Tiang’s Café.
BUT… we did not have the laksa there because, yes, BECAUSE, the laksa stall’s closed! That’s right, it’s a TUESDAY. Oh, I hate Tuesdays!!!
Then we just followed my sister. Our 6th pitstop was at Rock Road. The place was an ordinary looking little foodcourt with the most absurd sounding name! Very Nice Restaurant!
Okay, let’s check it out! And checked it out we did!
I even took a picture of the ridiculous sounding name of the laksa stall and the owner willingly smiled for us. At least I know laksa’s served EVERYDAY at VERY NICE 😉
Verdict: We ordered “BIG” bowl for RM8. The bowl was literally “BIG” ie bigger size-wise compared with the normal bowl. At first sight, it was not a bad looking laksa. As with the other laksa’s, I had a sip of the broth first. Mmmm… not bad, I thought. There was something special about the laksa. Everyday Laksa at Very Nice Restaurant was the first laksa I have tasted that was more piquant. It definitely had that extra spice and heat that made it quite different from the 5 laksa’s I had in the last days. If Mr Everyday prepares his laksa the same way he did when we patronised his stall that morning, his laksa would be a crowd pleaser one day. Well, names and looks can be quite deceiving, eh?
Will I go back to Everyday Laksa @ Very Nice Restaurant? Erm…a difficult one…. I believe, YES!
My Laksa Bowl #7 – A Challenging Home Run!
My 7th bowl of laksa was a discovery. A challenge. MY challenge!
Here’re the visuals of my 7th bowl of laksa …
Verdict: For this bowl of laksa, I had my boys to voice their comments. Hmmm… nice black bowls and chopsticks, mama. And then silence… Slurp! Slurp! Slurp! And then my older son said, “Can I have another a bowl?” . Action spoke louder than words 😜
In case you’re wondering which stall we went to, well, the stall name didn’t exist and never will, but I know the person who made the laksa put a lot of work in it, because the person was the author of this post…. ME(*smile*), and the work was called LABOUR OF LOVE and the challenge was using Barrett’s Sarawak Laksa paste, which I got from a friend. I have never used Barrett’s laksa paste. I have heard of few negative remarks about Barrett’s laksa. The more I heard that, I was curious and wanted to find out why the paste was so bad.
By the way, our family favourite is the famous Swallow Brand and the creator of the laksa paste was Mr Tan Yong Him, the late father of Mr Barrett Tan! In other words, Barrett’s laksa paste is an offshoot of the original Swallow Brand. All-in-one-family…
I was fortunate to have prepared bowls after bowls of laksa with the special paste created by the master creator himself, Mr Tan Yong Him.
Today’s Swallow Brand laksa paste does not feature the creator’s name on the packet anymore.
Barrett’s Sarawak Laksa paste is an alternative.
Verdict: When I cut open the packet of Barrett’s laksa paste, I smelt no difference to the Swallow Brand’s. If there was a variance, it was not off by miles. It was probably redder than the Swallow Brand. The addition of coconut milk will tone down the colour, but by putting too much of coconut milk will only change the name of Kuching’s signature dish to Laksa lemak, which is wrong. There should be balances of flavour, texture and colour. The taste is personal. I like my laksa piquant with lots of flavour (like my Mum’s). A lot of work is put in making the broth tasty (meat stock from the carcasses of chicken and/or pork, prawn stock from the shells of the prawns and several other fresh herbs and spices). Any laksa paste on it’s own without the additional work, will never be good. I dislike weak and mild tasting laksa’s with too much santan or too brown. Then again these are personal observations. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Voilà!
For the record, the sambal belacan was to-die-for! Mum made it and I’m glad I brought it back with me to Belgium! It’s really, really good with the squeeze of lime.
Oh yes, Carol, if you’re reading this, thanks for introducing Barrett’s laksa paste. It’s not too bad after all, with some extra work, of course! I have no clue how the laksa at Tiang’s Café tastes like. All I can say is, I’ve eaten Barrett’s laksa in my own kitchen 😉
A Patriotic Bonus
8 is a good number and is believed to have auspicious meaning, according to Chinese tradition. The word “eight” in pinyin Chinese sounds like “prosper” or “wealth”, hence I will conclude this longer-than-usual post with my Kuching laksa number 8!
Infact I just had the laksa very, very recently at a friend’s house. The laksa get-together was planned before I left for Kuching. I’m glad I met up with the other Kuching gals on Sunday. We were stuffed! Angel, thanks for hosting a great potluck reunion – great efforts to everyone with everything homemade! Delish! Mwah!
NOTE: The emphasis of the laksa write-up in this post here referred to Kuching Laksa and not Sarawak Laksa because I believe each division in Sarawak (farther from Kuching) has her own way of preparing / serving the laksa. I understood from a friend who hails from Sibu that the Sibu laksa has tau pok (deep fat fried tofu or bean curd). The addition of tau pok does NOT in any way represent Kuching Laksa. Kuching Laksa is made up of the following ingredients ~ cooked rice vermicelli, shredded chicken meat, prawns, strips of omelette, bean sprouts, fresh wansui (or coriander), accompanied with calamansi (or lime) and sambal belacan.
Have a great week!