We highlight the different varieties of laksa according to their individual state of originPublished on 3 June 2022
A bowl of steaming hot laksa incorporates many flavour combinations including sweet, spicy, and savoury. It is no wonder that the deliciousness of our local laksa is widely acclaimed by Malaysians and has received international recognition.
While foreigners might identify laksa simply as a noodle dish, us locals know that it is more than just that. Different states have their own version of laksa. These laksa variations differ from one another but there are many similarities between them too.
Here are five of the most popular Malaysian laksa dishes and where you can find them in neighbourhoods across the nation.
Penang asam laksa is probably one of the most well-known local dishes. It is so popular that CNN Travel ranked the dish at the 7th spot on its world’s 50 best foods list, where it has been described as “an addictive spicy-sour fish broth with noodles (especially great when fused with ginger), that’ll have your nose running before the spoon even hits your lips.”
This apt description of the asam laksa refers to its distinctive broth that is usually made using mackerel as a base. Lemongrass, galangal, and chilli further define its flavour. Just like all other laksa dishes, it is served with thick rice noodles and fresh condiments such as sliced cucumbers, onions, mint, pineapples, strong and sweet prawn paste, and torch ginger flower.
While you can find asam laksa almost everywhere in Penang, you might want to try it at some of these well-reviewed locations — Laksa Janggus in Balik Pulau, Penang Road Famous Laksa and Penang Air Itam Laksa.
Johor’s version of laksa is consumed with spaghetti instead of rice noodles or egg noodles. This might sound peculiar but there is a story behind it. Johor’s well-travelled Sultan Abu Bakar who ruled the state from 1886 to 1895 fell in love with pasta during his first visit to Italy. Upon his return, he requested for his chefs to use pasta instead of traditional noodles in their local dishes.
While the broth differs from asam laksa, the condiments are quite similar. Johor laksa comprises a thick gravy that has been cooked with coconut milk, fish, dried prawns, fresh herbs, and spices. It is served with spicy sambal on the side along with other condiments like sliced cucumbers, onions and long beans, bean sprouts, Vietnamese coriander (locally known as daun kesum), and basil. Squeeze a bit of lime, and mix together before you dig into this bowl of goodness.
As its name suggests, Nyonya laksa originates from Melaka. It is a perfect representation of a Peranakan recipe that features Malay and Chinese culinary culture. This dish, also known as laksa lemak, has a rich coconut-based broth that is cooked with chicken bones and prawn shells. This combination highlights a well-paired sweet and savoury flavour profile.
Nyonya laksa is completed with toppings including prawns, sliced fish cakes, julienned cucumber, bean sprouts, and bean curd puffs. It is also topped off with hard-boiled eggs alongside daun kesum. Some of the best Nyonya laksa dishes in Melaka can be found at Jonker88, Bess Kopitiam and Nyonya Laksa Empire.
The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain filmed his trip to Kuching’s Choon Hui Cafe twice in two different television programmes during his career. He had his first taste of Sarawak laksa at the popular kopitiam in 2005 for the No Reservations series on Discovery Travel & Living channel. He loved it so much that he returned to the same shop 10 years later and featured the iconic dish in his award-winning CNN show, Parts Unknown.
Bourdain enjoyed Sarawak laksa to the point of declaring it as ‘Breakfast of the Gods’. Among others, the broth is made with chillies, belacan (shrimp paste), coconut milk, garlic, galangal, and lemongrass. The dish is served with rice vermicelli noodles and topped with strips of omelette, chicken strips, peeled boiled prawns, and chopped coriander leaves.
Laksam is primarily popular in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The first thing that sets this dish apart from the rest of the other variations of local laksa is the colour of the broth. A staple dish mainly in Kelantan and Terengganu, laksam broth is made using coconut milk, tamarind, and boiled mackerel.
It is served with rolled rice noodles and garnished with a medley of raw vegetables and herbs (ulam), and a hint of sambal for that added kick. The refreshing array of raw ingredients include bean sprouts, cucumber, long beans, daun kesum and torch ginger bud. Did you know that laksam, like Johor laksa, is traditionally eaten using bare hands?
Check out Kedai Laksa Beseng Cik Rose and Air Buah Gelas Besar Terengganu “Air Buah Pak San” in Kuala Terengganu. If you are in Kota Bharu, visit By-T Laksam Special for an authentic taste of laksam Kelantan.
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