Laksa is one of the most popular dishes in Malaysia. Besides Malaysian favourite dishes like Nasi Lemak and Char Kuey Teow, Laksa is a noodle dish that is irresistible after the first bite. The uniqueness of Laksa – the sour, spicy, slightly sweet taste – is what makes this fish-based dish so mouthwatering and addictive.
Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, I had only come to know a few laksa dishes most of my life namely Asam Laksa, Curry Laksa and Nyonya Laksa. My first discovery of a different type of laksa besides the three was during a Hari Raya open house where Laksa Johor was served. Since then, I begin to discover the many variations of Laksa dish in Malaysia.
1. Asam Laksa
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The most well known laksa would be Asam Laksa. Originated from Penang, Asam Laksa is a fish-based noodle dish. This sweet, sour and spicy soup is made from shredded ikan kembung (mackerel fish), asam (tamarind), flavoured with shallots, turmeric, lemongrass and chillies. It is usually served with thick rice noodles and garnished with a salad of finely-sliced cucumber, lettuce, onion, mint, pineapple and red chillies. Occasionally, prawn/shrimp paste is served on the side (if in need of stronger flavour).
2. Curry Laksa
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Curry Laksa, also known as just “curry mee” in certain places, is a coconut-based curry dish. Typically served with yellow noodle and/or beehoon, instead of white laksa noodles. The dish is topped with tau pok (bean curd puffs), taugeh (bean sprout), prawns, sliced fish cakes and si ham (cockles). Some places throw in a few slices of char siew (BBQ roast pork) and/or congealed pork blood as well.
3. Nyonya Laksa
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Malacca’s Nyonya Laksa, also famously known as Laksa Lemak, is a dish with rich coconut gravy. Almost identical to Thai Laksa, Nyonya Laksa’s fish-based broth is very creamy, slightly sweet and strongly spiced, which gives you a not-too-spicy laksa broth. This dish is served with tau pok (bean curd puffs), taugeh (bean sprout), prawns and sliced fish cakes. From the dish presentation front, many people may mistake this for Curry Laksa on first glance. However, the notable differences would be the hard-boiled eggs or quails eggs, julienned cucumber and finely sliced daun kesum (polygonum) garnish on the Nyonya Laksa, replacing Curry Laksa’s si ham (cockles).
4. Sarawak Laksa
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Sarawak state is probably best known for its iconic laksa. Sarawak Laksa is a complex and hearty, spicy yet addictive dish thanks to the flavourful broth. This laksa is essentially beehoon (rice vermicelli), shredded omelette, cooked prawns and strips of chicken in an aromatic broth, with sambal and lime served on the side. The broth is packed with up to 20 ingredients that requires grinding and blending strong-fragranced items like shallots, garlic, lemongrass, galangal and dried chillies, and ground spices like coriander, clove and nutmeg. The paste is then cooked with roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, curry powder and coconut milk for thickness.
5. Laksa Johor
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Despite the name, Laksa Johor is not only a favourite in the state, it is also a popular dish in almost every open house during Hari Raya. Laksa Johor has more western element to it because instead of using rice noodles or vermicelli, this dish uses spaghetti. The laksa gravy is made from ikan parang (wolf herring), ikan kurau (threadfin), prawns, as well as dried prawns and fish. This dish is served with garnishings such as cucumber, bean sprouts, long beans, daun kesum (polygonum) and daun selasih (Thai basil). Laksa Johor must be eaten with sambal belacan and calamansi limes for the kick!
Most Johoreans typically eat their Laksa Johor with their fingers, rather than with fork and spoon.
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Laksam is a term that also means laksa dish which is typically found in the East Coast and Kedah, but especially in Kelantan. This dish is served with rice noodle but not in your usual long- and stringy-form. The rice “noodle” takes a form of thick, steamed rice sheet rolled up like carpet and cut into nuggets. The rolls are then showered with rich and creamy kuah putih (white gravy) made from coconut and fish, topped with a salad of local herbs and shredded vegetables. A dollop of sambal is a must for a spicy kick.
7. Laksa Kedah
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Laksa Kedah or laksa utara (northern laksa) is a dish of rice noodles in a fish-based asam-flavoured gravy, garnished with cucumber and onions, and fragranced with herbs like daun kesum (polygonum). The dominating sour asam (tamarind) notes and the sweetness of the fish differentiates this laksa from the rest. The secret ingredient to this dish is the freshest ikan kembung (mackerel) or ikan selayang (sardines) from the fishing villages along the coast of Kedah. Otak udang (prawn paste), coconut sambal and cili padi (bird’s eye chillies) are a must for more depth, flavour and spiciness.
Traditionally, Laksa Kedah is served with finely-sliced ulam such as daun selom, ulam raja and pucuk gajus (young cashew nut leaves).
8. Laksa Kuala Perlis
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Laksa Kuala Perlis is a spicy and sour rice noodle dish served in a fish-based gravy. Fish such as ikan kembung (mackerel), ikan selayang (sardines) or belut (eel) is used as the main ingredient, along with dried chillies, belacan, shallots, asam gelugor, torch ginger bud and daun kesum (polygonum) are used to perfect the gravy.
In Kuala Perlis, the locals like to dunk pulut panggang into their laksa gravy. Pulut panggang is grilled glutinous rice stuffed with a crumbly floss of dried shrimp, coconut, turmeric and chilli.
9. Laksa Kuah Putih
Similar to Laksam, Laksa Kuah Putih or also known as Laksa Lemak in Pahang and Laksa Terengganu, is another popular East Coast dish. Laksa Kuah Putih gets its name from the white creamy thick sauce made from santan (coconut milk). Its heavy dependent on santan is apparent when every 1 kg of blended fish is complemented with 2 kg of santan. Laksa Kuah Putih takes about seven ingredients to make this – rice noodles, fish (preferably mackerel and sardines), asam keping, onions, salt and palm sugar. A side of sambal is served for those thrill-seekers looking to add more heat to the dish.
Did we miss out any Laksa? Share with us in the comments below!