The surprising star of Chinese dessert.
A slurp-worthy staple across Southeast Asia, laksa has made quite an impact on Australian palates as well. Noodle soups have never been more popular, and while laksa doesn’t share the hipster vibe of pho, it’s got a dedicated following in its own right.
But while many Australians have tried laksa, and maybe even tried cooking laksa, we’re still quite ignorant of the wide variety of different varieties that are out there. The Peranakan curry laksa rules the roost, but why limit yourself?
We’ve put together a list of some of our favourites for you to go out and sample. It’s time to expand your laksa horizons!
Made from a base of coconut milk and curry paste, this intense and spicy dish isn’t subtle with its flavours. Packed with a variety of ingredients including fish balls, tofu puffs, noodles and a protein—usually prawns or chicken—it’s a delicious and filling meal. Traditionally made with flat and thin rice noodles or thick yellow noodles, but often rice vermicelli is substituted in.
Johor laksa swaps out thin rice noodles for handspun spaghetti-like strands spun into fist-sized bundles. The soup is thicker than that of the curry laksa and is much more curry-like in texture. It’s made with coconut milk, dried prawns, spices, and often garnished with mint leaves, cucumber and pickled white radish. The dish can resemble a spaghetti Bolognese with its thick noodles and sauce.
Like a jungle curry, Assam Laksa contains no coconut milk. The broth is made from fish—usually trevally, snapper or mullet—tamarind and torch ginger flower. Torch ginger flower is a native of Southeast Asia similar in looks to a waratah or a protea. A rempah—spice paste—is made from onion, shrimp paste and earthy roots and added to the fish broth, giving it its traditional gritty texture. Garnished with pineapple, cucumber and mint to cut through the spice, this delicious noodle soup is particularly popular in Malaysia.
Tom Yum Laksa
A Thai laksa which literally combines two of the world’s favourite soups. Usually, a bunch of seafood floating in the soup made from coconut water and coconut milk flavoured with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and garlic. Oh and rice vermicelli. Sounds pretty damn tropical to me!
From the wilds of Borneo, this spicy soup is made from a coconut milk base with a whole bunch of great stuff thrown in. Galangal, lemongrass, tamarind and sambal belacan help to add a sour note to the broth while fresh chilli adds a layer of heat to the flavour profile. Old faithful rice vermicelli noodles are again used here, while maybe pork belly, omelette slivers, chicken and prawns are all used as protein. Garnishes of coriander and line help cut through the spice.
It sounds like someone with a lisp trying to say laksa, but laksam is a delicious dish in its own right. The soup is made from boiled white fish—no need to be too picky here—and, of course, coconut milk. This creates a rich and creamy white broth with both sweet and sour flavours swirling through it. Served with some sambal, fresh veggies, fish sausage (keropok lekor) and prawn crackers, this laksa is one for the seafood lovers out there.
Although Katong Laksa is comparatively new to the scene, it is certainly no less awesome. First made popular in the 1960s by a pair of chef brothers in Katong, Singapore, the hot and zesty soup has the colour of a flaming sunset, flavoured with coconut milk and a spicy blended paste of turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, coriander, belachan, shallots, candlenuts, chilli, and most importantly dried shrimp - which gives its distinctive flavour. Typically, the rice noodles are cooked separately, with the hot soup poured over them for serving. Also topped with succulent prawns, sliced fish cakes and puffed tofu for umami enjoyment.
Like most Thai delicacies, the Thai Laksa is defined by its complex blend of aromatic spices and herbs. But the true star of this recipe by Chef Karen Chan is the sumptuous pork belly roast, enriched by a hot soup of Valcom Thai-Style Laksa Paste and coconut milk. Bean sprouts and green bean toppings add crunchy textures and veggie goodness, with a hard-boiled egg for extra satisfaction. Don’t forget to garnish with a handful of fragrant Thai basil to accentuate the flavours.