Laksa originated from a dish in Malaysia that is made with coconut curry gravy and chicken. It is quite popular in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Singaporeans when they crave for something very spicy, they make Laksa, which is a very spicy stew that is very rich in taste.
Food Pairings for Laksa
- Tamarind and mackerel
The deep and sour taste of tamarind is the perfect addition to a fatty fish like mackerel – this creates the classic Penang Laksa.
- Coconut and bitter-sweet kalamansi lime
Sweet and creamy coconut works well with the fragrant, fresh and slightly bitter kalamansi lime base for a curry Laksa.
- Chicken and lemongrass
Aromatic and elegant lemongrass complements the subtle taste of chicken.
- Laksa leaves and shrimp paste
Laksa leaves (also referred to as Vietnamese coriander) are fresh and slightly pungent and these contrast well with shrimp paste. Both are used as a topping in Penang Laksa.
- Pumpkin and lime leaves
For a vegetarian Laksa, bring together sweet pumpkin with lime leaves to create a fresh citrus flavour.
- Pork and grilled pineapple
The sweet yet subtle taste of pork works well with sour grilled pineapple. The taste cuts through the fat of the meat.
- Scallops and sweet basil
Combining soft and delicate scallops with a fresh hint of sweet basil creates an elegant and subtle Laksa.
- Beef and peanuts
The peanuts give the beef meat a more rounded flavour and combined they create a great Thai inspired Laksa.
7 Malaysian and Singaporean Laksa Varieties to Try
Laksa is one of the most celebrated dishes in Singapore and Malaysia, and like many popular meals it comes in transformative regional variants. From hot and sour to fresh and creamy, this is one mouthwatering bowl of noodles you’ll need to taste in all its forms.
CNN called it one of the world’s 50 best foods. Lonely Planet said the overall experience of having a bowl of it is so good, it’s ranked second among 500 types of food sampled by some of the most famous chefs and food writers (even beating having sushi in the now-closed Tsukiji Market, Japan, mind you).
The late Anthony Bourdain once said every time he travelled to Malaysia, he must have a bowl of it. This slurp-worthy bowl of goodness is also the ultimate comfort food for rainy days as it fills up your belly and tickle your tastebuds!
Served in most food establishments in Malaysia — from the humblest of coffee shops to high-end restaurants, this bowl of noodle soup with a spicy and tangy kick is a flavorful concoction of multiculturalism in Southeast Asia from centuries of long-distance trade.
The Malays have their nasi lemak, the Chinese, their bak kut teh and the Indians, their thosai. But, the laksa, which comes from the Sanskrit word “lakshah” meaning one hundred thousand, is a creation of diverse cultures.
Trace the origins of the laksa and you’ll find its roots in Chinese cuisine, with influences from the Peranakans, a community resulted from inter-marriages between local women and Chinese traders that came to Southeast Asia’s busiest ports between the 15th and 17th century.
Today, the descendents of the Peranakan community in Malaysia live mainly in Melaka, where they are also known as the Baba and Nyonya.
Word has it, the laksa was created by the Peranakans by adding in coconut milk and chilies to a basic form of Chinese noodle soup, which has since evolved to what it is today.
Savory, rich, hearty, creamy, fish-based or coconut milk-based, with shredded chicken and toppings such as kaffir lime leaves, mint leaves, pineapples, onions, cucumbers, served with rice noodles (or in the state of Johor, spaghetti!), the laksa has many interpretations.
In Malaysia alone, we have seven types of laksa, and found variations in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia as well. So, how do you tell them apart?
Here, we’ll break it down to you the types of laksa in Malaysia and where to get them when you’re in Kuala Lumpur.
1.Penang Asam Laksa
In Peninsular Malaysia, the laksa is generally subdivided between two types: One with coconut milk, and the other, without. Penang’s version is served in fish-based broth, has a sour taste and can be really spicy.
Known as the asam laksa (or tamarind laksa in Malay), the broth is usually made from shredded mackerel fish, tamarind and a blend of shallots, turmeric, lemongrass and chilies ground to a paste then boiled for several hours.
The laksa is served in a bowl of thick, rice noodles and garnished with cucumber strips, onions, mint leaves, pineapples and red chilies. The Penangites add in another spoonful of prawn paste for a stronger flavor!
The Penang asam laksa (asam means sour in Malay) has a sour and spicy fish broth. Mackeral is mostly used as the broth base. Lemongrass, galangal, and chilli are added to create a defining flavour.
It is one of the most popular dishes to try on the Malaysian island Penang.
While also similar in taste to other laksa variations, the Johor laksa’s peculiarity is that it has a Western twist to it as it is served with spaghetti. Instead of a soupy-based broth, its consistency is also thicker, and usually served in a shallow plate.
Made from several types of local fish, such as the ikan parang (wolf herring), ikan kurau (threadfin), prawns and coconut milk, this dish is served with various types of greens such as cucumbers, long beans, laksa leaves, Thai basil leaves and bean sprouts.
The condiments are quite similar to the Penang asam laksa. Also, don’t be surprised when you’re not served with cutleries, as you’re supposed to eat with your hands
It is served in thick sauce (cooked with coconut milk, fish, dried prawns, fresh herbs and spices) with spicy sambal chilli on the side.
Squeeze a bit of lime, mix together, and dig in. It is almost a fusion of Italian pasta and Japanese udon.
The curry laksa is also known as curry mee. It is either served in rice noodles, egg noodles or a mix of both in coconut-based curry broth.
Tofu, chicken, shrimp, and bean sprouts are added on top of the dish. Some restaurants serve the dish with fresh cockles. This dish can be eaten almost in every state of Malaysia, and hawker centre in Singapore.
The curry laksa comes with a curry paste and coconut milk-based broth. It’s usually served with yellow noodles and with toppings of bean curd puffs, bean sprouts, prawns, sliced fish cakes and cockles.
If you’re in a non-halal restaurant, sometimes they’ll throw in a few slices of char siew (BBQ roast pork) and/or congealed pork blood as well.
Fun fact: After sampling the curry laksa at Madras Lane, just off Petaling Street, Lonely Planet named it the runner-up in world’s best food experience in 2018.
Famous celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain named Sarawak laksa as ‘Breakfast of the Gods’. The Sarawak laksa broth is made with sambal belacan chilli, coconut milk, sour tamarind, garlic, galangal, and lemongrass.
It is served with rice vermicelli noodles and topped with sliced egg omelette, chicken strips, peeled boiled prawns, and chopped coriander leaves.
Some restaurants add tofu and bean sprouts to the dish. In Sarawak, enjoy this savoury dish at Poh Lam’s Laksa at Chong Choon Café and Choon Hui Café.
Another type of coconut milk- and fish-based laksa is the laksam, which is typically found in east coast states Kelantan and Terengganu. This dish is served with flat, rice noodles, which has a more chewy texture.
Laksam’s rice noodles are made of rice flour, rolled, flattened then steamed, and finally, cut into small bite-sized pieces. The laksam is then topped with various local herbs and shredded vegetables. A dollop of sambal is a must!
Laksam can be found in Kedah and Terengganu. It is served with thicker bite-sized noodles. The mild, tasty and creamy broth is made with mackerel, coconut milk, tamarind, lemongrass, small onions, and slices of dried asam.
You will get the side of raw vegetables, herbs and sambal chilli. These are served separately so you can add as much as you want into the bowl. A popular breakfast option.
Nyonya laksa has a rich coconut-based broth, cooked with chicken bones and prawn shells. This dish from Melaka is known as laksa lemak (fatty laksa).
You will have the sweet and spicy taste in every bite and slurp of this mouthwatering dish. It represents one of Peranakan’s recipes and traditions with influences of Malay and Chinese culture.
The Nyonya laksa is sometimes dubbed the original laksa as the recipe was passed down by the Peranakan community, many of whom still live in Melaka today. The laksa has a seafood-based broth, but added with coconut milk.
This gives the soup a slightly creamy, sweet flavor but with a spicy kick. Similar to the curry laksa, the Nyonya laksa is also served with bean curd puffs, bean sprouts, prawns and sliced fish cakes.
But what sets them apart is the additional hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced cucumbers and laksa leaves as toppings.
Similar to the Penang asam laksa, the Kedah laksa also has the same ingredients but with more local herbs and vegetables such as the daun selom, ulam raja and pucuk gajus (local herbs and vegetables).
While the Penang laksa is usually spicy, the Kedah laksa is milder in taste. Those who want some kick in their Kedah laksa can add in some cili padi (bird’s eye chilies).
Some Laksa Recipes You Should Try
Curry Laksa (Curry Mee) – Popular hawker’s dish. Curry Mee/Curry Laksa is a dish that’s full of flavours–slightly creamy soup infused with coconut milk.
Thanks to Rasa Malaysia for featuring me as a guest writer this time. Both being Malaysians and the fact that my hometown (Kedah) is just about an hour away from hers (Penang).
Dishes and recipes posted on Rasa Malaysia always bring back my food memories in Malaysia and always portrays true Malaysia’s Northern-style cooking that never leaves spices behind!
As noodles lover, I have chosen to introduce Curry Mee without much hesitation. Curry Mee or also known as Curry Laksa (in the Southern part of Malaysia and its neighbouring country, Singapore) is a popular hawker’s dish.
Curry Mee/Curry Laksa is a dish that’s full of flavours–slightly creamy soup infused with coconut milk, the spiciness of the chilli and fragrance of spices; never fails to satisfy my appetite to have it for breakfast or lunch. It has been too long since the last time I had Curry Mee. So, I am delighted to make this dish.
Due to the fact that Curry Mee/Curry Laksa can easily be bought from hawkers stalls in Malaysia and Singapore, it’s not a dish that is cooked so frequently at home.
However, being thousands miles away from homeland, I am determined to bring the flavours of Curry Mee to my kitchen.
I have had many “versions” of Curry Mee. What I meant was the ingredients accompanied in Curry Mee tend to be slightly different from one hawker to another.
The most basic one that I have ever had in my hometown was at a stall run by a family that I used to go so frequently with my sister during weekends when we were young.
Back then, a bowl of Curry Mee was about 50 – 60 sen (less than 1 Ringgit!) The portion wasn’t big.
The ingredients are egg noodles/vermicelli or both, chinese long beans, deep fried tofu (tau pok), bean sprouts, cockles, and slices of hard boiled eggs served in curry broth.
The specialty is there’s an option to add “Bak You Pok” (deep fried pork fat) So crunchy and yummy! But not good for health!
The more luxury one is with pieces of curry chicken added. In Penang, I have tried those with cockles, blood cake (cooked pig’s blood) and prawns.
Well, I know, cooked pig’s blood? It was OK even though sounds a bit gross. I usually opt that out.
Something is missing? Yes, you are right! How could I have missed out the chili that is usually optional to add to this wonderful bowl of Curry Mee? Never is ever complete without some spice in the food!
Well, I love to have a lot of ingredients in my noodles.
So, this time, I have decided to put both chicken and prawns along with others except cockles and pig’s blood. I love it, tell me if you do?
How Many Calories Per Serving?
This recipe is only 220 calories per serving.
What To Serve With These Recipe?
Serve this dish with other Malaysian dishes. For a Malaysia meal and easy weeknight dinner, I recommend the following recipes.
- 600 g (21 oz.) shelled cockles/bloody clams, (optional)
- 500 g (17 oz.) prawns, steamed and shelled; use the heads to sweeten the stock by liquidising them with 500ml water
- 3 to 4 pieces soaked cuttlefish heads
- 200 g (7 oz.) fried soya bean cubes/ tow pok, halved or quartered
- 200 g (7 oz.) cooked pig blood, cut into cubes, optional
- 300 g (10 oz.) shredded, cooked chicken meat
- 500 g (17 oz.) blanched bean sprouts
- 600 g (21 oz.) blanched yellow noodles
- 300 g (10 oz.) blanched vermicelli/rice sticks
- 1 kg (35 oz.) grated coconut, mixed with 4 litres water and squeezed for the coconut milk to be used as main stock
- 4 tbsp salt or to taste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons rock sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon MSG, optional
Spices (Finely Ground):
- 100 g (4 oz.)shallots
- 25 g (1 oz.) garlic
- 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 4 tablespoons chili paste
- 2 tablespoons lemongrass
- 10 peppercorns
- 1/2 tablespoon belacan, Malaysian shrimp paste granules
- 110 g (4 oz.) chili paste
- 25 g (1 oz.) garlic, pounded
- 175 ml to 200 ml oil
Heat 1/2 cup oil to saute the spices till fragrant. Add in salt, rock sugar and 500ml general santan and bring to a low boil till sugar dissolves.
Add in the rest of the coconut milk, tow pok, and pig’s blood, if used. When soup comes to a boil, add prawn stock and seasoning, then bring to just boiling point.
Remove from fire and use stock as a soup for the yellow noodles and vermicelli. (Should the gravy or stock curdle, strain it.)
For the chili oil: Saute garlic and chili paste in oil until the chili disintegrates and oil floats to the surface. (Use this to garnish when serving.)