Laksa is one of those dishes that has a different meaning depending on where you come from. Although by definition laksa is a spicy noodle soup, every state in Malaysia has its own spin on this dish and each offers a different culinary experience. Sarawak laksa became world famous when the late Anthony Bourdain claimed that this “Breakfast of the Gods” is “one of the foods served in heaven” and had featured it twice in his shows, once for Travel Channel’s No Reservations and again for CNN’s Parts Unknown.
I had discovered when preparing this dish that Sarawak’s laksa is distinctive not so much in the combination of herbs and spices for the laksa broth. The biggest difference is how it is thickened not just with coconut milk but also with ground up sesame seeds and peanuts that had been roasted in the oven. This recipe was previously published in Flavours, and is currently in the Kuali.com archives. It is one of the simpler made-from-scratch recipes for Sarawak laksa, although some purists may claim that it is not authentic.
However, even many true-blood Sarawakians have now opted for ready-made spice paste because there are many other components of the dish that need to be prepared to serve this dish. But don’t be intimidated by the sheer number of ingredients needed to prepare Sarawak laksa from scratch. Some of the roasting and toasting of ingredients can be made ahead of time, and even the laksa broth can be prepared a day before if you leave out the coconut milk until just before serving. Whereas laksa from other states are served with either laksa noodles (Penang, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang), yellow wheat noodles with or without rice vermicelli (Perak, Selangor, Melaka), or spaghetti (Johor), Sarawak laksa uses only rice vermicelli.
The Sarawak Laksa stall at a Chinese coffee shop in Petaling Jaya that I frequent would use Sarawak mee kolo noodles for their laksa and I had thought that it was the norm until my colleague, Tina Loh from Kuching, corrected me. She also advised me that laksa in Kuching is only served with chicken, although the same stall had served it with pork. Combined with prawns, these two meats provide the proteins to enrich the broth and garnish the meal. Some recipes also include sliced fish cake as a topping, which you may add only if you desire.
One topping that was missing from the original archive recipe, though, is julienned omelette. Tina says that the egg is one of the crucial ingredients in Sarawak laksa and that is what she remembers helping her mom with when cooking this dish at home. I have included it here in this adapted recipe. Although Tina had also insisted that there should be belacan in the sambal condiment, this recipe had listed only dried shrimps. I feel that it is essentially the same basic ingredient but in a different form, and everyone was wowed by how it tasted even though it did not have belacan in it. You may add some belacan to the condiment if you wish, though I think it is pretty good as it is. I know that although it may not be viewed as authentic by many Sarawakians, I hope this recipe gives a good tribute to their state dish. Happy Gawai Dayak to all.
- 10 red chillies
- 2 bulbs red onions
- 1 clove garlic
- 50g dried shrimps
- 8 tbsp cooking oil
- Spice Paste:
- 150g shallots
- 125g garlic
- 150g galangal
- 30g red chillies
- 4 stalks lemongrass, white part only
- 10 dried chillies, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
- 30g candlenuts
- 20g cumin seeds
- 55g coriander seeds
- 3 pods star anise, dry toasted and ground
- 4 buds cloves, dry toasted and ground
- 1 nutmeg kernel, pounded
- 5 pods cardamoms, seeds only
- 1kg fresh prawns
- 500g chicken breast or pork
- 2 litres cold water
- 12 tbsp palm oil
- 75g sesame seeds, toasted and ground
- 150g peanuts, toasted and ground
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 2 tsp salt to taste
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 1/2 litres chicken and prawn stock
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 400g rice vermicelli, scalded
- 5-6 calamansi limes, halved
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 200g beansprouts, scalded
- 1 cucumber, shredded
- 2 eggs, made into an omelette and julienne-cut
- shredded chicken meat or pork
- poached prawns
- To make the stock, remove the heads and shells from the prawns.
- Marinate the prawn flesh with sugar for about 30 minutes.
- Place the prawn heads and shells in a stock pot, add water and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes.
- Strain the broth through a wire sieve and discard the heads and shells.
- Bring the stock back to a boil and add prawns to poach for 5 minutes until cooked, then cool down completely before splitting each prawn into two halves.
- Bring the stock back to a boil and add chicken meat or pork.
- If using chicken, poach for 10-15 minutes over medium heat until fully cooked, then remove from the heat to cool down completely before shredding.
- If using pork, poach for 20-30 minutes over medium heat until tender, then remove from the heat to cool down completely before shredding.
- To make the sambal, blend all the ingredients with a little oil in an electric mill into a fine paste.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the sambal paste till fragrant and oil separates. Set aside.
- To make the spice paste, blend all the ingredients with a little oil in an electric mill into a fine paste.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the spice paste until fragrant, then add sesame seeds, peanuts, curry powder and seasonings.
- To make the laksa broth, place the spice paste in a large saucepan and add stock and coconut milk.
- Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat, adding more stock if necessary to adjust its consistency.
- To serve, divide the vermicelli among bowls and ladle the broth over it.
- Top with garnishes and serve piping hot with sambal.