I love most Asian food, especially curries and curry style soups, and my favourite would have to be Laksa. Laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup from Peranakan culture, which is a merger of Chinese and Malay elements found in Malaysia and Singapore. The name may originate from the Sanskrit word laksha meaning “”many”” and referring to the soup's many ingredients; the word is also the origin of the Hindi term lakh.The term laksa is used to describe two different types of noodle soup dishes: curry laksa and Assam laksa. Curry laksa refers to noodles served in coconut curry soup, while Assam laksa refers to noodles served in sour fish soup. Usually, thick rice noodles are preferred, although thin rice vermicelli also known as bee hoon and any other type of noodles can be used. Curry Laksa Curry laksa (in many places referred to simply as “laksa”) is a coconut-based curry soup. The main ingredients for most versions of curry laksa include tofu puffs, fish sticks, prawns and cockles.

Generally made with a special laksa paste, laska is basically a coconut curry soup with a variety of ingredients in it, depending on the particular variety. Some vendors may sell chicken laksa, which uses chicken instead of prawns. Cockles are usually very commonly used in laksa and most vendors would add them into laksa unless customers request not to have cockles for hygiene reasons.

Laksa is commonly served with a spoonful of sambal chilli paste and is traditionally garnished with Vietnamese coriander, or laksa leaf, which is known in Malay as daun kesum. This is usually known as “Curry mee” in Penang rather than curry laksa, due to the different kind of noodles used (yellow mee or bee hoon, as opposed to the thick white laksa noodles).

The name “Curry laksa” is more commonly used in Singapore. Variants of curry laksa include; Laksa lemak, also known as nyonya laksa, is a type of laksa with rich coconut gravy.

Lemak is a culinary description in the Malay language, which specifically refers to the presence of coconut milk, which adds a distinctive richness to a dish. As the name implies, it is made with rich, slightly sweet and strongly spiced coconut gravy.

Laksa is easy to make at home and in fact, you can do it without a laska paste. You can use a Thai red curry paste as a substitute and the end result is almost undistinguishable to the untrained palate. Of course if you're a laksa aficionado, then you'll know the curry paste has been used. Before we get into the recipe itself, here's a little bit about Laksa, you might be interested in.

Types of Laksa

Laksa lemak is usually made with a fish-based gravy and is heavily influenced by Thai laksa; perhaps to the point that one could say they are one and the same. Katong laksa is a variant of laksa lemak from the Katong area of Singapore. In Katong laksa, the noodles are normally cut up into smaller pieces so that the entire dish can be eaten with a spoon alone (that is, without chopsticks or a fork).

Katong laksa is a strong contender for the heavily competed title of Singapore's national dish. Laksam, a speciality of the Malaysian state of Kelantan, is made with very thick flat white rice flour noodles in white gravy of boiled fish and coconut milk. Traditionally laksam is eaten with hands rather than with eating utensils due to the gravy's thick consistency.

A bowl of Penang laksa is a variant of Assam laksa. Assam laksa is a sour fish-based soup. Asam is the Malay word for sour, but it is often used as an abbreviation for asam jawa or tamarind, which is commonly used to give the stock its sour flavour. It is also common to use “asam keping” also known as “asam gelugor”, dried slices of tamarind fruit, for added sourness. Modern Malay spelling is asam, though the spelling Assam is still frequently used.

The main ingredients for Assam laksa include shredded fish, normally kembung fish or mackerel, and finely sliced vegetables including cucumber, onions, red chillies, pineapple, lettuce, common mint, “daun kesom” (Vietnamese mint or laksa mint) and pink bunga kantan (ginger buds).

Assam laksa is normally served with either thick rice noodles or thin rice noodles (vermicelli). And topped off with “”petis udang”” or “”hae ko””, a thick sweet prawn paste.

Variants of Assam laksa include; Penang laksa, also known as Assam laksa from the Malay for tamarind, comes from the Malaysian island of Penang. It is made with mackerel (ikan kembung) soup and its main distinguishing feature is the Assam or tamarind, which gives the soup a sour taste. The fish is poached and then flaked.

Other ingredients that give Penang laksa its distinctive flavour include lemongrass, galangal (lengkuas) and chilli. Typical garnishes include mint, pineapple slices, thinly sliced onion, a thick sweet prawn paste and use of lotus flower. This, and not 'curry mee' is the usual 'laksa' one gets in Penang.

Johor laksa, from Johor state in southern Malaysia, resembles Penang laksa only in the kind of fish used but differs in everything else.

Johor laksa has coconut milk, use 'kerisik', dried prawns, lemon grass, galangal and spices akin to curry. The garnishing comprises slices of onion, beansprouts (taugeh), mint leaves, Vietnamese coriander or 'daun kesum', cucumber and pickled white radish. A dab of shrimp paste (sambal belacan) is placed on the side. Finally, just before eating, freshly squeezed limejuice is sprinkled on the dish.

Unlike other laksa versions, Johor laksa has an Italian connection – it uses spaghetti instead of the normal rice noodles or vermicelli. Ipoh laksa, from the Malaysian city of Ipoh, is similar to Penang laksa but has a more sour (rather than sweet) taste. The soup stock contains prawn paste. Sarawak laksa comes from the town of Kuching in the Malaysian state Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. It has a base of sambal belacan, sour tamarind, garlic, lemon grass and coconut milk, topped with beansprouts, omelette strips, chicken strips, prawns, fresh coriander and optionally lime. Perlis laksa is very similar to Penang laksa and only differs in the garnishing used.

Sliced boiled eggs are usually added to the dish. Laksa is simply referred to or ordered at a restaurant as laksa (curry laksa) or Assam laksa. By default, laksa means the standard curry laksa while Assam laksa refers to the standard Penang version.

To make laksa at home, see my Basic Laksa Recipe.