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Malaysian food: Laksa

Few types of Malaysian food are so typical as Laksa. According to the wikipedia, 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 (लक्ष), meaning "many" and referring to the soup's many ingredients; the word is also the origin of the Hindi term lakh.

What is your favorite food in Malaysia?

Malaysia is a food paradise. Not surprising if you look at the population of Malays, Chinese and Indians who all contribute to the unique Malaysian cuisine. But what did you enjoy the most in the Malaysian cuisine?

Was it the special Malay redang? Or a Chinese noodle soup? Did you rave about the tosais or roti canai? Please tell other travelers so they can benefit from your experience:

Your favotire meal in Malaysia

Laksa is almost everywhere available. Basically there are two types of laksa: curry laksa (curry mee) and assam laksa. The curry laksa is served in a coconut curry soup while assam laksa refers to noodles served in a sour fish soup. The noodles used are thick though thin noodles (bee hoon) are used too.

Spicy or not? Laksa for sure is one of the more spicy dishes you will find in Malaysia. In general of all Malaysian food, I found the Malay laksa spicier then the Chinese laksa. The assam laksa, with it's sour fish has a distinct different taste then anything else with the exception maybe of the Tom Yam soups you find in Malaysia and Thailand. Curry Mee is usually less spicy though you may have to ask for no sambal if you don't like it too spicy.

laksa johor
Laksa Johor

Curry laksa or curry mee

Curry laksa, or simply laksa in Malaysian food is a coconut based curry soup. Ingredients usually include tofu, fish, prawn and cockles. In Malaysia some hawkers sell chicken laksa, leaving the prawns. Laksa is usually spice also because it is served with sambal chili paste.

This kind of laksa is also known as curry mee in Penang while in other states people know it as curry laksa. The real difference is the kind of noodles used, thick white noodles in laksa mee while in curry mee they use the yellow noodles. Curry mee is one of my more favorite mee dishes and Mee Gerai Tzien Fatt in Sitiawan serves some of the very best curry mee in the surrounding of Pangkor and Lumut.

As I said, of all Malaysian food, laksa is almost everywhere available and it's very popular. There are a few varieties of laksa:

  • Laksa lemak, also known as nyonya laksa, mostly know in Penang. This type of laksa is served in a thick coconut gravy. Laksa lemak is usually made with a fish-based gravy and is heavily influenced by Thai laksa
  • 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).
  • Laksam, this kind of laksa can be found in Kelantan, not much in the Pangkor area. Malaysian food like this kind of laksa has white rice flour noodles in a white gravy of boiled fish and coconut milk.

Penang Laksa
The most famous laksa can be found in Penang, Air Itam

Assam laksa

Assam laksa another Malaysian food based on fish soup. Recently I learned that assam is the Malay word for tamarind, a spice that creates the sour flavor in Malaysian food like laksa.

In a traditional assam laksa, fish like mackerel is used. Further you will find vegetables as onions, cucumber and lettuce plus fruit like pineapple. The noodles used are thick and white though thin white ones (vermicelli) are used sometimes. To make it even tastier, shrimp paste is added.

Laksa Penang, the famous stall in Penang
Laksa Penang

Assam laksa is very popular and is easy available at the beach of Nipah Bay or around the hawkers in the evening in Pangkor Town or Pasir Bogak. There are some varieties people make:

  • Penang laksa, oe assam laksa
    This kind of laksa is most found in Penang. The use of lemon grass, mint, galangal and pineapples give it a very specific and spicy taste. The fish used can be mackerel. This, and not 'curry mee' is the usual 'laksa' one gets in Penang.
  • Johor laksa,
    As the name suggest, this kind of laksa comes from Johor state, near Singapore. The difference with Penang laksa is the kind of fish used. It is served with shrimp paste too.
  • Ipoh laksa, is a kind of laksa you find in and around Ipoh, 70 km from Lumut/Pangkor. This kind of laksa differs from Penang laksa only in taste as it is more sour then sweet.
  • Kuala Kangsar Laksa,
    Very popular in the former royal city of Kuala Kangsar. It's made of rice flour (usually hand made). The soup is rather lighter than the common laksa taste
  • Sarawak laksa
    East Malaysia, Borneo, the state of Sarawak has its own kind of laksa. Apart of the usual lemon grass, garlic and coconut milk, the soup is topped with bean sprouts and omelet slices. Chicken, prawn and fresh coriander plus lime can be found in this meal.
  • Perlis and Kedah laksa is very similar to Penang laksa. The difference is the garnishing. This kind of laksa originate from the northern state Kedah (and can be found in Penang too). Boiled egg is in fact the main difference with Penang laksa though in some places eel can be added.

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