All About Laksa.

At Fruit n Spice we serve the famous Penang Asam Laksa. All our ingredients are the best local ingredients that we can find, some of which we cultivate ourselves.

Spice n herbs.

Our food is prepared fresh and we do not use artificial flavour enhancers such as Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) or 'Ajinomoto'. We pride ourselves in bringing you the healthiest and tastiest home cooked style Laksa we can produce.

Come try it and taste the difference.



What is Laksa?

It would depend upon who you were speaking to as to what description you would received about Laksa.

There are many different versions, but generally it is a kind of noodle dish. Laksa bowl on table. The noodles are served in a bowl with a soupy gravy which is either fishy and sour or curry based. Depending upon the cook and the taster Laksa is usually fortified with enough fresh and dried chillies to blow your taste buds off the rictor scale. The noodles can either be thick or thin, white in colour and made of rice flour. Occasionally the noodles can be yellow and made from wheat.

Read on for a comparison of the different types of Laksas.

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Origins of Laksa.

There have been various suggestions as to where the term Laksa comes from. One theory[1] links it to a type of vermicelli called lakhshah in Hindi or Persian while another is the connection with a Cantonese word "latsa" [2] which means "spicy sand" alluding to the sandy or gritty texture of the laksa sauce. Another offering is that the Hokkien word for dirty[3], "lah sum", describes the appearance of the Laksa sauce. The last theory would however be particularly relevant to the Laksa that uses mackerel fish based stock like Penang Asam Laksa.

Source: Wikipedia.
References;
1. Winstedt, Sir Richard (Olaf), An Unabridged Malay-English Dictionary (5th ed., enlarged) (Kuala Lumpur: Marican & Sons, 1963).
2. Hutton, Wendy, Singapore Food (Marshall Cavendish, 2007) [Wendy-Hutton].
3. Spiles, Jason, Asian Food (John & Peters, 2005).

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Laksa Geography.

There are variations of the dish in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia with completely different versions from region to region within Malaysia itself. Curry Laksa with mixed ingredients. The dispersal of South East Asian people all over the world has resulted in Laksa being available in cities like Christhurch in New Zealand, Melbourne in Australia, London in the UK, Vancouver in Canada and of course throughout the United States to name just a few places. In many cases the lack of availability of traditional ingredients has resulted in the omission or substitution of ingredients for those that are to hand. So although many people have adopted the laksa name for this noodle dish the actual ingredients can be quite different from one place to another.

The two most common versions in Penang are Asam Laksa and Laksa Lemak. Curry Laksa with quail eggs. However Assam Laksa is also loosely known as Penang Laksa while Laksa Lemak can also be known as Singapore Laksa, nyonya laksa or curry Laksa. For simplicity we have used Asam Laksa and Laksa Lemak to refer to the two different versions of Laksa. The two versions are quite distinct. Asam Laksa uses a fish based soup or gravy while Laksa Lemak (Lemak being the Malay word for squeezed coconut juice) has a coconut based curry gravy. The common ingredient is the white round rice noodles, although there are variations to the type of noodle used as well!

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Laksa comparisons.

Asam Laksa Laksa Lemak
No coconut milk used. Coconut milk is used.
Tamarind (asam) used for sour taste. Curry gravy used.
Fish used for stock. Usually prawns used for stock.
Pineapple, shredded cucumber, raw onions,lettuce used. Only bean sprouts used, no other vegetables.
No tofu puff used. Tofu puff is used.
No hard-boiled eggs. Hard-boiled egg may be added.
No prawns or chicken. Sliced fish cake, prawns or chicken used.
Served with thick or thin rice noodles (usually thick). Served with thick or thin rice noodles sometimes yellow noodles.

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Asam Laksa.

Asam Laksa is characterised by its fish based gravy and the sour flavour created by the use of tamarind. Tamarind is one of the main ingredients which also gives Penang Assam Laksa its name. 'Assam jawa' in Malay means Tamarind.

Typically mackerel or ikan kembong is the fish of choice. The fish is boiled or steamed to form the stock. Pouring Laksa gravy. The fish meat is then shredded and used in the gravy. Sometimes slices of dried tamarind is used to enhance the sour flavour. Lemongrass and galangal (lengkuas) are also active ingredients in the stock. Raw sliced cucumber, onions, red chillies, pineapple, lettuce, ginger buds (bunga kantan), mint leaves and Vietnamese mint (daun kesum) act as garnish on top of the thick white rice noodles. The thick fish gravy is then poured over the ingredients. It is usual in Penang for the bowl of laksa to be served with a china spoon loaded with the dark prawn paste sauce known as 'hair ko'. As there is no standardised spelling for the use of the roman alphabet for Hokkien names you may see this prawn sauce spelt in different ways such as 'haeko', 'heh ko', etc.

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Laksa Lemak.

This version of Laksa is made with a coconut based curry gravy. Curries made with coconut bases are common throughout the South East Asian region. Unless otherwise stated this is the default version you will get in Singapore. Curry Laksa with prawns. Generally a light bean curd or tofu puff, prawns and sliced hard boiled eggs are used as garnish. When yellow noodles (mee) and white vermicelli (bee hoon) is used with this dish in Penang it is can also be known as Curry Mee. Chicken or more frequently prawns are used to make the stock.

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Other Laksas.

There are different versions of Laksa in virtually all thirteen states of Malaysia although there is some overlapping. Some examples are Perlis Laksa, Kedah Laksa, Ipoh Laksa, Kuala Kangsar Laksa, Johor Laksa, Kelantan Laksa, and Sarawak Laksa.

Often you will get food stalls in Kuala Lumpur or Petaling Jaya in Peninsula Malaysia advertising Penang Laksa. This might be because the proprietors originate from Penang and because Penang has a reputation for good food. If you are interested in a description of the various types of Laksa mentioned above check out the details at Wikipedia.

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Recipe: Asam Laksa.

There are many variations on the Asam Laksa recipes. You'll find a number of them at the websites we have provided links to under our Links menu above. Even Western celebrity chefs like Rick Stein have produced their versions with their own particular twist and catered for their own local audience. We have provided a recipe below that you may like to try at home. The Asam Laksa we produce at the Fruit n Spice premises however is a different version to this.

Penang Asam Laksa Recipe (serves 8).

Ingredients.

Part A - Noodles (Mee).

600g fresh laksa noodles/ dried packet noodles can be used if fresh ones are not available.
2 litres water.

Part B - Fish.
1Kg Mackeral (Ikan Kembong).
2 litres water.

Part C - Gravy spices.
Finely chop and pound these ingredients with pesal and mortar or shred with a food processor.
6 fresh red chillies.
4 dried chillies. Immerse them in boiling water and leave to stand until soft.
3cm length piece of galangal (lengkuas).
3cm length piece of fresh turmeric (kunyit).
20 shallots (bawang merah).
2 cloves garlic (bawang putih).
1 small piece belacan about a 50 sen size grilled or 1 tbsp packet belacan powder.

Part D - Gravy spices.
5 Stalks Polygonum/ Vietnamese mint (daun kesum).
1 phaeomaria/torch ginger flower (bunga kantan) sliced lengthwise.
4 stalks lemongrass (serai) pounded whole to release flavours.
50g tamarind (asam jawa) soak in 250ml boiling water then strain and discard seeds and pulp.
4 pieces peeled tamarind (asam keeping).
1 tsp sugar.
Salt to taste.

Part E - Garnish.
1 Pineapple - slice finely lengthwise to about 30cm in length.
1 Cucumber - finely sliced to about 30cm in length.
1 phaeomaria/ torch ginger flower (bunga kantan) - cut into small pieces.
3 red chillies - sliced finely across to form ovals.
1 large onion - cut into small strips.
6 Lettuce leaves - sliced into long strips.
Mint leaves (daun pudina)- leave whole as single leaves.

Part F - Condiment.
Black prawn shrimp paste (hair ko) - diluted slightly with warm water to a flowing consistency.

Preparation.
Bring 2 litres of water to boil in a large pot. Add the fish Part B and boil for no more than 10 minutes. Remove fish and leave to cool. Remove the fish flesh, flake it and set to one side. Return the bones to the pot and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Strain the stock into another pot ensuring all bones are removed.

Add a little cooking oil to a frying pan or wok and saute the spices from Part C for a couple of minutes or until the spices become fragrant.

Add into the pot of strained gravy all the ingredients from Part C and D. Bring to the boil and add the flaked fish meat. Simmer the gravy for 30 minutes or until the gravy reaches the desired consistency. Cover the pot and keep the gravy on a low gentle boil until it is served.

Dip the fresh noodles Part A into about 2 litres fresh boiling water for a few seconds until they are heated through and drain them with a sieve. Place the required amount of noodles in individual serving bowl.

Place the desired amount of garnishing ingredients from Part E on top of the noodles. You may wish to wait until the gravy is poured over the noodles and garnish before placing the mint leaves on top.

Serve the prawn paste (hairko) Part F on a china spoon or in a small saucer. Your Penang Asam Laksa is ready to eat!

You may like to experiment with this recipe by adding or reducing the amount of each ingredient to your preferred taste. Each cook has their own particular 'secret method' or preferred way of doing things. So long as the end result is something tasty that you and those you are cooking for enjoy, you can't ask for much more than that. Good luck.

Then again, if it all sounds like too much hard work, not got the patience, or prefer someone else to do the cooking then we'll be happy to entertain you at Fruit n Spice.

Asam Laksa in bowl. Our Asam Laksa.

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Recipe: Laksa Lemak.

This is the other Laksa recipe more commonly found in areas outside of Penang. It contains a coconut based curry gravy.

Laksa Lemak Recipe(serves 8).

Ingredients.

Part A - Noodles (Mee).

600g fresh laksa noodles/ dried packet noodles can be used if fresh ones are not available.
2 litres water.

Part B - Seafood.
100g Fish balls or fish cake.
200g Raw prawns with shells on.
2 litres water.

Part C - Gravy spices.
Finely chop and pound these ingredients with pesal and mortar or shred with a food processor.
6 dried chillies. Immerse them in boiling water and leave to stand until soft.
1 stalk lemongrass (serai).
3cm length piece of galangal (lengkuas).
3cm length piece of fresh turmeric (kunyit) or 1tsp turmeric powder.
10 shallots (bawang merah).
4 candlenuts (buah keras).
1 small piece belacan about 3cm length grilled or 1 tbsp packet belacan powder.

Part D - Gravy spices.
2 tbsp fresh ground coriander (ketumbar) or coriander powder.
2 tbsp dried prawns - shredded and pounded.

Part E - Garnish.
5 Stalks Polygonum/ Vietnamese mint (daun kesum).
Mint leaves (daun pudina)- leave whole as single leaves.
Half a cucumber - sliced thiny.
1 packet Tofu puffs - slice individual puffs.
Beansprouts (tau gheah) - blanched in boiling water for a few seconds.
2 Boiled egg - sliced.

Part F - Other ingredients.
Fresh Coconut milk - thin and thick or 2 cans coconut milk (800ml/27 fl oz).
2tbsp Cooking oil.
1 tsp sugar.
Salt to taste.

Preparation.
Bring 2 litres of water to boil in a large pot.

Add the prawns Part B and boil for no more than 2 minutes. Remove prawns and peel off the shells when cool enough to do so. Return the shells to the pot of water and gently boil them to create the stock for about 20 minutes. Strain the stock into a clean pot and discard the prawn shells. In a separate pot add the cooking oil and saute the gravy spices Part C for a couple of minutes. Add the coriander and prawns from Part D and continue stirring the mixture for a couple more minutes. When the mixture is fragrant add in the thin coconut milk stirring constantly. If using canned coconut milk add one can and save the other for later. Add in the prawn stock. Bring to the boil then simmer the gravy for about 20 minutes. Add sugar and salt to taste. Add in the thick coconut milk. If using canned coconut milk add the other can. Add fish balls into the gravy and continue to simmer for 5 minutes. The gravy is now ready for serving. Dip the fresh noodles Part A into about 2 litres fresh boiling water for a few seconds until they are heated through and drain them with a sieve. Place the required amount of noodles in individual serving bowl. Ladel the cooked hot gravy over the noodles.

Add the garnish Part E and the precooked prawns on top of the noodles. Your Laksa Lemak is ready to eat!

This is just one version of this dish. You will find many different versions 'out there' each with varying amounts of the same ingredients or variations on the type of ingredients. You may like to experiment with the above recipe to suit your own taste. If you are feeling adventurous why not try adding fish, chicken, crab meat or even lobster to the dish. Go on, give it a go! For vegetarians you may like to substitute the fish and prawns with different types of pulses or tofu. You can find many other recipes through our Link page above.

Sorry but we do not usually serve Laksa Lemak at Fruit n Spice.

Laksa Lemak in wide bowl.

For further information on Laksa check out our More-Links page above.

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