Curious Cook: Figuring out the laksa puzzle

My daughter’s boyfriend not too long ago got here again from Singapore and declared his favorite dish is now laksa. I’ve a number of empathy with him as laksa can also be a powerful favorite of mine and it made me realise that I’ve not had a laksa for years, dwelling in France.

So it was one thing of a shock and aid to listen to that laksa eating places at the moment are sprouting round London, a metropolis which I go to a number of occasions a yr and the place I’m at the moment penning this.

To analysis the dish, my daughter and I deliberate visits to a number of eating places serving laksa however ultimately, we solely managed two venues on account of work and different points.

In preparation, I did some investigation into what constitutes a laksa. And there’s no straight reply as a result of forms of laksa out there. One would have thought all laksa would have one thing in frequent, however that’s merely not the case (except bean sprouts).


As I grew up in Johor, the primary laksa I had encountered was Johor Laksa, an idiosyncratic model seldom discovered wherever else. It contains thick noodles, sardine paste tangy with calamansi limes, cooked in coconut curry gravy with laksa leaves and garnished with contemporary salad.

Later I found a distinct laksa in Kuala Lumpur, which really originated from Ipoh. This can be a bowl of rice or wheat noodles drenched in a spicy orange/gold soupy gravy ready with pulverised dried shrimps, curry paste, sambal (shrimp-based chilli paste), garnished with fish cake slices, fried tofu cuts and/or hen.

Bloody raw-looking cockles are sometimes an additional addition for just some cents extra. That is extra generally generally known as curry laksa.

Assam laksa is widespread in Penang. Photograph: Filepic

And in Penang, there’s the aromatic however punchy assam laksa, a rice noodle bowl which makes use of no coconut milk in a broth primarily based on tamarind, lemongrass, belacan (fermented shrimp paste), fish bones and garnished with ginger flower, bean sprouts, cucumber, shaved onions, uncooked chillies, mint, prawn paste, chopped fish and laksa leaves.

The Singapore laksa appears to be a sanitised variant of curry laksa from Kuala Lumpur or Ipoh, although it doesn’t supply the choice of bloody cockles and should introduce char siew (barbecued pork) or roast pork as an alternative.

Laksa leaf

One would have thought that each one laksa would essentially comprise the eponymous laksa leaves. However this isn’t the case as curry laksa sometimes don’t use them. Nonetheless, the leaf itself is an attention-grabbing topic.There are literally two sorts of laksa leaf, which style related and are used interchangeably. One is thought scientifically as Persicaria odorata and the opposite is Polygonum minus or Polygonum minor.

The primary species is usually generally known as Vietnamese coriander within the West, daun laksa (Malaysia), Rau Ram (Vietnam) and Phak Phai (Thailand) the place it’s the essential spice in numerous sorts of tom yam dishes.

The second species is called daum kesum and is widespread in Malay dishes. Each species are associated to knotweed and are from the Polygonaceae household; they’re each perennial creepers native to South-East Asia.

The daun kesom is a kind of laksa leaf. Photograph: Filepic

Each species have excessive concentrations of aliphatic aldehydes in its oils which contribute to their explicit aroma and flavours; eg. decanal and dodecanal.

In complete, 69 aroma compounds have been recognized within the plant oils by chromatography and mass spectroscopy. These compounds are additionally claimed to have antimicrobial, antioxidant, immuno-stimulant and anti-carcinogenic properties. Moreover, laksa leaves have a comparatively extensive spectrum of mineral/vitamin vitamins and the excessive oxalic acid content material can also be a digestion help.

In different nations, Persicaria hydropiper, also called the water-or marsh-pepper, is typically confused for the laksa leaf plant. Wild water-pepper comprises compounds which may irritate the pores and skin so the Japanese use cultivars (specifically cultivated varieties) of water-pepper to make a garnish for sashimi and likewise an uncommon water-pepper sauce served with grilled fish.

Historical past of laksa

Laksa is acknowledged to be a Peranakan concoction, primarily based on the historic co-mingling of Chinese language, Malay and Indonesian influences, with most likely a contact of Indian as nicely.

The origin of the phrase laksa itself is especially hazy. One main concept is that it got here from the Persian phrase, “lakhsha” which interprets roughly into “slippery”, and probably alludes to the noodles within the bowl, in accordance with the Oxford Companion to Meals.

Or it could have been a bastardisation of the Cantonese phrases “ley sah” (or “spicy sand”) which references the feel of the bottom dried prawns utilized in some variations. Or it may need come from the Sanskrit “laksha” which is the phrase for “many” and could also be a mirrored image of the various substances within the dish. The least enticing steered origin will be the corruption of the Hokkien phrase “lup sup” which principally means “messy” or “soiled”.

From the title historical past, it’s possible that laksa, or no less than curry laksa, could have originated earlier than using laksa leaves as an ingredient.

Laksa In London – Half 1

As talked about, I managed to pattern solely two eating places serving laksa in London – I’m not positive of the precise variety of laksa eating places now however it’s actually way over once I was final dwelling there over 20 years in the past.

My daughter says greater than a dozen venues are promoting the dish and it’s marketed continuously on social media.

Laksa has changing into more and more widespread within the West, with eating places like Laksamania in London main the cost. Photograph: Chris Chan

It might be laksa is now the present foodie fad in London. It might not be stunning as fads come and go simply (and sometimes) in massive metropolitan cities and the shock is that laksa is doing so nicely as it might usually be too spicy for Western tastes.

The primary place we ambled to was Laksamania, the place my daughter had the Ipoh laksa and I ordered the Singapore laksa.

Each had been curry laksa and we had been curious in regards to the distinction. The restaurant is contemporarily nice, with a lot of elegant darkish wooden. The laksa duly arrived and each tasted fairly good however had been lacking the undefined “zing” of an actual laksa.

Additionally, one of many laksa (I overlook which) additionally had an unusually sturdy flavour of star anise which was attention-grabbing, however misplaced it a couple of marks on the authenticity scale. That’s as a result of star anise will not be a flavour I usually affiliate with curry laksa although it tasted fairly nice.

Laksa in London – Half 2

I initially had low expectations once we visited the second venue, partly as a result of a senior UK meals critic raved about it too fervently. Often, when a meals critic is so biased, it means he likes the meals however that doesn’t essentially apply to everybody else.

I needn’t have apprehensive because the eating at Singapore Backyard is certainly fairly good. They solely have the Singapore (curry) laksa and it tastes as genuine as what one would count on at meals courtroom in Kuala Lumpur.

The night was enhanced by bumping right into a waiter we had identified for a few years and who helped us select the most effective dishes on the menu.

Each locations weren’t costly by London requirements and subjectively worthwhile to recover from the yearning for laksa. I additionally purchased some packs of curry laksa paste to take again to France to attempt on some adventurous (and unsuspecting) mates.

There may be one different curiosity about laksa leaf. In Vietnam, laksa leaves are used to suppress sexual urges, and Buddhist monks develop and eat the leaves to assist preserve their celibacy. In case you are searching for the alternative impact, then the Vietnamese consider that uncooked bean sprouts enhance libido.

I’ve not researched these claims although it’s attention-grabbing that the one ingredient in frequent with all laksa is bean sprouts.

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