The Quest for Laksa Dishes; How many types are there?
I did a quest for Hokkien mee before to seek out the different types of Hokkien noodles that I could find in Singapore and Malaysia. This time, I am going to try the same for Southeast Asia's popular laksa dishes. Such food quests make good travel objectives!
I listed down the various types of laksa dishes that I have tried so far in this article, starting from Singapore to Malaysia. I have not completed the list of laksa in Malaysia yet. And I believe there are laksa dishes in Indonesia and Thailand too.
1. Singapore Curry Laksa
The Nyonya-style coconut-curry laksa is one of the most commonly found noodle dish in Singapore. It's thick laksa broth, prepared with dried shrimps, coconut milk and spices, is usually spicy and a little sweet due to the coconut milk.
The noodle used is usually thick rice vermicelli but other noodle types can be specified. Typical ingredients used are tofu puffs (or "tau pok" as the locals called it), slices of fish cake, prawns, cockles, beansprouts and sometimes, portion of a hard-boiled egg. Dried coriander leaves are usually added as garnish and additional sambal chilli may be added on top of the curry soup to spice up the dish.
Jin Li Satay Bee Hoon, Beauty World Centre
2. Singapore Katong Laksa
Katong laksa, as it's name implies, originated from the Katong area in Singapore where thick rice vermicelli are cut into shorter strands such that the noodle dish can be eaten with just a spoon. This is the main difference between Katong laksa and other laksa dishes in Singapore — at least, when it first started.
There is also a common trait that Katong laksa are usually prepared with prawns, cockles and slices of fish cake garnished with dried coriander leaves and sambal chilli. Other ingredients may also be added. Only thick rice vermicelli is used.
Terry Katong Laksa, Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre
3. Laksa Johor
When I first noted there are "Johor laksa" and "laksa Johor" in Johor Bahru, I asked around and was told that both are the same. But when I really went and searched for places that sell the two types of laksa dishes, I found the answer — they are entirely different. The two terms are often used interchangeably but "Johor laksa" is used mainly for other laksa dishes that are not the "royal laksa Johor" — as local Malays claimed.
Stalls selling "royal" laksa Johor are a little difficult to find unless one knows the way around Johor well. It was said that the process to prepare the ingredients and its thick gravy paste are so tedious that very few are willing to sell it. It took me quite some searching online until I found one in Johor Bahru — thanks to Johor Kaki!
Laksa Johor's gravy paste is not solely coconut-curry based but carries a sourness that resembles asam laksa — but it's from lemongrass. Many ingredients are ground to make the laksa paste, including fish, dried prawns and chilli. Another unique characteristic is the use of spaghetti instead of local noodles. Other ingredients are cucumber, onions, beansprouts and half a lime. This can be easily mistaken as a vegetarian dish.
Selera Johor (near Larkin Sentral)
4. Johor Laksa
In a nutshell, Johor laksa is Nyonya coconut-curry laksa and is very similar to Singapore's curry laksa, except that Johor laksa mostly do not have prawns. The curry soup is also not as thick as Singapore's curry laksa, so it tastes lighter and easier to drink to the last drop. Other ingredients such as tofu puffs, bean sticks, fish balls, cockles, beansprouts, etc, may also be added.
Lee Kee Johore Laksa, Dai Mah Garden (Taman Sri Tebrau)
5. Malacca Nyonya Laksa
Nyonya laksa in Malacca is broadly similar to the Nyonya laksa served in Singapore and Johor, except that more coconut milk is used. This gives the coconut-curry-based Melaka laksa more flavour and thicker broth — the better word to use may be "creamier". The laksa is also much spicier than most others that I had tried.
Jonker 88, Malacca Old Town
6. Malacca Nyonya-Kahwin-Asam Laksa
The word Kahwin is Malay for "marriage". So, this Nyonya-Kahwin-asam laksa dish is a marriage between Nyonya laksa and asam laksa. The broth will be a mix of spicy, coconut-sweet and tamarind-sour. Unless a preference for the type of noodle is requested, the default will be to use lai fun (rice noodle) as in asam laksa. The ingredients may change due to availability but there will be poached fish (a main ingredient of asam laksa).
Jonker 88, Malacca Old Town
7. Malacca Claypot Ee-Mee Laksa
Nyonya laksa in a claypot and using ee-mee (flat Cantonese egg noodle) as the noodle gives the Malacca laksa another twist. Apart from the Melaka-typical creamy broth, the laksa has additional "claypot flavour" and the variety of ingredients used are different from others too. It's a style of its own.
Calanthe Art Cafe, Malacca Old Town
8. Penang Asam Laksa
Asam laksa, as the name implies, uses asam or tamarind that gives the signature Penang noodle dish its sourness. The noodle used is typically the thick and tangy lai fun (or rice noodle). The main ingredient is the mackerel fish, which is usually poached and flaked and added to the noodle dish with black shrimp paste, shallots, and many herbs such as lemongrass, ginger, chilli, etc.
Unlike coconut-curry laksa, asam laksa is sour-spicy.
Penang Air Itam Laksa (Ayer Itam Market, near Penang Hill)
9. Sarawak Laksa
I have not been to Sarawak yet but I was told there are few stalls in Singapore selling authentic Sarawak laksa, so I went to one of the highly recommended one to try.
Sarawak laksa's broth is made from coconut milk, sour tamarind and sambal belacan, which gives the dish its sour-spicy taste. Apart from prawns and beansprouts, the dish is also added with shredded omelette, shredded chicken and chopped spring onions. A piece of lime gives the laksa additional fragrance and sourness.
Lin Yu Mei Sarawak Laksa & Kolo Mee, Haig Road Market & Food Centre
I believe there are more types of laksa that I have not tried yet. I will continue to search for them and update this post once I bagged another laksa experience.