Burmese Salad Days and More at Laksa King in Vancouver

Laksa King laksa

Laksa at Laksa King [Photographs: Jay Friedman]

Even though its name has been shortened to Laksa King, Bo Laksa King's Bubbles and Bits—still in use on the sidewalk's sandwich board and receipts—is one of my favorite restaurant names of all time. ("Bo" was for Bo Han, a Myanmar native and the original owner of the restaurant.) A short ten minute drive from downtown Vancouver, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant is a destination for its namesake laksa and other dishes with influences from throughout Southeast Asia.

The laksa ($8.75) is the curry variety (in contrast to asam laksa, which is a sour fish soup, "asam" being the Malay word for tamarind), made with a choice of vermicelli or yellow wheat noodles. (I prefer the springiness of the wheat noodles.) The "house made authentic flavor coconut curry broth" is creamy and comforting, with an alluringly rich fragrance. The flavor is both sweet and spicy, with jalapeno, lime, and cilantro contributing to its complexity. Sambal chile paste is on hand for an extra kick. The best part is the assortment of proteins: tiger prawns, fish balls, a hard-boiled egg, chicken, and tofu puff—the perfect sponge for the flavorful broth.

Laksa King tea leaf salad

Laksa King's laphet thoke

Another worthwhile order is the Burmese classic laphet thoke ($8). This salad contains pickled fermented green tea leaves, tomato, cabbage, garlic chips, roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, broad beans, and dried shrimp, all dressed with seasoned lime juice. Since my introduction to the dish at Burma Superstar in San Francisco (where the pageantry of the tableside salad-mixing was the perfect reward for the long wait for a table), I've loved knowing that it's possible to eat tea as well as drink it. The tea leaves are slightly earthy, bitter, and pungent, but when combined with the other ingredients, they make for a refreshing salad popping with contrasting flavors and textures. For those fearful of the fermented tea leaves, Jin Thoke is available at the same price, which substitutes pickled ginger for the tea leaves—either way, it's a wholly captivating dish that I hope to see more of soon.

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