Why It Works
- Homemade spice paste (which can be made ahead) acts as the concentrated and flavorful base of an easy-to-make broth.
- Diners can choose their own adventures when it comes to heat by adding spoonfuls of spicy homemade sambal to their bowls.
- Quail eggs can be swapped out for regular hard-boiled eggs while other toppings like prawns, fish cake slices, and daun kesum (Vietnamese mint) add further depth, texture, and freshness.
The noodle soup laksa is one of Malaysia's iconic dishes—but it takes many names and even more forms. Today, we're talking curry laksa: coconut milk and prawns all the way. Debbie Teoh (food writer, caterer, and cooking instructor) taught us how to make Nyonya-style curry laksa in her family's kitchen in Melaka.
A little laksa primer? If we're going with broad strokes, there are two basic laksa genres: asam laksa and curry laksa. Asam means "tamarind," and asam laksa is a tart, sour fish soup made from that fruit as well as shrimp paste and various aromatics, producing a thin broth. It's generally served with rice noodles, large chunks of white fish cooked in the broth, and shredded cucumbers, pineapple, and torched ginger flower, a bright pink and somewhat bitter garnish. (Similar versions, with slight regional differences, go by Penang laksa and Ipoh laksa.)
Curry laksa (also goes by curry mee, laksa lemak, Nyonya laksa) is a much richer rendition with a coconut milk-based broth that's poured over noodles and garnished with tofu puffs, shrimp, and egg. If you hear someone describe a dish as just "laksa," this is usually (but not always) what they're talking about. Like many Malaysian dishes, it starts with a blended spice paste of turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, and shrimp paste, and cooks down that blend to concentrate flavors; shrimp or chicken broth turns that thick paste to a broth, and the coconut milk is added toward the end.
Of course, it's not always that simple. In Penang, in the north of the country, you'll find more asam laksa, and it's likely to be a little more tart and spicy, thanks to their proximity to Thailand and affinity for those flavors; there, too, curry laksa is called curry mee, and is often topped with congealed pork blood. (I loved it, but some of my traveling companions couldn't quite stomach anything bloody at nine in the morning.) In Johor, laksa uses coconut milk but also the toasted coconut kerisik, while using fish as well. In other parts of the country, curry laksa incorporates fish into the broth, or eel might be used as a garnish; in Singapore, Borneo, and Indonesia, you'll find even more wildly different forms.
Carey Jones's trip was arranged by Malaysia Kitchen for the World, an arm of MATRADE, the country's trade promotion agency.
For the Sambal:
10 fresh red chiles (100g)
10 stalks dried chile (20g), soaked
2 teaspoons belacan (shrimp paste)
6 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
For the Spice Paste:
10 shallots, peeled and sliced
3-inch segment old turmeric (30g), skinned
2-inch segment galangal (60g)
8 stalks lemongrass (100g), sliced
20 stalks dried chiles, soaked until softened
10 candlenuts (60g)
For the Laksa Broth:
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 quart prawn or chicken stock
2 cups coconut milk
20 pieces tofu puffs, scalded in hot water briefly to remove oil (see notes)
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
Cooked egg noodles
200g bean sprouts, blanched
1 cucumber, julienned
500g prawns, boiled and peeled
2-3 large fishcakes, boiled and sliced
20 quail eggs, hard-boiled (see notes)
1 bunch polygonum leaves, or daun kesum, finely sliced (see notes)
To Prepare the Sambal: Using an electric blender, finely grind fresh red chiles, dried chiles, and shrimp paste. Heat oil. Sauté chile spice paste until fragrant, stirring continuously. Add salt and sugar to taste. Set aside to serve with finished laksa.
To Prepare the Spice Paste: Using an electric blender, pulse shallots, turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, dried chiles, candlenuts, and shrimp paste until they form a smooth paste, adding a bit of water if necessary.
To Prepare the Laksa Broth: In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 1/2 cup cooking oil. Sauté spice paste until fragrant. Add stock and bring to a boil. Add coconut milk, tofu puffs, and salt. Bring to a quick boil, stirring continuously. Turn off heat once broth comes to a boil.
To Assemble: Blanch noodles in boiling water and drain. Place some noodles into a bowl, garnish with bean sprouts and cucumber. Ladle hot laksa broth and tofu puffs over noodles. Top with prawns, fish cake slices, quail eggs, and daun kesum (see notes) if using. Serve with sambal.
Belacan (shrimp paste) and candlenuts will be available at some Southeast Asian grocery stores; fresh turmeric may additionally be available at some Indian and Chinese markets.
Tofu puffs, lightly spongy fried tofu balls that readily soak up the broth of this laksa, should also be available in the refrigerated section of many Chinese grocery stores.
Hard-boiled eggs can be substituted for the hard-boiled quail eggs; you may want to slice them into smaller pieces.
Polygonum is also known as laksa leaf, Vietnamese mint, or daun kesom; it's an aromatic herb used often in Vietnamese cuisine but also characteristic of laksa. It is available in some Southeastern Asian grocery stores but can be omitted.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 113g||145%|
|Saturated Fat 36g||182%|
|Total Carbohydrate 77g||28%|
|Dietary Fiber 18g||63%|
|Total Sugars 20g|
|Vitamin C 18mg||89%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|