Sarawak Laksa is a comforting Malaysian noodle soup that is spicy, bright, warming, and full of flavour.
Ask me what my favourite noodle dish of all time is, and I will tell you time and time again, it is my Mom’s laksa.
I remember my parents making laksa for special occasions (and they still do!) and before, they would get their laksa paste from a famed hawker in Malaysia. We’d have packages of the aromatic laksa paste stashed frozen in our deep freezer.
But of course, as time would pass, the stash would dwindle. And, without relatives coming overseas to bring us packages of the laksa paste, my Mother resorted to creating her own version, which is much more healthy and fragrant, as with everything made from scratch! (The packaged laksa paste contains a lot of palm oil and saturated fats, which isn’t heart healthy at all).
What Is Laksa?
Laksa is a spicy, curry or coconut-based noodle soup that originated from the Peranakans, who are of mixed Chinese-Malay heritage.
Chinese men would set out onto the spice trade route and settle in their new villages, marrying the local Malay women. The result was a blending together of Chinese and Malay heritage.
It is common to find traditional Chinese dishes that have been reformed using local spices and ingredients, thus creating a hybrid cuisine.
Types Of Laksa
There are many styles of laksa; it is most commonly differentiated into 3 categories: Curry, Asam, and Sarawak.
- Curry laksa is a coconut milk-based laksa.
- Asam laska does not contain coconut milk, and it uses tamarind paste, which gives it a more sour/acidic taste.
- Sarawak laska is a combination of the two, where coconut milk is used, as well as tamarind paste. (Sarawak is a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo.)
How To Prepare My Mom’s Sarawak Laksa Recipe
The foundation of laksa is the paste on which the soup is built. Laksa paste is where all that robust flavour is developed.
The key ingredients in laksa may sound intimidating, but they can be found at specialty Asian supermarkets.
My Mom’s version of Sarawak laksa contains:
- Thai chilies
- Fresh lemongrass
- Galangal, also known as blue ginger (which is similar to ginger — if you’re unable to find it, substitute with ginger)
- Tamarind pulp, which has a sweet and sour taste. (If you can’t find tamarind, try using brown sugar and lime juice instead to give an acidic and sweet tone to the laksa soup).
I also love the earthiness from cumin, so I’ve added that as well, lending a little more of a curry vibe.
This laksa paste is blended all together in a food processor and then cooked in a little oil over medium heat for close to 40 minutes. That’s where all that delicious flavour comes through.
It’s rounded off with coconut milk, chicken stock, and some palm sugar to balance the flavour, and thus becomes laksa soup.
Sarawak laksa is primarily composed of thin rice vermicelli noodles, shredded chicken, thin beaten egg omelette strips, boiled shrimp, tofu puffs, bean sprouts, thinly sliced cucumbers and finished off with a squeeze of fresh lime.
If available, finely chopped laksa leaf (or Vietnamese coriander, also known as rau ram) ties the dish together. If not, garnish with cilantro instead, if you wish.
Comforting on a cold rainy day, my Mom’s Sarawak laksa noodle soup is spicy, bright, warming, and full of flavour.
It’s a noodle soup like no other. In fact, it even topped Anthony Bourdain’s Top 10 dishes for his food market he had planned in New York City. And, if Anthony Bourdain calls the dish the “breakfast of gods,” you know it’s a dish that’s well-deserving.
Mom’s Sarawak Laksa
- 5 small red thai chilies, stems removed
- 4 shallots or 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh galangal (blue ginger), chopped (or more fresh ginger)
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 stalks lemongrass, cut into large chunks
- 6 macadamia nuts (or a handful of cashew nuts)
- 2 Tbsp ground coriander
- 1 Tbsp ground cumin
- 3 Tbsp tamarind paste*
- ¾ C warm water
- 2 Tbsp canola oil (or vegetable oil)
- 1 Tbsp coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar), packed
- 1 Tbsp curry powder
- 1 Tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp coarse sea salt
For The Laksa Soup
- 4 C chicken broth
- 1 (13.5oz) can coconut milk
Toppings For Laksa
- 1 package rice vermicelli noodles, cooked and drained
- 2 seasoned chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
- 12 large shrimp, boiled and sliced in half
- 4 eggs, scrambled and fried omelette-style, cut into thin strips
- 1 pkg tofu puffs, boiled and drained
- 1 cucumber, julienned
- 1 pkg bean sprouts, washed and lightly cooked with hot boiled water
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
- laksa leaves (ram rau), cut into thin strips (or fresh cilantro leaves, chopped)
Make The Laksa Paste
- In a food processor, combine all the red thai chili, shallots, ginger, galangal, garlic, lemongrass, macadamia nuts, coriander, cumin, tamarind paste, water, and canola oil. Pulse until a smooth paste is formed.
- Transfer the pureed paste into a large pot and cook over medium heat for about 30-40 minutes, stirring intermittently.
- Add in the sugar, curry powder, paprika, and salt, and stir for another 5 minutes.
- If not using the paste right away, let the laksa paste completely cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or freezer for up to 6 months.
Make The Laksa Soup
- If ready to make the laksa soup, add in 4 C of chicken broth and 1 can coconut milk to the laksa paste. Stir and bring to a simmer. If the consistency of the soup is a little too thick, add a little more chicken broth or water. Keep the soup warm.
Assemble The Laksa
- Place the rice vermicelli noodles into a serving bowl. Top with shredded chicken, shrimp, egg, tofu puffs, cucumber, and bean sprouts.
- Add the hot soup over top of the noodles.
- Squeeze some lime juice over top and garnish with laksa leaves.
- Serve immediately.