Laksa, Kuala Lumpur style

My dear friend, J and I have had many good-natured mocking and debates over laksa. I assert that Sarawak laksa is the ultimate interpretation of the spicy noodle soup, whereas J always insists that the version from Kuala Lumpur is superior. And one day, the gauntlet was thrown and J agreed to cook for us the ‘superior’ KL laksa.

J made the spicy gravy soup from scratch, processing and blending the whole spices, which I have to take my hat off to. I only ever used spice paste; why would you, when you are a hacktress? But back on the subject of laksa, the main differences are:

KL Laksa
Sarawak laksa
Use of curry spices, – turmeric
No turmeric
Fish sauce
No fish sauce
No palm sugar
Mix of noodles, use of egg noodles
Only vermicelli noodles
More coconut milk
Less coconut milk
No tofu
Hard boiled eggs
Shredded omelette

The similarities are greater than the differences, but the proportions of spices and ingredients used have been adapted over time have resulting in quite unique versions of laksa.<

J’s recipe for KL laksa comes from Rick Stein’s. But as Mr Stein (or Ricky as I call him) is an ambassador for the Malaysia Kitchen programme, he does hold some credibility. And the flavours were wonderful.

250g raw unpeeled prawns
vegetable oil, for shallow and deep-frying
200g firm tofu
400ml coconut milk
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar
100g dried rice vermicelli noodles
200g fresh egg noodles
100g cooked flaked chicken
100g beansprouts
100g cooked fine green beans
2 hardboiled eggs
3 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
handful of mixed mint and coriander leaves

For the laksa spice paste:
3 dried red kashmiri chillies, split open and the seeds shaken out
2 medium-hot fresh red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
20g nuts (macadamia, unsalted peanuts or cashew nuts)- though I think traditionally this is candlenuts
2 stalks lemongrass, core chopped
3 fat garlic cloves
3cm piece peeled galangal or ginger, roughly chopped (use galangal if possible)
1 tsp turmeric powder
75g shallots, roughly chopped
2 tsp belacan (fermented shrimp paste)
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Peel the prawns, reserving the heads and shells. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium-sized pan, add the heads and shells and stir-fry for a couple of minutes until they are crisp and golden. Add 1.2 litres of water; bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 1 hour until reduced to 750ml. Strain the prawn stock, pressing out as much flavour as you can from the shells, and set aside.

Heat some oil for deep-frying to 190°C. Meanwhile, cut the tofu into 2.4x1cm pieces and drain well on kitchen paper. Deep-fry for 3-4 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Drain on plenty of kitchen paper and set aside.

For the laksa spice paste, put the dried chillies into a bowl, cover with boiling hot water and leave to soak for 20 minutes. Drain and put into a food processor with the remaining ingredients and blend to a smooth paste. Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the spice paste and fry gently for 2-3 minutes until it starts to smell fragrant. Add the prawn stock, coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar and 1½ tsp of salt or to taste, and simmer for 3 minutes.

Drop the dried vermicelli noodles into the pan of hot water and leave to soak for 2 minutes. Lift out into a colander and leave to drain briefly. Drop the fresh egg noodles into the same water and leave to heat through for a few seconds. Drop the peeled prawns and cooked chicken into the curry soup and simmer for 1 minute. Add the mint and coriander.

Drain and divide the noodles between 4 warmed, deep noodle bowls and top with the bean sprouts, cooked green beans and fried tofu. Ladle over the curry soup, trying to divide the prawns and chicken pieces equally between each bowl. Top each one with half a hardboiled egg and spring onions.

J put all the ingredients into the soup (I thought was a good idea as it kept the ingredients and soup hot) just before serving.

Thanks J & M for a delicious meal, and for my introduction to KL laksa. It was an incredibly tasty, warming dish. Even though KL laksa is also sometimes known as ‘curry mee’, though I thought the way the aromatics (tumeric, ginger, lemongrass) came together was more nuanced than that.

Was it better than Sarawak laksa? I would be a terrible guest if I claimed that, and unpatriotic if I claimed otherwise. Suffice to say, it was a great evening with fabulous friends and fantastic food.

One thought on “Laksa, Kuala Lumpur style

  1. suituapui says:

    Had something like this the other day – not like Sarawak laksa…more like curry laksa, but not exactly. It was quite nice though…and that's all that matters. My friend from Auckland came and is on her way home right now with packets and packets of sambal laksa…and sambal masak hitam. Sarawak's food is the best!

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