Slurp on these fun, little-known facts about one of Malaysia’s most beloved dishes
While in Malaysia, you’d be remissed not to try the delicious laksa. This beloved spicy noodle soup dish – which typically features a fragrant and spicy broth served plump vermicelli rice noodles, plenty of lemongrass, lashings of chilli, bean sprouts and some fish or meat – is to the country what kimchi is to Korea and pho is to Vietnam. And just like the latter, no two laksas are the same.
Dizzying variations to the laksa exist, depending on which neck of the woods you’re in. In Malacca, the rich nonya laksa owes its rich creaminess to the coconut milk, whilst Penang’s assam laksa features a distinctly lighter broth that’s made with fish and tamarind. Below, we list out 7 fun facts you need to know about the beloved Malaysian laksa.
1. “Laksa” comes from the ancient Persian word for noodle
You might be surprised to learn that the word “laksa” comes from an ancient Persian word for noodle. The origins of the dish remain unclear, although it’s widely acknowledged that the dish came from the Southeast Asian region. While laksa is mostly associated with Malaysia and Singapore, it is also popular in Indonesia and southern Thailand.
2. From Malacca’s nonya laksa to Terengganu’s laksam, the Malaysian laksa has many faces
Beloved across the country, you’ll find different iterations of the laksa depending on which city you visit. The creamy and fiery-hued curry laksa is made from a coconut milk and curry paste base, served with lashings of chilli and brimming with fish ball, either prawns or chicken, tofu and thin rice noodles.
In Penang, the assam laksa has a distinctly clearer and lighter broth, owing to the fact that it’s made without coconut milk and instead with fish and tamarind, lending to its distinct tangy flavour. In Terengganu and Kelantan, the flavourful laksam consists of rolled rice noodles served in a lighter, creamy fish broth, while Johor’s laksa interestingly features dessicated coconut in its broth.
3. CNN named the Penang assam laksa as one of the world’s best foods
Just earlier in October, CNN released its yearly World’s 50 Best Foods list, which placed Penang’s famous assam laksa at seventh place, edging out the likes of the French croissant, Indonesian rendang and Spanish paella. Not too shabby.
4. The late Anthony Bourdain once called it “the breakfast of the gods”
Late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once famously called the Sarawak laksa the “breakfast of the gods”. The Sarawak laksa might resemble the normal curry laksa, but this delicious spicy noodle broth is made with sambal belacan, tamarind, lemongrass, herbs and spices, with a little coconut milk. While regional differences to the laksa exist, experts agree that the one defining ingredient across the various state versions is the daun kesum – which, often used to perfume the noodle soup, is also known as the laksa leaf.
5. It’s going places to big cities like London
Homesick Malaysians living abroad will delight that the laksa is slowly but surely wedging its way into the global food stage. London’s Sambal Shiok, a venture by Malaysian-born Chinese Mandy Yin, features a curry and assam laksa hybrid, while Laksamania, a casual Malaysian eatery, boasts a smorgasbord of dishes like Ipoh Curry Laksa, Chicken Curry Laksa, Penang Assam Laksa and even a London Laksa.
6. Have you heard of Darwin’s laksa festival?
Darwin might seem like an unlikely destination for laksa, but it’s often called the laksa capital of Australia. Owing to its strong Southeast Asian population and influence, this spicy noodle dish is a hot favourite in the capital – in fact, Darwinians love laksa so much that there is an entire festival dedicated to it! The Darwin International Laksa Festival is an annual festival that features a laksa competition where members of the public can vote for using the Darwin Laksa App.
7. Assam laksa ice cream, anyone?
Owing to its popularity, the dish has also pawned various unconventional iterations. Kota Kinabalu-based ice cream shop Pops and Pints, who are known for their adventurous flavour choices, made headlines for their asam laksa ice cream. In Darwin’s annual laksa festival, creative spins on the laksa include a laksagne (a laksa lasagne hybrid, as you might’ve guessed), laksa toasties and laksa panna cotta are some notable creations.