Laksa Johor, 柔佛叻沙
You might ask, how did spaghetti get into a traditional Malay dish? According to the legend, Sultan Abu Bakar who was the Sultan (king) of Johor from 1886 to 1895 was in Europe on an official mission. He visited Italy and fell in love with Bolognese spaghetti. When Sultan Abu Bakar returned to Johor, he ordered the royal chef to make laksa with spaghetti and thus, Laksa Johor was born.This style of curry noodles consists of spaghetti (yes, the Italian pasta), drenched in traditional Malay style laksa kuah (broth) made with ground fish paste, herbs, chillies, spices and a mix of fresh vegetables. The result is an interesting blend of sweet, tangy, spicy and savoury flavours combined with a combination of textures – crunchy, soft and grainy, eaten with the al dente spaghetti.
Unique it may be, but Laksa Johor is actually not that well-known beyond Johor. It is also seldom found in stalls or restaurants, because it is laborious to make a good bowl of it, and hence not commercially practical. There are way too many ingredients, manual work and skills required in preparing the laksa gravy.
Laksa Johor is hard to find these days. The best place to have Laksa Johor is at home where it is made during festivals and celebrations and is very much a communal task making it. To assemble the fresh ingredients of Ikan Parang (the preferred fish for this dish), herbs, vegetables and spices usually requires all hands on board – the old, young, extended family members, neighbours and friends. Preparing Laksa Johor, the grinding, cutting, chopping and pounding herbs and spices, creates a wonderful bonding time.
When all ingredients are prepared, the most skilful cook in the family will cook the gravy, putting all the elements together. It is no wonder that Laksa Johor is not widely available, even in Johor, but fortunately there are still a few places that offer this delicacy.
- 500g SPAGHETTI noodles, cook and set aside
- 500g MACKEREL
- 500g PRAWNs, deveined and shelled. Save shells for stock.
- 300g salted IKAN KURAU (fourfinger threadfin- CÁ CHÉT-Vietnamese), soak in water to soften
- 50g dried shrimp, soak in water to soften
- 100g grated coconut to make KERISIK (Pounded Toasted Coconut)
- 6 cups (1.5l) water
- 2 cups (500ml) thick COCONUT MILK
- 3 LEMON GRASS, pierce and smash the bulbs
- Small bunch of polygonum leaves (Persicaria odorata, Laksa leaf, Rau răm, Vietnamese coriander))
- 5 pieces ASAM GELUGUR
- Cooking oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 30 dried chillies, soak in hot water and discard seeds
- 8 SHALLOTs
- 2 cloves GARLIC
- 2cm GINGER
- 2cm GALANGAL
- 2cm TURMERIC
- 1 tablespoon FISH CURRY POWDER
- 1 CUCUMBER, cut in matchstick slices
- 2 long chinese beans, sliced finely
- 2 large red onions, sliced thinly
- 3 red chillies, sliced
- a few sprigs of mint leaves, torn
- a few sprigs of polygonum leaves (Laksa leaves), shredded
- 100g beansprouts, remove ends , rinse and dry
- fresh halved kasturi limes (Calamansi)
- SAMBAL BELACAN, to taste
- Simmer the cleaned whole fish in a pot of water with the prawn shells until cooked. Remove fish and let cool before separating the flesh from the bone. Flake the flesh in small pieces. Strain the stock and reserve.
- Tear pieces of the salted fish away from any bones, add the softened dried shrimp and the flaked flesh of cooked fish and put in blender and mince till fine. Set aside.
- Blend together the spice ingredients until fine, adding a little oil to make a paste.
- Heat a little oil in a pot and fry the blended spice ingredients till fragrant. Add asam gelugor, lemongrass, a handful of polygonum leaves and stir.
- Add in the reserved stock to the pot and stir the ingredients together and bring to boil for 10 minutes. After that, add the minced seafood, kerisik and coconut milk. Lower heat and stir frequently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Cook until the sauce begins to thicken and just before serving, throw in the fresh prawns, making sure not to overcook it in the sauce.
- Serve the gravy on top of the spaghetti and add garnish.