Sarawak laksa, 传统砂拉越叻沙.
IN TERMS of gastronomy, Sarawak is probably best known for its iconic eponymous Sarawak laksa, a culinary creation that emerged after World War II.
The origins of Sarawak laksa are not set in stone, but according to Edgar Ong in an article in Flavours magazine, the local legend is that a Chinese Teochew immigrant from Guangzhou named Goh Lik Teck first began peddling his noodle dish along Kuching’s Carpenter Street in 1945.
The dish was only made up of six ingredients, which is how it got its name – the Hokkien term for six sounds like “lak” and “sa” is slang for vermicelli.
An alternative tale is one derived from the co-mingling of the Chinese and Malay cultures, which allegedly led to the term laksa from the conjoining of the words “lak” which meant “spicy” locally, and “sa”, which in colloquial Hokkien means to grab whatever is available – which often meant vermicelli, as it was a pantry staple.
Whatever its origins, one thing is not in dispute: Sarawak laksa is now very popular.
- 100g of Rice vermicelli, cook according to packet directions (usually just blanched)
- 10 King prawns deveined and peeled, reserving the heads and shells for stock
- 1 Chicken breast fillet
- 1 Egg
- Big handful of bean sprouts
- 2 small Calamansi Limes (Trái tắc, Quả Quất – Vietnamese)
- 100g of Sarawak Laksa paste (“Eagle” brand, others might have different constitutions). Or homemade-see RECIPE * below
- 50ml Coconut milk
- Salt and sugar to taste
- 700ml Chicken stock (homemade is best, but Stock cubes are acceptable too)
- Coriander leaves (for garnishing) (NGÒ RÍ-Vietnamese)
- Beat eggs and fry them thinly on a frying pan. Cut into strips. Set aside.
- Blanched the bean sprouts for a minute, then drained and set aside.
- Boil the Chicken stock in the pot, first boil the prawns and set aside. Poach the chicken breasts, then take it out and shred. Set aside. Add the prawn shells and heads into the stock, then add Laksa Paste and cook for at least 30 minutes. Sieve the spices and shells out of the stock and bring it to boil again. Add coconut milk and stir well. Turn off the heat. Taste and season if needed. I find that mine just needed a small amount of salt and tiny pinch of sugar.
- Time to assemble! Place the rice vermicelli in a bowl, add the chicken strips, bean sprouts, omelette strips and prawns, then pour the laksa soup over the ingredients. Garnish with coriander leaves, and then a squeeze of lime.
(*) Homemade Sarawak laksa paste RECIPE:
Ingredients: (About 20 cups)
- 20 shallots (650 g), chopped
- 10 single bulb garlic, (300 g), chopped
- 2 large knob of galangal (650 g), chopped
- 20 long red chillies, cut into chunks
- 10 lemongrass (white parts only), chopped
- 1 cup of dried chillies, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
- 100 g of candlenuts*
- 1 cup of sesame seeds, toasted
- 1.5 cups of peanut
- 100 g of cumin seeds, dry toasted and ground in a spice grinder
- 300 g of coriander seeds, dry toasted and ground in a spice grinder
- 12 star anise, dry toasted and ground in a spice grinder
- 15 cloves, dry toasted and ground in a spice grinder
- 3 nutmegs, ground in a spice grinder
- 20 cardamons, seeds removed from pods
you’ll also need:
- 10 tbsps of salt
- 20 tbsps of sugar
- 1 packet of tamarind bulbs, mixed with a cup of boiling water and strained
- Prepare all the ingredients for blending.
- Blend ingredients together with the ground spices in batches until smooth.
- Add 4 cups of oil to a wok or a large pot and cook spice paste on medium heat, stirring constantly. 4. When oil starts to separate (about 1 hour), add in the tamarind water, salt and sugar and continue to cook for a further 15 to 20 minutes.