Laksa – Singapore’s culinary contribution
As pho is Vietnam’s gift to the world, Katong laksa is Singapore’s culinary contribution.
Laksa is best described as a form of noodle soup that is ubiquitous in Singapore and Malaysia. There are two main versions of this dish, laksa lemak (also known as nonya laksa) which is a coconut milk and curry based broth common in Singapore, and assam laksa, which is a fish and tamarind, based broth common in Malaysia. There are other variations but all contain the primary ingredients of rice noodles or vermicelli with anything from fishcakes, prawns, cockles, to eggs, tofu puffs, chicken and sambal chilli.
Two of the defining flavours in this dish would have to be the laksa leaves (also known as Vietnamese mint), which have taken over my glass house like triffids, and dried shrimps. I was in a quandary whether to create the paste for you from scratch or go with a pre-made paste. I amnot one to usually use pre-made pastes, however, as the list of ingredients is so long, I decided to go with the latter as feared no-one would make it otherwise! Rest assured, I did sample a number of the pre-made pastes and chose the one closest to the laksas I fondly remember from Singapore.
We ate this dish a lot when we lived there as our house was only a few blocks from the famous Katong area where laksa is said to have originated. It was inspired by the Peranakans, ethnic Chinese who settled in British Straights Settlements (such as Singapore) and married Malay or Indonesian partners, resulting in a delicious fusion of food cultures. There are many Peranakans currently based in Katong, one of foodies’ favourite spots in Singapore.
This dish is simple to make and will impress your guests or family with its delicious flavour profile, vibrant look and authentic taste. If you cant find the same brand paste, be aware that they vary in heat and you may need to add a little fish sauce, lime or palm sugar to get the flavour that suits your palate.
3 tablespoons vege oil 1 x 200g jar of Por Kwan Laksa paste (available at Queenstown New World) 400ml chicken or fish stock 1 x 400ml can coconut milk 1 pack Trident flat rice noodles 12 fishballs (available at the Asian Food Mart) – optional 300g uncooked prawns, tails on 1 teaspoon palm or brown sugar (if you find the sauce too tangy)
2 good handfuls bean sprouts 2 free range eggs, hard-boiled and quartered 1 good handful laksa leaf (Vietnamese mint), thinly sliced (you could use coriander and mint instead but the flavour is quite different) 1 fresh chilli, thinly sliced 1 lime, quartered
1. To make the sauce, heat the vege oil to a medium high heat and cook the paste for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until it darkens and a red oil separates out from the spices. 2. Pour in your coconut milk and stock and simmer for a further 5-6 minutes. 3. Add in your fish ball (if using) and simmer another 2-3 minutes. 4. Meanwhile, cook your rice noodles according to instructions. Blanch the bean sprouts in boiling water for 10 seconds then run under cold water immediately. 5. Put prawns in the laksa sauce and cook for 2-3 minutes, until pink. 6. Drain noodles and spread evenly between four bowls. Pour laksa sauce over and spread prawns and fishballs evenly amongst the bowls. 7. Garnish with the blanched bean sprouts, sprinkle with laksa leaf, chilli and place a lime and two quarters of egg in each bowl. Serve immediately. 8. Provide some fish sauce, chilli, lime and laksa leaf so guests can add flavour to suit their palate. Serves 4
Singaporean laksa by Masterchef NZ finalist Bec Stanley