FEA­TURE: BOWFUL OF SOUL

SALT Magazine - - Contents - TEXT ARISTA KWEK AND AMY VAN PHO­TOS CHOO HAO XIN ART DI­REC­TION BEN­JAMIN SOH

Un­earthing the many vari­a­tions of laksa and their lega­cies.

Laksa: a heart­warm­ing spicy dish that con­sti­tutes slurp-wor­thy rice noo­dles, fresh top­pings and aro­matic broth that’s de­li­cious to the last drop. We delve into Sin­ga­pore’s laksa legacy and the dish’s many vari­a­tions.

Laksa—where did it come from, and who does it be­long to? Per­haps a more im­por­tant ques­tion might be: What ex­actly is laksa? At its very core, this dish is a spiced broth with noo­dles, found across the Malay Penin­sula (which cov­ers Sin­ga­pore, Penin­su­lar Malaysia, South­ern Thai­land and the south­ern­most tip of Myan­mar).

How­ever, any at­tempts at fur­ther com­po­nen­tial anal­y­sis end there—re­gional vari­a­tions abound with re­gards to the soup base, noo­dles, and top­pings. Noo­dle types rang­ing from the more com­monly used thick ver­mi­celli or bee­hoon to more un­usual rice rolls (Ke­lan­tan laksa) and sago noo­dles (Pelem­bang lakso) can be found. Although the noo­dles and top­pings are es­sen­tial in the laksa equa­tion, the soul of the bowl is un­de­ni­ably the boldy flavoured spicy broth. Broadly speak­ing, laksa soup can ei­ther be co­conut milk-based, as­sam-based, or a mix­ture of both, with the choice of stock vary­ing be­tween prawn, pork bones, chicken or fish (of­ten mack­erel).

It would be im­pos­si­ble to chron­i­cle all the dif­fer­ent lak­sas avail­able in Sin­ga­pore how­ever. Apart from the famed Ka­tong laksa that even sparked a heated laksa ri­valry among a few stalls back in 2000, there are also many vari­a­tions of this beloved noo­dle dish that can be found on this tiny is­land, and each ver­sion is de­li­cious in its own right. For many of th­ese laksa masters, there’s no such thing as short-cuts. The cooks take pride in their rem­pah (spice blend) and well-in­fused stock. A cou­ple of them even in­sist on us­ing char­coal and clay­pots—la­bo­ri­ous meth­ods of yes­ter­year-—to rus­tle up their spe­cial­i­ties. We em­bark on a laksa trail around the is­land, and dis­cover that no two bowls are quite the same.

There are many dif­fer­ent types of th­ese beloved noo­dle dish that can be found on this tiny is­land, and each ver­sion is de­li­cious in its own right. For most of th­ese laksa masters, there’s no such thing as short cuts. The cooks take pride in their rem­pah (spice blend) and well-in­fused stock. A cou­ple of them even in­sist on us­ing char­coal and clay­pots to

rus­tle up their spe­cial­i­ties.

FEA­TURE

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