Many Sarawakians living abroad often reminisce about this beloved dish, whose flavour is rather difficult to describe— it’s neither lemak nor assam. In the capital of Kuching, laksa is a breakfast dish served at coffeeshops. Most locals arrive at their favourite stalls as early as 8am to slurp up the noodles before they are sold out, usually around lunchtime.
Wong Mei See, who hails from Kuching has been running her stall Sarawak Delights, in a Bedok coffeeshop, since March this year. She was working in a factory here for 26 years, but decided that she would finally do something that she really enjoyed, now that she’s in her 40s.
When she heard that Red Hornbill at block 205, which she frequented, wanted to let go of their business, she decided to buy it over from them. “I wanted to pour my heart into something I really like, and I actually really like cooking noodles,” says Wong whose family runs a noodle stall in a coffeeshop back in Kuching.
For this Sarawak speciality, the laksa paste is the mainstay of the delicious gravy. About five decades ago, Tan Yong Him, founder of the Swallow brand, made the paste popular and available throughout Sarawak. He experimented with his own paste made with shallots, onions, lemongrass, galangal, dried chillies and candlenuts, plus 20 other herbs and spices (some sourced from Egypt and Iran). After blending, the ground mixture was roasted and stirred in large woks for hours. Today, the Swallow brand is sadly no longer in production, but other similar pastes are available. Wong says that she uses the Parrot brand spice paste sourced from Kuching.
To rustle up the gravy, chicken bones and prawn shells are first boiled to make a stock, and the indispensable laksa paste is added and simmered for a few hours. The gravy is then sieved and flavoured with coconut milk and salt. Wong’s laksa comprises rice vermicelli bathed in a balanced spicy coconut gravy, and topped with prawns, sliced chicken, shredded omelette, beansprouts and coriander. Its unique taste can be further enhanced with lime and sambal belacan on the side.