CHARCOAL-COOKED NONYA LAKSA
At Madam Liew’s Recipes, a huge metal cauldron of orange-red gravy bubbles over a small charcoal stove. This Siglap stall, one of the handful of places that still serve charcoal-cooked laksas, is manned by owner Leslie Chua. However, it is his 87-year-old mother, Madam Liew Kiaw Hoon, who protectively safeguards the precious rempah.
Born in Pontian, Johor, the sprightly lady insists on preparing all the spices from scratch.
She spends more than five hours painstakingly cleaning, peeling and chopping a mountain of galangal, shallots, lemongrass, onions, among other ingredients. “I spend another five hours to stir-fry the rempah over charcoal until it’s dry,” says Liew, adding that it’s tough work, but it’s the only way to ensure the taste is right. The rempah is melded with dried shrimps, lending a rich flavour to the coconut-laced gravy. “Back in the early 1970s, my mum first learned how to make Nonya laksa from a Teochew Nonya neighbour, Aunty Heng (who used to own a crocodile farm). Over the years, my mum improved the recipe by adding more spices and enhancing the flavour,” shares Chua. To create a pure seafood stock, Liew also insists on using just prawn heads and ikan billis.
“At home, my mum often cooked this laksa for friends who would come over for Sunday brunch. The laksa along with her popiah was a hit with everyone,” says Chua, whose friends encouraged him to continue his mother’s legacy. Hence Madam Liew’s Recipes was launched in 2017. This stall’s version is topped with market-fresh cockles and prawns from Geylang Serai, and laksa leaves sourced from Pontian.