Singapore Food Series: Laksa
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All About Laksa
After chicken rice, we’re moving on to another iconic Singapore dish: laksa. This perfect medley of Chinese and Malay cooking styles has given birth to a soupy noodle dish that bursts with rich, creamy flavour and gives a spicy kick.
The Peranakan or Nonya community arose when early Chinese migrants to Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia married local Malay women. They have their own distinct cultural practices and cuisine – the combination of Chinese and Malay cooking that arose from this joining of cultures resulted in dishes that are particularly aromatic, flavourful and spicy. One of the most accessible dishes of Peranakan cooking is laksa.
One glance at a bowl of laksa and you’ll be struck by the beautiful, creamy orange colour of the curry-based soup with spots of red oil floating on the surface. Commonly found in hawker centres and food courts (though not quite as ubiquitous as chicken rice), laksa consists of thick vermicelli, known as chu mee fen or coarse/thick rice noodles, swimming in a rich gravy made with prawn stock, coconut milk and a spice paste known as rempah. Rempah is a medley of spices that include ginger, garlic, shallots, onions, chilli, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass and candlenut. A staple in Peranakan cooking, rempah imparts a complexity to the flavour of dishes that require it – laksa included.
Apart from thick vermicelli and the gravy, laksa also includes several other ingredients. Prawns, tau pok or dried bean curd skin, beansprouts and laksa leaf are indispensable components of laksa. The sambal chilli is for those who want to kick the spiciness up a notch, and as the chillis are fried with prawn paste, it gives laksa an additional dimension, not just spiciness. Other ingredients that you might find in a bowl of laksa include hard boiled eggs, cockles, fish cake or even shredded cucumber.
There are several types of laksa. The most commonly found in Singapore is a curry-based laksa, but there’s Katong laksa too. Originating from the Peranakan enclave in Katong, in the East side of Singapore, Katong laksa differs from regular laksa in that the noodles are cut up into shorter strands and can be eaten with just a soup spoon. Regular laksa requires chopsticks in addition to soup spoons.
Another type of laksa that isn’t commonly found in Singapore is assam laksa. Featuring tamarind as the star ingredient, assam laksa is a darker brown instead of orangey-red, and is tangier instead of creamy.
So, where can you go to find the tastiest laksa in Singapore? Here are some popular places:
328 Katong Laksa
51 East Coast Road, Singapore 428770
216 East Coast Road, Singapore 428914
60 Albert Street, #01-02, Albert Complex, Singapore 189969
1 Queensway, #01-60, Queensway Shopping Centre, Singapore 149053
101 Thomson Road, #01-K1, United Square Shopping Mall, Singapore 307591
One of the contenders to the claim of best laksa in Singapore, 328 Katong Laksa beat celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in a hawker cookoff back in 2013. Don’t miss out on their otah either – a spicy grilled fish cake.
50 East Coast Road, #01-64, Roxy Square, Singapore 428769
1 Queensway, #01-59, Queensway Shopping Centre, Singapore 149053
Tucked away in Roxy Square is a stall that lays claims to being the original Katong laksa. The spiciness is toned down here, so this is a good place to try your first bowl if you’re not sure you can handle the heat.
Depot Road Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa
119 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-75, Alexandra Village, Singapore 150119
The laksa here is served with a twist – in a claypot instead of plastic or melamine bowls. Claypots are incredibly good at retaining heat, meaning your serving of laksa remains piping hot throughout your meal. The gravy is also especially thick and rich here!
928 Yishun Laksa
Blk 928 Yishun Central 1, #01-155, Singapore 760928
If you’re in the northern part of Singapore, then 928 Yishun Laksa is a must-try. Commonly thought of as the best laksa in the north, be prepared for queues.
Kwan Inn Vegetarian Food
134 Geylang East Ave 1, #01-229, Kim San Leng Food Centre, Singapore 380134
A vegetarian version of a dish that relies so heavily on shrimp and fish? Yes it’s true! What’s more, this vegetarian version is every bit as flavourful as the non-vegetarian version, and tastes remarkably similar.