One of the things that I truly love about Malaysia is its food. Usually, a flight from Perth lands in Kuala Lumpur at about 9 pm, and if I get the Airport Express train into KL Sentral Station for the 59 km journey (which is, by far, the quickest way to get there), I can be checked into my hotel and heading out for my first Roti Canai of the trip by about 10:30 pm.
There are heaps of 24-hour local restaurants in the city, and a great Roti Canai, which is a freshly cooked flatbread that is served with either dhal or curry, is my way of welcoming myself back to Malaysia.
My other favourite food is a Laksa, which is a type of soup that has a coconut-based, spicy broth that is filled with noodles, chicken or fish (or both) tofu, herbs and it is just delicious.
I have discovered during my travels that each region in Malaysia has its own variation of Laksa. I like them all, but before I reveal my favourite, thanks to Tourism Malaysia here is a description of most of the regional laksas:
Recently, the beloved comfort food Penang Assam Laksa was ranked 7th on World’s Best 50 Foods by CNN Travel. As that should come to no surprise given what an explosion of taste a bowl of Assam Laksa can offer, here we give the same appreciation to the various laksa(s) Malaysians enjoy.
In Penang, Assam Laksa, as it is called, is a piquant, pungent, very sour, and fiery hot noodle dish with fresh vegetables bathed in a fish broth is a Penang Nyonya creation. Penang, in my opinion, is the food capital of Malaysia, and is best eaten from one of the many hawker food markets you will find in Georgetown, the capital of Penang.
Northern Region: Laksa Kedah
While Penang Assam laksa uses tamarind juice/ paste to give off the tangy, sour taste (hence the name, Assam) and paired with prawn paste, Kedah laksa is milder in its flavour as it is cooked with dried tamarind slices. Its broth is also lighter-coloured compared to Penang’s, which uses more red chillies. Kedah laksa is usually garnished with sliced bird’s eye chillies for that extra spicy kick when you bite into one!
Southern Region: Laksa Johor
Much different from the northern laksa in Johor Bahru, Johoreans prefer to have their laksa with spaghetti noodles! What’s more interesting, due to its thick gravy, it is traditionally eaten with our bare hands. However, this really depends on the thickness of the gravy of each household. Some prefer to enjoy their plate of laksa with the usual fork and spoon.
Apart from its noodle, laksa Johor is also distinctive in its gravy as it uses coconut milk, giving a richer, creamier flavour, accompanied by spicy sambal.
Southern Region: Laksa Nyonya
If you head to Malacca, do not miss out on trying a bowl of laksa nyonya, the Peranakan version of laksa with curry broth! With similarities more inclined to match the curry mee, laksa nyonya is topped with various condiments to complement the creamy curry broth, such as fish balls, tofu puffs, as well as crunchy bean sprouts and long beans. However, it won’t be complete without the red sambal! (Much like many different laksa.).
East Coast: Laksam
Similarly, the East Coast’s favourite laksa, or laksam, is distinctive in its choice of noodle and broth. Well, in this case, they’re not technically noodles, because they’re rolled! Its thick, pale-coloured, almost gravy-like broth also uses coconut milk and the whole dish is complemented with sambal, as Malaysians always like it spicy.
East Coast: Laksa Terengganu
Next, Terengganu’s laksa, a laksa that comes in two versions! ‘Kuah mentah’ (raw broth) or ‘kuah masak’ (cooked broth). As the name suggests, one is not exactly cooked in the conventional boiled-to-perfection way, while one is cooked as usual. ‘Kuah mentah’ is specially cooked by combining the coconut milk and hot water with other ingredients, and has to be consumed immediately.
On top of that, laksa Terengganu can be found in the form of ‘kuah putih’ (directly translated as white broth, more similar to Kelantan’s laksam) or kuah merah (directly translated as red broth, more similar to laksa Johor). Also similar to laksa Johor, laksa Terengganu is traditionally eaten with hand!
East Coast: Laksa Pahang
Another variation of laksa available in the East Coast region, is laksa Pahang. Also available in either kuah putih or kuah merah, it can be served with either the usual laksa noodles or spaghetti. Originally, laksa Pahang is distinctive in its type of noodle. While the usual laksa noodle is made of rice flour, Pahang makes its laksa noodle using wheat flour and uses a tool made from copper called ‘kebuk’ to turn the dough into noodles.
East Malaysia: Laksa Sarawak
Last but definitely not the least, is everyone’s favourite laksa Sarawak. Unlike the rest of her laksa sisters, laksa Sarawak doesn’t use fish for its broth’s main ingredient! Instead, the key to its base is sambal belacan. Due to this, the flavourful broth is the most distinctive among the others. The protein of laksa Sarawak is not blended into the broth, but instead is topped with other condiments, like shredded chicken and prawns. For its noodle, Sarawakians use rice vermicelli noodles, a much thinner option than the rest of the laksa we have mentioned.
When you get the opportunity, enjoy a trip around Malaysia to try those regional laksas.
My favourite: A lot of testing and consideration has gone into this choice and the winner is Laksa Terengganu. For me it just has the right combination of textures, ingredients and flavours.