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Laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup from Peranakan culture also known as Baba and Nyonya, which is a merger of Chinese and Malay elements found in Singaporemarker, Indonesiamarker and Malaysiamarker.


The origin of the name "laksa" is unclear. One theory traces it back to Hindi/Persian lakhshah, referring to a type of vermicelli.It has also been suggested that "laksa" may derive from the Chinese word "la sha" (; pronounced "latsa" in Cantonese), meaning "spicy sand" due to the ground dried prawns which gives a sandy or gritty texture to the sauce. The last theory is that the name comes from the similar sounding word "dirty" in Hokkien due to its appearance.

Types of laksa

The term "laksa" is used generally to describe two different basic types of noodle soup dishes: curry laksa and asam laksa. Curry laksa is a coconut curry soup with noodles, while asam laksa is a sour fish soup with noodles. Usually, thick rice noodles also known as laksa noodles are preferred, although thin rice vermicelli (bee hoon or mee hoon) is also common and some variants use other types.

Curry laksa

Curry laksa
Sarawak laksa
A bowl of Penang laksa, a variant of asam laksa.
Johor laksa

Curry laksa (in many places referred to simply as “laksa”) is a coconut-based curry soup. The main ingredients for most versions of curry laksa include tofu puffs, fish sticks, shrimp and cockle. Some vendors may sell chicken laksa. Cockles are a common ingredient unless customers request not to have cockles for hygiene reasons. Laksa is commonly served with a spoonful of sambal chilli paste and garnished with Vietnamese coriander, or laksa leaf, which is known in Malay as daun kesum.

This is usually known as "Curry mee" in Penangmarker rather than curry laksa, due to the different kind of noodles used (yellow mee or bee hoon, as opposed to the thick white laksa noodles). Curry Mee in Penangmarker uses congealed pork blood, a delicacy to the Malaysian Chinese community. Two of the well known places to try curry mee is at Lorong Seratus Tahun and Chulia Street.

The term "Curry laksa" is more commonly used in Kuala Lumpurmarker or Singaporemarker. Laksa is popular in Singapore and Malaysia, as are laksa yong tau foo , lobster laksa, and even plain laksa, with just noodles and gravy.

Laksa is extremely popular in Australia, especially in the Chinatown districts of the capital cities. Special deals, such as "Laksa Thursday" encourage many local business workers to frequent the Asian cafes to dine on Laksa and other noodle based soups.

Variants of curry laksa include:

  • Laksa lemak, also known as nyonya laksa (Malay: Laksa nyonya), is a type of laksa with a rich coconut gravy. Lemak is a culinary description in the Malay language which specifically refers to the presence of coconut milk which adds a distinctive richness to a dish. As the name implies, it is made with a rich, slightly sweet and strongly spiced coconut gravy. Laksa lemak is usually made with a fish-based gravy and is heavily influenced by Thai laksa (Malay: Laksa Thai), perhaps to the point that one could say they are one and the same.

  • Laksam, a speciality of the Northeastern Malaysian states of Kelantanmarker and Terengganumarker, is made with very thick flat white rice flour noodles in a rich, full-bodied white gravy of boiled fish and coconut milk. Though usually made of fish flesh, it is sometimes made with eels. Traditionally laksam is eaten with hands rather than with eating utensils due to the gravy's thick consistency.

  • Katong laksa (Malay: Laksa Katong) is a variant of laksa lemak from the Katong area of Singaporemarker. In Katong laksa, the noodles are normally cut up into smaller pieces so that the entire dish can be eaten with a spoon alone (that is, without chopsticks or a fork). Katong laksa is a strong contender for the heavily competed title of Singapore's national dish.

Asam laksa

Asam laksa is a sour fish-based soup. Asam (or asam jawa) is the Malay word for tamarind, which is commonly used to give the stock its sour flavor. It is also common to use "asam keping" also known as "asam gelugor", dried slices of tamarind fruit, for added sourness. Modern Malay spelling is asam, though the spelling assam is still frequently used.

The main ingredients for asam laksa include shredded fish, normally kembung fish or mackerel, and finely sliced vegetables including cucumber, onions, red chillis, pineapple, lettuce, common mint, "daun kesum" (Vietnamese mint or laksa mint) and pink bunga kantan (ginger buds). Asam laksa is normally served with either thick rice noodles or thin rice noodles (vermicelli). And topped off with "petis udang" or "hae ko" (蝦羔), a thick sweet prawn/shrimp paste.

Variants of asam laksa include:

  • Penang laksa (Malay: Laksa Pulau Pinang), also known as asam laksa from the Malay for tamarind, comes from the Malaysian island of Penangmarker. It is made with mackerel (ikan kembung) soup and its main distinguishing feature is the asam or tamarind which gives the soup a sour taste. The fish is poached and then flaked. Other ingredients that give Penang laksa its distinctive flavour include lemongrass, galangal (lengkuas) and chilli. Typical garnishes include mint, pineapple slices, thinly sliced onion, hε-ko, a thick sweet prawn paste and use of torch ginger flower. This, and not 'curry mee' is the usual 'laksa' one gets in Penang. Perlis laksa (Malay: Laksa Perlis) and Kedah laksa (Malay: Laksa Kedah) is very similar to Penang laksa and only differs in the garnishing used. Sliced boiled eggs are usually added to the dish. In some places the soup is made of eel flesh. Ipoh laksa (Malay: Laksa Ipoh), from the Malaysian city of Ipohmarker, is similar to Penang laksa but has a more sour (rather than sweet) taste, and contains prawn paste.

  • Kuala Kangsar Laksa (Malay: Laksa Kuala Kangsar), made of wheat flour (usually hand made). The soup is rather lighter than the common laksa taste and so much different from Ipoh Laksa in shape, taste and smell. The local municipal council even built a complex called "Kompleks Cendol dan Laksa" near the river bank of the Perak River. It is the main attraction for tourists in Kuala Kangsar.

Other variants

Several variants mix together coconut milk and fish and can be identified as either curry or asam laksa.

  • Johor laksa (Malay: Laksa Johor), from Johormarker state in southern Malaysiamarker, resembles Penang laksa only in the kind of fish used but differs in everything else. Johor laksa has coconut milk, use 'kerisik', dried prawns, lemon grass, galangal and spices akin to curry. The garnishing comprises slices of onion, beansprouts (taugeh), mint leaves, Vietnamese coriander or 'daun kesum', cucumber and pickled white radish. Sambal belacan (a kind of chili paste) is placed on the side. Finally, just before eating, freshly squeezed lime juice is sprinkled on the dish. Unique to Johor laksa is its Italian connection - spaghetti is used instead of the normal rice noodles or vermicelli. Johor laksa is traditionally eaten using the hand and the noodles are usually knitted (cetak) into a disk for each serving.

  • Sarawak laksa (Malay: Laksa Sarawak) comes from the town of Kuchingmarker in the Malaysian state Sarawakmarker, on the island of Borneomarker. It is actually very different from the curry laksa as the soup contains no curry in its ingredient at all. It has a base of Sambal belacan, sour tamarind, garlic, galangal, lemon grass and coconut milk, topped with omelette strips, chicken strips, prawns, fresh coriander and optionally lime. Ingredients such as bean sprouts, (sliced) fried tofu or other seafood are not traditional but are sometimes added.

  • Kelantan laksa (Malay: Laksa Kelantan) is the easiest laksa recipe that is famous among peoples from the town of Kota Bharumarker of the Kelantanmarker state, located at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysiamarker. The main ingredient of Kelantan Laksa's sauce is 'ikan kembong' or round scad mackerel that are boiled and minced. The minced fish are fried with onions, garlic, ginger, datil pepper, belacan, 'kantan' flower, Vietnamese coriander or 'daun kesum', lemon grass and dried tamarind slice. Coconut milk will then be added as the final ingredient and stirred until it all mixed up and become thick. Kelantan Laksa is served just like the Italian spaghetti by adding 'ulam' (raw vegetables) and blended chili on the side. Another variable of Kelantan Laksa is 'Laksam'. The sauce's recipe are exactly the same but the noodles are a bit bigger and flat.

  • Bogor Laksa (Indonesian: Laksa Bogor) probably is the most famous Laksa variant in Indonesiamarker from Bogormarker town, West Javamarker. The thick yellowish coconut milk based soup is a mixture of shallot, garlic, kemiri (candlenut), kunyit (turmeric), ketumbar (coriander), sereh (lemongrass), and salt. The hot soup runs, drained, and filled several times into the bowl contains bihun (rice vermicelli), ketupat (glutinous rice cake), smashed oncom (similar to tempe but different fungi), tauge (bean sprout), kemangi (basil leafes), cooked shredded chicken and prawn, boiled egg, until all the ingredients is soft and cooked. Usually Laksa Bogor is served with sambal cuka (grinded chilli in vinegar).

  • Betawi Laksa (Indonesian: Laksa Betawi) is a Laksa variant from Jakartamarker, Indonesiamarker. The thick yellowish coconut milk based soup is a mixture of shallot, garlic, kunyit (turmeric), lengkuas (galangal), sereh (lemongrass), salam leaf and lemon leaf, ginger, pepper, and contains rebon (salted small shrimp) to gave the unique taste. The dish contains ketupat (glutinous rice cake), tauge (bean sprout), kemangi (basil leafes), and boiled egg.

Summary table

The general differences between curry laksa,asam laksa and Sarawak laksa are as follows:

Curry Laksa Asam Laksa Sarawak Laksa
Coconut milk is used No coconut milk used Coconut milk is used
Curry-like soup (includes curry as one of its ingredients) Fish paste soup, tastes sour due to tamarind (asam) Red curry-like soup (does not use curry)
Except for bean sprouts, no other vegetable is used Pineapple, shredded cucumber, raw onions may be used Except for bean sprouts and coriander as decoration, no other vegetable is used.
Tofu puff is used No tofu puff used No tofu puff used
Served with thick or thin rice vermicelli (usually thick). Occasionally served with yellow mee. Served with thick or thin rice vermicelli (usually thick) Served with thin rice vermicelli only
Hard-boiled egg may be added No hard-boiled egg added Sliced fried eggs used
Slices of fish cake and either prawns or chicken is used Fish, normally kembung fish, is used Only slices of prawn and chicken used

Laksa lemak, Katong laksa, Nyonya laksa

Asam Laksa, Penang laksa, Johor laksa

Laksa is simply referred to or ordered at a restaurant as laksa (curry laksa) or asam laksa. By default, laksa means the standard curry laksa while asam laksa refers to the standard Penang version. If a restaurant serves a non-standard version, the restaurant will qualify the laksa by the version being sold. For example, a restaurant serving Katong laksa will list Katong laksa on the menu.

Similar dishes

Laksa products

Laksa paste to cook laksa can be purchased from supermarkets. Laksa flavoured instant noodles are also available at supermarkets.


  1. Winstedt, Sir Richard (Olaf), An Unabridged Malay–English Dictionary (5th ed., enlarged) (Kuala Lumpur: Marican & Sons, 1963)
  2. Hutton, Wendy, Singapore Food (Marshall Cavendish, 2007) [Wendy-Hutton]
  3. Spiles, Jason, Asian Food (John & Peters, 2005)

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