Sunday, January 23, 2011

Borneo cuisine: Sarawak laksa

This morning, during breakfast with the Sunday New York Times, I was thrilled to see that they had written a very nice travel article about Kuching, a town on the island of Borneo that I had grown up in. The writer highlighted various things that immediately brought back fond memories, including a mention of my favorite dish in the whole world: Sarawak laksa, which he describes as a fiery noodle soup. It is hard to describe what laksa tastes like to the uninitiated; somehow the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so simply to say that it consists of rice noodles bathed in a spicy, shrimpy, coconut broth and garnished with shrimp, shredded chicken, beansprouts and strips of omelette is not really doing it justice. Sarawak laksa is like the best thing you have ever tasted multiplied by ten. Here is a picture of it in the New York Times print article (the on-line article is missing this picture for some reason)

So, the way you might enjoy laksa without having to travel halfway around the world to Kuching is to acquire the laksa secret spice paste mix, perhaps from a friend or relative visiting you from Kuching who has smuggled this precious substance in a suitcase that has miraculously escaped detection by the Beagle Brigade at San Francisco airport. The precious bricks of laksa paste are kept in a safe place in your refrigerator and only very rarely broken out for very special meals. As you use up more and more of your stash, you start to hoard what you have left very jealously. Home-made laksa might be had no more than once a year, unless you can locate someone who can smuggle this stuff for you more frequently than once every few years.

I decided that the nostalgia induced by the article was a good enough reason to break out the second-to-last brick of laksa paste I still have in my refrigerator. It looks like this:

and is actually quite simple to use. First, you make a good stock (preferably from shrimp heads, or chicken or pork bones if you can't locate shrimp heads) and then you add the laksa secret spice mix and boil it in the stock for about an hour. You then strain the result and add coconut milk. Separately, you cook peeled shrimp and chicken in the stock and shred the chicken. You make an omelette and cut it into strips. You boil some rice noodles and drain them. Then you assemble the famous laksa dish. In a bowl, you add a nest of rice noodles, top it with some crunchy bean sprouts, the shredded chicken, the shrimp and the omelette strips. Then you ladle the laksa broth over all, sprinkle with cilantro leaves, a squeeze of lime, and serve. Voila!

The most delicious dish in the world. Ever.

In Kuching, laksa is a morning breakfast dish. If you venture out looking for a bowl any later than 11 am, you are bound to be disappointed. We had this for dinner tonight, but I am really looking forward to my breakfast tomorrow morning.

Huxley Beagle was very excited about laksa. He sniffed the air very intensely and was more doggedly hanging by the stove waiting for me to drop food than usual. I think he senses that the humans are eating the best thing ever, too! He would like Kuching. All the outdoor hawker centers where people eat and drop food he can scavenge, the giant rafflesia flower that smells like rotting meat - it would be paradise for a beagle!

1 comment:

crickitty said...

Hope you set a bowl aside for me..! YUM!!!