A Minimalist Approach to Make a Singaporean Laksa
I spent two days in Singapore just before Christmas. It wasn't for holiday though. Things were fairly tight. I didn't have time enough to venture beyond the area I was staying. But there's one thing I have always tried to accomplish - shop for the most exotic cooking ingredients and bring them home.
I've been to Singapore many times. The best foods there are found not at the restaurants but the local food or hawker centers. Cheap, nice, clean, unflattering and unpretentious. Laksa, bak kut teh (pork rib tea), Hokkien fried noodles, Hainanese chicken, to name but a few.
This time I brought home with bags of laksa paste, among other things (some were confiscated at the airport, unfortunately). On the Boxing Day, I invited my friends/neighbours to come around and try.
Laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup from Peranakan culture, which is a merger of Chinese and Malay elements found in Malaysia and Singapore. I have tried the laksa from both locations. And honestly I find the Singaporean laksa better (don't ask me why).
The origin of the name "laksa" is unclear. The name may originate from the Sanskrit word laksha (लक्ष), meaning "many" (in modern Hindi, lakh, or 100,000) and referring to the soup's countless ingredients (including dried chillies, purple ginger, yellow ginger, lemon grass, candlenuts, dried prawns, shallots and garlic). Another proposition traces it back to Hindi/Persian lakhshah, referring to a type of vermicelli.
Because this thing is made with so many of such and such ingredients, it's obviously against the principles of this blog. Nevertheless, the author of this blog loves it so much that he feels obliged to be a little more innovative. To save the trouble of bringing those thousand ingredients together, I have gone to search for a single laksa paste that can do the magic and, at the same time, must be made from non-artificial ingredients. After rounds of attempts, I have found this particular one from Singapore. It contains no preservatives and MSG (and hence has to be consumed within weeks from purchase). It has 4 to 5 servings in a pack. So I rounded up a few buddies for a spicy Christmas experience.
The ingredients - sorry, still quite many:
1. one packet of XXX'X laksa paste;
2. 1/3 litre of coconut milk;
3. dried shrimps;
4. vermicelli or flat rice-noodles;
5. whole sea prawns;
6. squid balls;
7. fish cake, sliced;
8. boiled eggs, shell removed and sliced;
9. fried beancurds;
10. a bunch of white shimeji mushrooms;
11. a bunch of beansprouts; and
12. Thai basil for garnishing.
Cook vermicelli first, rinse well and leave it well drained. Bring 3 to 4 bowls of water and laksa paste into boil, followed by coconut milk and dried shrimps. Add a teaspoonful of sea-salt and cook over low heat for 2 minutes until goldenly fragrant.
Bring the soup to high heat. Throw in prawns, squid balls, fish cake and mushrooms first for 2 minutes, followed by beancurds and beansprouts for another minute.
Vermicelli now sits ready in the bowl. Pour the soup and everything in. Place the eggs on top, garnish with Thai basil (always!), and it's done. Best served with a cold malt or white beer!