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Laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup from Peranakan culture, which is a merger of Chinese and Malay elements found in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Left: A bowl of Katong Laksa, Singapore.

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 is also common and some variants use other types.

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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 cockles. Some vendors may sell chicken laksa. Cockles are a common ingredient unless customers request not to have cockles for hygiene reasons.

Left: Curry laksa.

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.

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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", dried slices of tamarind fruit, for added sourness.

Left: A bowl of Penang laksa, a variant of asam laksa.

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 a thick sweet prawn/shrimp paste.

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

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Sarawak laksa comes from the town of Kuching in the Malaysian state Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. It is actually very different from the curry laksa as the soup contains no curry in its ingredient at all.

Left: A typical bowl of Sarawak Laksa, with visible shrimps, chicken strips, omelette strips and fresh coriander.

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.

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

At a restaurant, 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.


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