Laksa is the secret holy grail of noodle soups in Southeast Asia. It’s a highly-slurpable noodle dish that is impossible to dislike. Every laksa comes in three parts—the noodles (most often rice noodles or vermicelli), toppings (usually vegetables and seafood or chicken), and a mouthwatering curried broth. The dish is a national favorite across Singapore and Malaysia, eaten enthusiastically for breakfast and lunch at home or a hawker stalls.
While laksa isn't the best known noodle dish outside of Southeast Asia (pad thai and pho still wins the popularity contest), one slurp of laksa broth can convert even the biggest skeptics, thanks to its punchy flavor and intoxicating aroma. Plus, much like ramen or pasta, there exist many variations of laksa to suit all tastes — from tamarind flavored, fish-heavy laksas in the Northern Malaysian states of Penang and Kedah to the spice-forward Sarawak laksas of Borneo. But perhaps none is as ubiquitous or internationally recognised as the Singaporean version — a rich, creamy curry soup base, perfumed by cumin and plenty of coconut milk. If all that isn't enough to convince you, get this, the legendary late Anthony Bourdain anointed this dish with the moniker "the breakfast of gods."
Traditionally, cooking a bowl of laksa from scratch might take a whole day. The broth in particular is where all the culinary magic lies, and can be tricky to cook up, requiring hours of patient stirring and simmering. With some versions, like the one I learned in Penang where I apprenticed a master laksa chef, there can be hours of additional prep work such as simmering whole mackerels in the broth, then picking the meat out from the bones, before cooking it in the broth again.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate laksa’s versatility for the modern cook or the busy mother. With Homiah’s spice kits, laksa becomes the perfect grown up “emergency food”, an answer to mixing and matching leftovers in the fridge — a bit of tofu, some lettuce, chunks of rotisserie chicken — all coming together into a silky, nostalgia-inducing steaming bowl of laksa.
It has been exciting to learn how Homiah’s customers cook their laksa. Many go the traditional route, using a mix of rice vermicelli and yellow egg noodles and including classic toppings like hard-boiled eggs, shrimps, tofu, beansprouts, cilantro, and a side of sambal or hot sauce for an extra kick. Some reported great success with pouring laksa over buttered pasta and topping it with vegetables like spinach and kale. And I always get kick hearing how my laksa gave someone a quick fix for a weeknight dinner when there was absolutely nothing in the fridge.
Laksa is incredibly forgiving, so however you make it just knowing you’ll end up with a bold, intensely flavorful broth to nourish tummy and soul.
There are three elements to the laksa—the broth, the noodles, and toppings that are assembled together in stages.
- Noodles: Traditionally, rice vermicelli and/ or yellow ramen-like/ egg noodles (called mee in Singapore/ Malaysia) are used. However, any Asian noodle in your local grocery store will do well. If your local grocers don’t stock any of these, long pasta like spaghetti and fettuccine can work in a pinch, potentially with zucchini noodles for a healthy option. Whatever noodles you go with, make sure to cook them according to their label instructions before you pour the laksa broth over.
- Broth: Laksas are all about the broth! The beauty is that no one laksa broth is alike, and laksa broths can vary according to the cook. Homiah’s version is a thicker, saucier version with a punchy flavor. As a guideline, the laksa broth should have a similar consistency to a creamy mushroom soup.
- Toppings: Classic Singaporean laksa toppings include shrimp, tofu, blanched bean sprouts, and long beans; and sometimes include cockles, clams, fried bean curd and cilantro. There are numerous hawker stalls across the island nation of Singapore, so the variations are endless — if you like it, throw it in the pot.
- Poaching: Instead of poaching the toppings in a separate pot of water, we recommend poaching them in the simmering laksa broth. This adds flavor to the broth and means one less pot to clean. Recommended poaching times:
4 mins - thinly sliced chicken breast, clams
3 mins - shrimp, carrots, long beans
2 mins - tofu, beansprouts
- 1 Homiah Singaporean Laksa Kit
- 1 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 2 portions Homiah Laksa Noodles or rice noodles/vermicelli, cooked
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 6 peeled shrimp or 3 oz. firm tofu, sliced into large, 1-inch blocks
- 2 oz. bean sprouts
- 2 long beans, sliced into 2-inch long pieces
- Cilantro, for garnishing
- Pour the water into a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 1 Homiah Singaporean Laksa Kit. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- While the broth is simmering, cook the noodles and peel the eggs. Arrange in a bowl.
- To the simmering laksa broth, first add in the shrimp and long beans, and poach for 1 minute. Add the tofu (if using) and bean sprouts, and poach for 2 more minutes. Then, using a sieve or spider strainer, carefully fish out the ingredients from the broth.
- Add in the coconut milk to the broth, stir to incorporate and bring it to a quick simmer, then take it off the heat.
- To serve, transfer the noodles into 2 bowls, and arrange the toppings on top of the noodles, along with the eggs. Ladle the soup over the prepared bowls and garnish with a sprig of cilantro if desired.
Ingredient alternatives based on dietary preferences:
- Noodles: The laksa broth is the real star, so in fact any kind of Asian noodles will do, including ramen noodles. For a low calorie option, try zucchini noodles.
- Coconut milk: Substitute some or all with chicken or vegetable stock for a low calorie option.
- Toppings: Any combination of hard-boiled eggs, shrimp, littleneck clams, sliced chicken breast, tofu, tempeh, blanched bean sprouts, long beans, and cilantro.