Sarawak Laksa: Breakfast of the Gods
Sarawak Laksa is a soup noodle dish from Sarawak. It is one of the many variations of Laksa found all over Malaysia. The laksa spice paste that forms the shrimp-based broth is what makes it unique from other variants. Sarawak Laksa is already quite well known throughout Malaysia, then it rose to international stardom when the late Anthony Bourdain claimed that this “breakfast of the gods” is “one of the foods served in heaven”.
The origin of Sarawak Laksa is widely believed to be started by a Cantonese migrant named Goh Lik Teck. Goh moved to Kuching from Indonesia and offered his spicy noodle dish along Carpenter Street in 1945. He passed his recipe to a Cantonese lady, who started making her own laksa spice paste along with her then-helper Tan Yong Him. Tan is the one responsible in popularising the dish in the 1960s. He created his own version of laksa spice paste under the brand name ‘Swallow’, and distributed it to many food stall owners in Sarawak, whom then included Sarawak Laksa on their menus. With Tan’s success, many laksa paste makers joined the bandwagon and created their own bird-branded laksa spice paste, which further boosted Sarawak Laksa’s accessibility and popularity. The ‘Swallow’ brand is now discontinued due to family issues., but the overall flavour can still be recognised as Sarawak Laksa.
Every brand has a slightly different recipe, but the overall recognisable laksa flavour is still there. The laksa spice paste is usually concocted with shallots, garlic, lemongrass, galangal, dried chillies, tamarind, peanuts, sesame seeds and ground spices like coriander seeds, cumin, star anise, cardamom, clove and nutmeg etc. To make the broth, the paste is sauteed in a pan to bring out the fragrance, then chicken broth, prawn broth, coconut milk are added. The broth is then seasoned with soy sauce, vinegar, salt or even fish sauce depending on the cook.
Sarawak Laksa is commonly served with thin rice vermicelli noodles, topped with generous amounts of chopped spring onion, a few boiled prawns and garnished with shredded chicken and slivers of egg omelette. A dish of thick sambal belacan paste and a halved kalamansi lime are usually served on the side too, to add some spiciness or acidity according to personal preference.