Among all the laksa varieties in the country, Sarawak laksa enjoys celebrity status. Whether it is because of its exotic taste — or food celebrity Anthony Bourdain christening it “Breakfast of the Gods” on his Twitter feed and selecting it for his Bourdain Market in New York — or its relative scarcity, it has always had a loyal, if niche, following in the Klang Valley.
It is however available if you look hard enough — Alexis Bistro, MM Café, SRK Noodle House, Aloft Hotel, Antara and Kluang Station, among others, all offer versions of Sarawak laksa, apart from the independent stalls in various coffeeshops.
Sarawak laksa has always been street food, sold at small stalls and served for breakfast in its native Kuching. The base is a spice paste, various versions of which can be purchased, pre-packaged, in shops.
Among fans of Sarawak laksa, these are the most highly regarded versions in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya:
Originally from Sarawak, Aunty Christina has been operating a stall in a coffeeshop in Lucky Garden, Bangsar, for the longest time. The recently opened Aunty Christina Laksa in Petaling Jaya is dedicated to Sarawak laksa with a supporting panoply of dishes from the state such as kolo mee, kacang ma and herbal soup noodles. This is a basic coffeeshop with tiled floors, plastic tables and chairs and no air conditioning, and yet, expect to queue up on weekends.
The star is Sarawak laksa, upscaled and upgraded from the Bangsar days, with a King Prawn XL version at RM20, Regular at RM8, and the extra-noodles, extra-prawns Special at RM12.
The Special comes in a big bowl, accompanied by half a calamansi and sambal. Presentation-wise, this is the winner, with three big prawns atop a pile of coarse meehoon, fried egg strips, beansprouts and shredded chicken in a brown broth, garnished with coriander.
It tastes wonderful, a raw, sourish spice-herbal combination, a thick flavour that awakens the taste buds and delivers a kick to the head. The coarse meehoon comes with generous portions of shredded chicken breast, prawns and beansprouts to give it substance. There is not a lot of coconut milk in this version, but the broth is thick, dark and strong.
7th Mile Kitchen is a ground-floor shoplot in an apartment building, with posters of adorable kittens pasted onto the tabletops and a single stall, manned by Alex from Kuching, that serves Sarawak laksa, kolo mee, tomato mee and kiaw (dried wonton) at coffeeshop prices.
Despite the relatively obscure location of the shop in a light industrial area, its no-frills interior and plastic stool seating, it is well known among aficionados of Sarawak laksa and often runs out by noon on weekends.
At just RM6.50 for a large serving, the laksa uses fine meehoon and modest quantities of ingredients — shredded chicken breast, fried egg strips, beansprouts, coriander and small prawns, with half a calamansi and sambal by the side. The broth is an angry orange and as thick as curry. The meehoon soaks up the broth, which is creamy with coconut milk. It is intense, instantly gratifying with that unique flavour of Sarawak laksa and packs a raw, spicy punch that lingers afterwards.
It makes for a light meal, given its modest proportions and ingredients, but it is also truer to its coffeeshop-stall, street food roots than the restaurant versions.
In the ambience department, SALTed wins hands down, with a cosy, air-conditioned restaurant and a cool, dim interior. The restaurant serves a selection of Sarawak street food, including the (very strange-tasting) belacan beehoon, although laksa takes top billing.
There is an upscaled RM15 Special version, with the Original Sarawak Laksa costing RM9. It is served with coarse meehoon, three medium-sized peeled prawns, fried egg strips, shredded chicken breast, beansprouts and coriander for garnishing. The requisite cut calamansi and sambal are served in a small bowl on the side. The broth is a light orange and it is not as thick as the others.
With the unique taste and flavour of Sarawak laksa, the broth is smooth yet deeply satisfying. Compared with the other two, it is lighter, milder and more balanced, with the calamansi and sambal turbo-boosting the broth depending on personal taste. The ingredients are fresh and generous, although the broth is carefully portioned out.
Among Sarawak laksa fans, all three versions have their advocates. All provide very good Sarawak laksa with slight but significant variations for fans to argue over. Even in Kuching, different stalls with their own versions attract proponents and detractors. If you are looking for good Sarawak laksa, start with one of these and decide for yourself.
Aunty Christina Laksa 26 jalan 21/19, Sea Park, PJ. 016 315 3213/016 378 8906. Occasionally closed on Wednesdays, 8am-2.30pm.
7th Mile Kitchen RG24, Pangsapuri Kelana Sentral, Jalan Bahagia SS6, Kelana Jaya. 016 228 3832. fb.com/7thmilekitchenqilixiang. Tue-Fri, 7am-2.30pm; Sat-Sun, 7.30am-2.30pm.
SALTed (Sarawak’s Authentic Local Taste Extra Delicious), 30-1 Jalan PJU 7/16A, Mutiara Damansara, PJ. 018 216 0266. Daily, 10am-3.30pm.