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Sarawak Laksa:

The Mysterious Rise of an
Incredible East Malaysian Dish

It goes without saying that Sarawak Laksa is a popular dish from the prominent state in East Malaysia. This delicious noodle soup is a favourite among locals and visitors alike, with its unique blend of spicy, tangy, and creamy flavours, originally made using ingredients that were readily available in Sarawak at the time, such as coconut milk, tamarind, and local spices, incorporating influences from Malay and Indian cuisine which were prevalent in the region.

Over time, Sarawak Laksa evolved and became a popular dish in the local food scene. Today, it is one of the most famous dishes from Sarawak and is enjoyed by people all over Malaysia and beyond. However, the iconic dish has a fascinatingly mysterious origin story and many more interesting facts pertaining to its ingredients as well as its rise to popularity. So let’s dig into all these fine details!

The Mysterious Origins of Sarawak Laksa

Compared to other ancient recipes associated with the region, Sarawak Laksa is a relatively new dish, with a history dating back only to the 20th century.

However, Sarawak Laksa’s origins remain somewhat enigmatic, with debates on how it was first created. As one of the stories goes, it is believed to have been created by Chinese immigrants who settled in Sarawak in the early 20th century, when Goh Lik Teck began selling his noodle dish along Kuching’s Carpenter Street in 1945.

Legend has it that the dish’s signature paste was popularised by the Tan family from Kuching during the 1960s and 1970s. Tan Yong Him worked with a medley of herbs and spices to produce a fundamental paste, which he then marketed under the brand name Swallow.

This product soon became popular amongst many vendors who integrated Sarawak Laksa into their menus, and it is now a renowned dish in Sarawak and the city of Kuching. Some say the most authentic pastes have an estimated 20, 30, 36 or even more components, including garlic, lemongrass, and various spices.

Mr Tan’s product, and the imitations that followed, such as Eagle and Parrot, made it far quicker and less arduous to prepare laksa at home. The result was an immense hit among Sarawakians living far from their home state. The product has since evolved to become a popular street food in Sarawak and can now be enjoyed in a myriad of restaurants, coffee shops, and hawker stalls across the state.

Sarawak Laksa is a Symbol of Cultural Diversity!

Sarawak Laksa has become a symbol of Malaysia’s diverse blend of cultures. The dish’s complex flavours have drawn comparisons to other culinary superstars such as curry laksa and asam laksa, which share some similarities. However, the defining difference in Sarawak Laksa is the use of sambal belacan, a potent chilli condiment made from fermented shrimp paste, that imparts an incredible depth of flavour to the dish.

Critically Acclaimed by
Famous Chefs

In recent years, Sarawak Laksa has gained international acclaim and is now a must-try dish for foodies and tourists visiting Sarawak. It gradually gained a significant reputation, being one of the signature dishes of Kuching.

However, it wasn’t until the late American celebrity, Anthony Bourdain, endorsed it in 2015 during the production of his famous travel documentary show titled ‘No Reservations’ that the dish shot to new levels of international fame. Bourdain was widely known for his love of exploring different cultures and cuisines, and his endorsement helped bring Sarawak laksa to the attention of a global audience, spurring increased interest in the dish. Since then, many food enthusiasts from around the world have travelled to Sarawak to try this unique dish for themselves, making it a must-try for anyone visiting the region.

In 2017, CNN included Sarawak laksa in its list of “The World’s 50 Best Foods,” describing it as a “complex and satisfying symphony of flavours” and a “perfect representation of Malaysian cuisine.” Similarly, Lonely Planet’s “Ultimate Eatlist” included Sarawak Laksa as one of the top 500 culinary experiences in the world.

Tourists avidly explore the bustling hawker stalls of Kuching’s Jalan Padungan and Padungan Bazaar, or venture further afield to smaller towns such as Miri and Sibu, where they can sample some of the best versions of the dish. Despite the many interpretations of its origins, Sarawak Laksa remains an iconic dish and a testament to the rich culinary traditions of Malaysia.

The Components of
Sarawak Laksa

Sarawak Laksa is a noodle soup that is made up of several components, each with its unique flavour and texture. The soup is typically made using a combination of chicken and prawn stock, which gives it a rich and savoury flavour.

The noodles used in Sarawak Laksa are a special type of rice vermicelli that is thicker and chewier than regular rice noodles. The noodles are cooked until they are tender, then added to the soup just before serving.

The dish’s thick and creamy soup is often cited as the hallmark of Sarawak Laksa. The soup is made from a blend of ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, and other spices. The final paste, which typically has a vibrant orange hue, is prepared by blending ingredients such as garlic, shallots, chillies, candlenut, and dried shrimp. Each bowl of Sarawak Laksa is typically topped with shredded chicken, prawns, bean sprouts, and slices of omelette.

One of the key ingredients in Sarawak Laksa is the spice paste, which is made by blending together a variety of local spices and aromatics. The paste typically includes ingredients such as lemongrass, ginger, galangal, and chillies, which give the dish its spicy and aromatic flavour.

Another important component of Sarawak Laksa is the coconut milk, which is added to the soup to give it a creamy and slightly sweet flavour. This also helps to balance out the spiciness of the dish.

To add some freshness and crunch to the dish, Sarawak Laksa is typically served with a variety of garnishes. These can include bean sprouts, shredded chicken, prawns, sliced omelette, and chopped coriander.

The Different Variations of Sarawak Laksa

Like many popular dishes, Sarawak Laksa has undergone several variations over the years. While the basic components of the dish remain the same, different regions in Sarawak have their unique take on the dish.

One of the most popular variations of Sarawak Laksa is the Kuching-style Laksa, which is named after the capital city of Sarawak. This version of the dish is made using a rich and creamy broth, which is infused with the flavours of local herbs and spices.

Another popular variation is the Sibu-style Laksa, which is known for its slightly sour and tangy flavour. This version of the dish is made using a sour paste, which is made from a blend of tamarind, pineapple, and other sour fruits.

The Miri-style Laksa is another variation of Sarawak Laksa that is popular in the region. This version of the dish is known for its spicy and tangy flavour, which comes from the addition of chillies and lime juice.

Freshable’s latest series of Sarawak-based meal kits feature a truly authentic Sarawak Laksa recipe for you to try at home. Check out our special Sarawak Laksa meal kit featuring Sarawak Laksa paste that’s sourced directly from the state itself, available now for orders!

While the origins of Sarawak laksa remain somewhat shrouded in mystery, one thing is certain: it is a dish that is deeply intertwined with the cultural and culinary heritage of Sarawak. Whether you are a seasoned foodie or just someone who loves to try new and interesting dishes, Sarawak laksa is a must-try when visiting the region.

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