Bonding over Laksa
If you don’t want to get into a heated argument in Kuching, then there are a few conversations you’ll want to stay away from. Religion, politics, sports and “best” food spots, to name a few. Since this is a food article, let’s talk about the kinds of “best” food conversations you should specifically stay away from, and they usually concern Kolo Mee and Laksa.
Few kinds of food compare to how dearly Kuchingites hold these two close to their hearts, especially if they are served in shops that they have a special bond to. That bond is something shared and created in various ways, whether it’s from childhood favourites or a special discovery. When it comes to bonds, few shops – or Laksa stalls, more specifically – can say that they’re an expert in making bonds like the Laksa Stall in Hoo Joo Coffee Shop, 3rd mile. They’ve been in the bond-making business for 40 years and making it on a recipe that is now 90 years old; that’s a really long time to be making bonds and really good Laksa!
If she’s been selling Laksa for that amount of time and the recipe is that old, you’d be wise to ask me if I’m suggesting that this is a place for the “best” Sarawak Laksa. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking so, but no. I don’t believe there is a “best” place as there are so many great kinds out there! What you can’t run away from, however, is a bowl of really, really good broth.
The Aunty that’s been making Laksa here is an expert at it and has been providing consistently delicious Laksa from the day she opened this stall. She’ll be proud to tell you that this is possible due to her making her own paste for her broth, which doesn’t make her subject to changes in taste from paste providers which a lot of Laksa stalls in Kuching are using.
What you’ll taste here may be different from what you’re used to, as the first thing you’ll notice is how balanced the flavours are. There isn’t a natural kick of flavours that is common in most stalls, but a very welcome balance of the sour and savoury while also maintaining a very smooth creamy broth that you’ll have no qualms about finishing to the very last drop.
Apart from the delicious broth, you’ll notice the most simple of garnishes that top the noodles. It’s a welcome change from the gimmick of large prawns and extravagant parts of the chicken. Everything in this bowl is modest and well thought out. The prawns – though admittedly a bit overcooked on the day of taking these pictures – were big enough to finish in one bite while the chicken strips were juicy and able to soak up the broth well due to the careful way they were stripped.
The thin rice vermicelli noodles were also worth noting as they were both springy and had a nice bite to them. It’s always a welcome addition when Laksa noodles are cooked beautifully as there is rarely anything worse than badly cooked noodles that are either too hard to bite or too soft and slimy to enjoy.
I spoke earlier about bonds, and patrons I’ve spoken to who frequent this stall speak of how these noodles remind them of childhood. It isn’t the idea of Laksa that reminds them of it, but rather the exact taste and flavour. This is the product of consistency and it’s consistency from being able to create what you serve from scratch and knowing exactly what you put in your meals that builds a bond and trust based on flavours, flavours that you know you can turn to like an old friend in an ever-changing world.
Hilary Ho is a teacher, aspiring writer and food traveller who writes about food and lifestyle for his blog urban-palate.blogspot.com. When he is not teaching or writing for others, he enjoys wandering the streets in search of food and the stories of the people behind them. He currently resides in Kuching.