Do you miss Sarawak laksa?

Anthony Bourdain’s comment on Sarawak laksa has popularised the dish, making it widely known all over the world and we thank him for that.  

Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, Tourism, Art, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister

If you have been away from home for a long time, what is the food from the food stalls that you miss the most?

Many Kuchingites miss the Sarawak laksa, one of Kuching’s signature dishes, when they have been away for a long time.

If you are visiting Kuching for the very first time, you must try the Sarawak laksa, preferably in a kopitiam (coffee shops) or food stall. There are a few kopitiam famous for their own versions of the Sarawak laksa and you must ask foodies to recommend them. You can also goggle for the names of these kopitiam or food stalls.

What is the Sarawak laksa? It is a famous Sarawak noodle dish made with laksa paste and a little coconut milk, comprising vermicelli, shredded chicken, thin beaten egg omelet strips, boiled shrimps, tofu puffs, bean sprouts and sliced cucumber.

The late American celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, put Sarawak laksa on the world map in 2015 when he featured it in his show ‘No Reservations’. He even shared his recipe for Kuching style laksa in one of his cookbooks.

Even though Anthony is dead, Kuchingites will remember him forever for making the Sarawak laksa and, of course, Kuching famous.

Because of its complex and expensive ingredients, especially the shrimps, a bowl of Sarawak laksa naturally costs more than the normal noodle, like kolo mee, in the kopitiam.

For those who are lazy or busy, the easiest way is of course to eat the Sarawak laksa in the shops.

A few years ago, my younger sister, who lives and works in Johor Bahru, used to tapau (takeaway) Sarawak laksa whenever she returned to Malaya. The stall holder would carefully separate the fragrant coconut broth from the vermicelli and other ingredients. In Johor Bahru, my sister would reheat the coconut broth.

I am not a fan of Sarawak laksa but my sister has passed down her love for the dish to her daughter. For the past two days, I have been accompanying my niece to two local kopitiam well known for their different versions of Sarawak laksa.

My niece loves the dish so much that she must have a big helping of it each time. However, I noticed that she did not eat all the broth, only the vermicelli, the prawns and other ingredients.

She also told me that the laksa did not taste that nice when I tapau it for her the other time.

Because of the spike in Covid-19 cases in Kuching district, the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee has restricted the number of dine-in customers at restaurants and cafes to half their capacities. It has also encouraged customers to take away their orders instead.

Personally, I prefer to eat in the shops instead of taking away my orders. I think some food does not taste as nice at home.

Generally, I think all kopitiam in Kuching are complying with the standard operating procedures to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Do you know that you can eat Sarawak laksa or at least the local version of it right in London City?

In 1990, when I was covering the inaugural Brunei Airlines’ flight to London with my Borneo Bulletin colleagues from Brunei Darussalam, I had a taste of the London style laksa.

My colleagues could not survive on western food and must eat Asian food at least once a day. So one evening, after a hard day’s work, we all ended up in a shop run by someone who originated from Penang. The workers were all Malaysian students who were working part time to cover expenses during their studies in the United Kingdom.

The bowls of laksa, when they came, were enormous. At that moment, in my young eyes, the porcelain bowls were the biggest I had ever seen and they were filled almost to the brim with coconut milk and, of course, the vermicelli and other ingredients. The coconut broth was not as flavourful as I expected but apparently, our Briton tour guide loved it so much he drank the broth till the last drop.

To me, that was one of the highlights of that London trip. Those were the days before the advent of the Internet and the mobile phones. I don’t have pictures of the London style laksa to remind me of that trip. If it had happened today, I would have taken lots of pictures to share on Facebook and with friends.

I will stop here this week. Until we met again, happy food testing. Try the Sarawak laksa if you have not done so.