The origin of the name "laksa" may be a matter of debate, but the reasons we love this powerhouse of a noodle soup are not.
Quick, cheap and pleasingly enormous, laksa is comfort food for spice lovers.
Some believe the name is derived from a Cantonese word meaning “spicy sand”, which could be a reference to the gritty texture of the dried shrimp used to make the paste. Another theory is that the name references the noodles used in the dish.
One of the most popular Asian dishes in Australia, laksa was developed by the Peranakan people descended from 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to Malaysia and Singapore.
There are three kinds of nyonya laksa. The curry laksa is most familiar to Australians and refers to a dish made from a coconut and curry-based broth.
Asam laksa, sometimes called Penang laksa after the coastal peninsular state where it originates, is a sour soup made from fish – usually mackerel – and tamarind (asam means "tamarind" in Malay).
Sarawak laksa comes from Kuching, Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, and despite its spice and gritty texture, contains no curry at all. Sambal belacan forms the base of this rich, dark broth, with flavour and complexity added by combining it with sour tamarind, garlic, galangal, lemongrass and coconut milk.
Here are some of Good Food's top laksa picks for Sydney. If we missed your favourite spot jump on the comments and let us know your go-to place for a bowl of this hearty, spicy noodle soup.
1/50-58 Hunter St, 9231 6788
With a large chalkboard sign laying claim to 'Sydney's best laksa', Malay-Chinese isn't shy about declaring its superiority and many laksa lovers enthusiastically agree. Choose from 11 different kinds of laksa ($8.70-$11.50) including three kinds of chicken laksa (chicken, skinless chicken, drumstick chicken), prawn, king prawn, seafood, bean curd and vegetable, and their various combinations. Well-balanced and moderately spicy, the broth here is thinner than elsewhere but still packs a punch when it comes to depth of flavour.
The Galeries, 500 George St, 9267 2288
One of only a handful of Sydney kitchens serving asam laksa ($8.70), Jimmy's comes with a generous serving of round rice noodles topped with canned sardines and a boiled egg. Cucumber strips, slices of red onion and scattered pineapple pieces add freshness and texture, while the sweetness of the pineapple helps to balance the spicy, sour broth. Made with tamarind skin, the broth is light and tangy, with a pungent fishy odour. The curry laksa is also a hit.
Happy Chef Seafood and Noodles Restaurant
Sussex Centre, 401 Sussex St, Haymarket, 9281 8337
Combination seafood curry laksa ($11.50) is the specialty at this bustling food court eatery. With a choice of four noodles (rice stick laksa, fresh rice, egg and thin egg), the servings are enormous, even taking into consideration the generous portions laksa usually comes in. A thinner, lighter broth that's only moderately spicy and not too oily, the combination seafood includes three types of meat (beef, chicken, and char siu or barbecue roast pork), three kinds of seafood and fried tofu puffs, shallots and bean sprouts. Spice it up with as much sambal, fresh chilli or other condiments as you please.
David's Asian Kitchen
7/52 Martin Place (beneath the Colonial First State building), 9231 6688
If you like your laksa to deliver a hit, David's is the laksa for you. Thick and creamy with rich, deep flavours, the broth is made with house-made curry paste, red curry powder, milk and coconut milk. Try the king prawn laksa ($12) for seriously king-sized prawns topped with coriander, fried onions, bean sprouts and broccoli. That's right, a laksa with vegetables. It's not traditional but with broccoli as crisp and perfectly cooked as this, we're not complaining.
Also worth trying:
Petaling Street Malaysian Hawker Food
760 George St, Haymarket, 9280 1006
39 Lime St, King Street Wharf, 9279 1170
1/63a Archer St, Chatswood, 9411 3207
With 70 restaurants in Malaysia and five in Melbourne, PappaRich's first Sydney restaurant is a far cry from the noise and chaos of the crammed eateries in Sydney CBD.
Several unique touches put Papparich's chicken curry laksa ($12.50) in a league of its own: shredded (rather than boiled) chicken, large cubes of deep-fried eggplant that are so soft they practically melt in your mouth; and deep-fried foo chok (bean curd skin) that adds texture. The broth is rich, moderately creamy and mildly spiced, and you get a generous handful of bean sprouts under a tangle of thin egg noodles, as well as slices of fish cake and tofu puffs.
The asam laksa ($12.50) looks nothing like the picture on the menu but is well worth trying. The broth is boiled for 4-5 hours until it becomes a thick, aromatic gravy. Made with flaked mackerel, the sour spicy flavours is mild compared to Jimmy's asam laksa. Thick rice noodles are served with pineapple, shredded lettuce, cucumber strips, lemongrass, fresh chilli and a sprig of mint top it all off.
Also worth trying:
Sam's Singapore Laksa House
103 Willoughby Rd, Crows Nest, 9436 0283
To's Malaysian Gourmet
181 Miller St, North Sydney, 9955 2088
282 Beamish St, Campsie, 9718 8302
Dimly lit but cosy with its walls adorned with a multitude of posters announcing its various specials, Albee's may well be the only laksa house in Sydney serving the elusive Sarawak laksa. Available only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the "Kuching" comes with rice vermicelli, shredded chicken, prawns, omelette strips, bean sprouts, fresh and dried shallots and a wedge of lime. With its generous servings, lightning-fast service and consistently good food, it's little wonder this bustling eatery has developed a loyal local following.
71 George St, Parramatta, 9633 9926
Creamy, rich, spicy and full of flavour, this is home-style laksa at its best. Made daily from house-made curry paste, which is simmered from fresh ingredients over four hours, head chef Jeremy Cho combines the paste with chicken stock, coconut milk and coconut cream. The seafood laksa ($17.80) comes with calamari, king prawns, tofu puffs and a sprinkling of fried shallots. Temasek has long been a favourite of Sydney's Malaysian community and the laksa is just one of the well-loved offerings from a range of hawker-style dishes.
Also worth trying:
95-101 George St, Parramatta, 9633 1488
Where do you go in Sydney for a laksa fix? Share your recommendation in the comments below.