A Sarawak-style Christmas

This blog post was supposed to be uploaded a long time ago… but with the slow Internet, it had to wait. It’s a bit weird, timeline-wise, but still valid. Have fun!

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It’s been a few days of no posts but I have been well and truly busy. In fact, as I was lamenting to my friends who called on Xmas Eve, I was still working on a proposal for a client right up till midnight on the eve. But never mind that – I took complete rest on Christmas Day and yes, today too. Boxing Day is for relaxation I suppose, and anyway, one is still recuperating from the after-effects of feasting!

I started the Xmas weekend all worked up for feasting – well, Vern and I had a lovely, cosy lunch at 32, The Mansion on Saturday (thanks Vern!). She even got me a souvenir from Australia – bless her soul. This wise old gal just turned 18 (how I envy that age where one is young and carefree about life – but then again, Vern is nothing like the average youth one meets).

Christmas Day was fun because I did not go near the laptop at all – and I watched lots of TV. Actually it was two whole hours of Channel 11 on Astro of sexy old Nigella Lawson and lisping boy Jamie Oliver. They both put me in the mood for celebrating as they were going on and on about food for Christmas; from Alaska Bombe to pork roasts, from simple sushi to pizza. And in between, I was busy cooking Sarawak laksa for a small dinner party I was (ahem) having. It was something I had been meaning to do for a long time now.

Cooking Sarawak laksa isn’t difficult – it’s just tedious!

I took photos to document the cooking process so that those of you who want to try it out for yourself, please do.

The most important ingredient is the Sarawak laksa paste. Now this part is a bit tricky because you have to beg, borrow or steal. You just can’t find it here in Penang (anyone who can get Sarawak laksa paste here, please give a shout out.) I can get it easily because it comes from my client who manufactures this laksa paste for export and for use in her shop in Kuching. This is one of the advantages of having clients in the food business – we get plied with lots of samples!

The few packets of laksa paste that we have in our fridge are like precious gems. Only to be opened and cooked for special occasions like Christmas. Also, it’s more fun to cook when there are lots of people coming over; everyone loves a good bowl of kickass laksa, particularly displaced Sarawakians like my husband who hanker for their hometown food and some KL friends of mine who have been asking for some (sorry Jana, I wished you were here to try it out but you are in KL, of all times).

OK, besides the laksa paste, you will need some a packet of mee hoon (rice vermicelli), 2 eggs, 300gm medium-sized prawns, some chicken breast meat, chicken carcasses, lots of limes, coconut milk and some coriander. You will also need some real Sarawak sambal belacan too and I get mine courtesy of Barrett and Stefania. (By the way, they’re also mentioned in Wikipedia. See end of this post for the link.)

You can prepare the laksa soup or gravy first and let it simmer over a slow fire for 3 hours or more. Get a huge stock pot and fill it halfway with water. Bring to a boil and add in the chicken carcasses and prawn shells. I have not tried cooking it with pork bones (like what I do when simmering Chinese herbal soups) because Nic tells me no one uses ‘bak kut’ to make the laksa stock.

Once the stock has simmered for at least an hour, you can add the laksa paste. Once the paste goes into the stock, the whole apartment smells like laksa! The fragrance wafts around and those in the know will know that someone is cooking laksa. Free smells for the neighbours then. Let it simmer for an hour or so first.

You can now prepare the other ingredients. In another pot, bring some water to boil. First, blanch the mee hoon. Rinse the mee hoon under running tap water after it comes out of the pot of boiling water. Next, blanch the chicken breast meat; when the meat has cooled, you need to tear the meat into strips. Finally, blanch the prawns.

Finely slice the coriander and put aside. Also, slice some limes. These two will be the laksa garnishing.

Next, beat the eggs lightly in a bowl. Heat up your pan and make thin omelettes with these eggs. Cool and julienne. Set aside.

You will need to ‘tapis’ or filter your laksa gravy. This is the part which I find tedious. Get another pot of similar size and place a metal strainer on the mouth of this pot. Filter the gravy well. Once you have filtered it, you will need to bring it back to a simmer on the stove.

The next step is to add coconut milk. I would prefer freshly squeezed santan from the wet market but sometimes I have to make do with Ayam Brand Coconut Milk in tetrapak. I used 200ml of this coconut milk – you can use more if you wish, depending on how rich or ‘lemak’ you want your laksa gravy to be. I tend to watch the waistlines of my friends so I go easy on the artery-clogging santan.

You can add your seasonings now – a bit of salt, a bit of fish sauce or nampla, a bit of oyster sauce and some sugar. Or you can just omit all these and pop in some Maggi chicken stock cubes. Let it simmer for another 30 minutes or so and your gravy is ready. Let it sit for another 30 minutes before you serve the laksa.

To assemble the laksa, place the mee hoon in a bowl. Add prawns, chicken meat, coriander and egg strips. Bring laksa gravy to a boil and ladle hot laksa gravy on top of mee hoon. Before you tuck in, squeeze some lime juice over. Stir in a generous dollop of Sarawak sambal belacan. Mix well and bon appetit!

Note: Sarawak laksa doesn’t look appetizing – in fact, it looks rather muddy and awful. There’s nothing gorgeous about this ubiquitous Sarawakian breakfast. But if you’ve tasted it once, you’ll never forget it.

Update: More rave reviews of Barrett’s sarawak laksa at this quirky blog which writes ONLY about Sarawak laksa! The link is at http://real-sarawaklaksa.blogspot.com/2006/10/tiangs-cafe-bormill.html

The honourable Wikipedia mention at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laksa

0 thoughts on “A Sarawak-style Christmas

  1. Yay! You updated! Eh you know what, we kinda resemble the characters in the story ‘About A Boy’. Well, we’re probably not that extreme but still… I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie that stars Hugh Grant – the story’s written by Nick Hornby.

    Wah, laksa for Christmas, very ala Malaysian eh? And yes, you got me drooling over the post already..where’s my laksa??

  2. Hey Vern,
    Aren’t you supposed to be at camp? Or in KL? Speaking of Nick Hornby, I am almost finishing the book you loaned me. It’s quite hilarious now that the foursome get interviewed about the Matt Damon look-alike angel and then the four take off for a holiday together. Well, I seem to cook laksa for Xmas all the time. Yes, I will make some for you – don’t worry. Like I said, the laksa soup is the ultratedious part. Other than that the rest of the ingredients are quick to whip up.

  3. Hi Maya,
    I’m a client of Nic’s. Thanks so much for the Swak laksa recipe. I just can’t for the life of me, get it right just once until I followed your method a step at a time. I think it was the “tapis” part and the addition of the fish sauce that did the trick. And yes, definitely going to have a Sarawak laksa party this CNY in KL.
    Regards,
    Andrea

  4. Hi Andrea!

    That’s a compliment coming from you, a true blue Sarawakian! 😉 Yeah, try it out. My KL friends enjoyed the laksa very much – they had seconds! I was too tired to eat much after all that cutting, slicing, blanching, filtering, etc. etc….. so that’s why it’s a once a year thing. Don’t forget the sambal belacan too.

  5. Your editorial on Sarawak laksa has certainly opened a floodgate of sorts. I bet all your blogging fans would be demanding one piece of your ‘handicraft’ from now on. That includes me…when is this poor soul going to or her wish would be granted to taste the Sarawak Laksa cooked by a 1/3-Sarawakian, 1/3-Banting and 1/3-Penang girl? Btw, I am off to Butterworth for a couple of days beginning Feb 5? Sarawak laksa perhaps but only with you relishing it beside me… yes?

  6. Hi Kate,
    Haha, sure, everyone wants laksa. Come on over. I can’t promise you laksa…. tiring work lah, that kind of cooking but we can always go out for a nice makan. Will call you! Eh, funny thing is, I have cooked S’wak laksa but never attempted Penang laksa! My aunt is the queen of Penang laksa…. her laksa is out of this world. Maybe that’s why….

  7. By the way, I realise we Malaysians adore our food. Whenever I write about food, Malaysians who read my blog get super-excited and want to compare notes. Next post will make my Kopi O kaki friend very happy – I will blog about our secret find in Taiping – for roti bakar and authentic kopi o…… and fragrant kaya which can be eaten on its own.

  8. Hey, what about the Chinese New Year makan besar? Here in Australia, most of us went to the local Chinatown. But most of it was mainland Chinese food..quite different from Sarawak and Nyonya food. But Happy Chinese New Year anyway.

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