The Laksa Diaries II: the search for the best Sarawak Laksa in Kuching
“Breakfast of the Gods…” – Anthony Bourdain on Sarawak Laksa
Laksa is one of the most popular dishes in Malaysian street food culture. You will find many versions across the country’s 13 states, each with their own different influences and subtleties. The sequel to The Penang Laksa Diaries brings us to Borneo and the serene city of Kuching – capital of Malaysia’s Hornbill state, Sarawak. Our quest: to hunt down the best bowl of Sarawak Laksa in Kuching.
Early breakfast culture is big thing here. Walk into any Kuching coffee shop (kopitiam) at 7am and chances are it will already be in full swing, heaving with locals of all races slurping on their noodles before they head to work. The early riser movement here is only natural – I couldn’t help but notice how early the sun rises in East Malaysia compared to the Peninsula, no doubt a side effect of having a single nationwide time-zone.
So what makes a bowl of Sarawak Laksa? There’s the rice vermicelli noodles, fresh prawns & poached chicken of course. Other popular garnishes include shredded omelette, beansprouts and micro-coriander. Most stalls allow some degree of customisation – not just bowl size, but the addition of jumbo prawns, scallops and razor clams even!
But the magic as with all Laksas is in the broth – a delectable potion of chicken and shellfish stock, sambal (chilli paste), local Sarawak peppercorns, a touch of coconut milk and a medley of other spices. On the whole, Sarawak Laksas tend to be lighter and less full-on compared to their Peninsula Malaysian cousins found in Malacca and Penang. But the subtler flavours are by no means less delicious. In fact, it’s in large part why it makes such good breakfast eating first thing in the morning. Add a dash of sambal and a squeeze of calamansi juice and it’s happy days.
In curating this shortlist, we polled every Sarawakian friend in sight to get the low down on their favourite coffee shops and street stalls. 4 days of solid eating and over a dozen bowls of Laksa later, it gives me great pleasure to share with you my hitlist of the best Sarawak Laksa in Kuching,
Mui Xin @ Lau Ya Keng (Brunch/Lunch 10 am – 3pm, closed Fridays)
A former outdoor theatre back in the old days, Carpenter Street’s Lau Ya Keng is now a buzzing food court showcasing a whole host of Sarawak’s most iconic street food – chief amongst them Mui Xin’s Laksa, one of my favourite bowl’s in town.
The broth here is slightly lighter in flavour than other stalls – a harmonious balance of sambal, Sarawak peppercorns, coconut milk & tartness. Their basic RM 7 bowl comes loaded with fresh shrimp and chicken. However, you can customise your toppings here to your heart’s content. Feel free to ask for fishballs, larger prawns, extra chicken, baby scallops or razor clams… all available at a supplement. The corn-fed chicken we had here was particularly worth a mention – some of the most succulent and juicy we came across.
Don’t forget to order a side plate of Pork Satay from the lady grilling by the entrance. Smoky, tender and chargrilled to absolute perfection, it’s a cross between a juicy piece of char siu (BBQ Roast Pork) and Ba Kwa (BBQ Chinese Jerky) on a skewer. Delicious stuff!
Poh Lam’s Laksa @ Chong Choon Café (Breakfast 7am – 12pm, closed Tuesdays)
Out of all of Kuching’s kopitiams, Chong Choon’s bright, airy and spacious setup was my favourite. It’s the sort of coffee shop I can imagine myself growing old in… newspaper, big bowl of Laksa and my daily cup of iced coffee in hand.
The crowds turn up here every morning for Poh Lam’s Sarawak Laksa. Beautifully spiced, not overly creamy with a good kick of peppercorns and acidity, the broth here was superb and easily one of the best we sampled on the trip. At RM7 for a large bowl, it is fantastic value too with a generous amount of noodles, prawns & chicken for the price.
Laksa is of course the main draw here, but lookout for the Kolo Mee and Kaya toast stalls – both worth a visit in their own right.
Choon Hui Café (Breakfast/Brunch 7am – 1pm, closed Mondays)
This bustling café off Jalan Ban Hock is a favourite breakfast spot of a certain Anthony Bourdain. The sensei loves his Laksa, and the Laksa here at Choon Hui packs a proper punch, bursting to the brim with local peppercorns & spices.
There’s a choice of 3 sizes here – S/M/L for RM6/8/10 respectively. The large offering comes with 4 king prawns, poached chicken, shredded omelette and a generous helping of noodles and beansprouts. A great choice if you like your Laksas more full-on.
It was rammed with locals and visitors alike when we dropped by for breakfast which meant we had to wait over 20 minutes for our Laksa. There’s decent Kolo Mee, Popiah and other dishes to keep you company while waiting for your laksa though!
Mom’s Laksa Kopitiam (Breakfast/Lunch 7.15am – 4pm, closed Sat/Sun)
As we roamed around Kuching on our search for Laksa, we couldn’t help but notice 3 or 4 outlets of the Mom’s Laksa franchise round town and decided to pay one of their kopitiam outlets a visit.
The Malay-style broth here is thicker & creamier than most of the other Chinese run hawker stalls we tried… the pepper scale dialled down whilst the curried spices and coconut milk amped up.
All in all, very tasty stuff and a large, fully loaded bowl with prawns and chicken galore is well worth the RM8 price tag. It’s no surprise the franchise continues to grow!
Golden Arch Garden Café & Restaurant (Breakfast 5am – 1pm daily)
“Golden Arch… the Big Prawn one” said a local friend when asked about his favourite Sarawak Laksa. Armed with this intel, we set off for Kuching’s Hua Joo Park neighbourhood, about a 15 minute drive from the town centre in search of the infamous “Big Prawn Laksa”.
Located inside the covered atrium of Golden Arch Shopping Centre, this Laksa stall is part of the Garden Café & Restaurant (not to be confused with the neighbouring and similarly named Golden Arch Café).
In the name of research (and pure greed), we couldn’t resist ordering their ‘Super Special’ option – loaded with 2 Jumbo prawns so big they were practically the size of my palm! The broth here was delicious – well seasoned, full of prawn flavour and beautifully balanced between pepper, spice & creaminess. The bad news? A pair of those XXXL prawns will set you back RM20 a bowl!
Unless you are specifically after more prawn than noodles in your Laksa, I would suggest opting for their more modest RM6.50 ‘Special’ which comes with two very decent medium-sized prawns – much better bang for buck!
Enjoy the Laksa Lovin’!