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An illustrated guide to laksa by Malaysian state.
The general assumption amongst Malaysians is that there are only two kinds of laksa: Curry Laksa - the curry and coconut version - and the tamarind Penang Asam Laksa. Laksa consists of rice noodles, served with proteins such as chicken, fish, or prawn in a spicy prawn-base soup. As with all forms of laksa, it’s impossible to trace it back to one original recipe. It has evolved over time, with similar variations found in Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore as well. However, the one common denominator is that all laksa is seafood-based, prawn or fish, with all signs pointing to a humble coastal staple recipe.
There are a few theories to the origin of the word, ‘laksa’:
1. Derived from the Urdu/Persian word ‘lakshah’ (referring to a type of vermicelli), which in turn could have originated from the Sanskrit word ‘lakshas’, meaning "one hundred thousand".
2. Derived from the Chinese phrase ‘la sha’ (辣沙), which directly translates to "spicy sand" due to the sandy or gritty texture of the soup from ground dried prawns.
3. Derived from a similar-sounding Hokkien phrase ‘la sam’, meaning dirty due to the dish's appearance.
Now that we’ve got the base out of the way, shall we delve into the stock of what makes each laksa differ from state to state?
Research by Chris Lim
Illustrations by Belinda Lim
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