Those who know me know of my deep, abiding adulation of laksa. Not the tart, watery version from Penang but the rich, creamy and spicy lemak laska which the Peranakans have made famous.
I am genetically structured with an embedded Kryptonite. I cannot pass by a laksa stall without weakening dramatically and requiring resuscitation by the signature dish. Always on the hunt for the best laksa, I have a few firm favourites but every new laksa stall still sends out a siren song to me.
Today, I spied a new laksa stall in one of the many hawker stalls near my house. Run by three women, the lightbox signages advertised a mix of laksa, carrot cakes and Hokkien noodles. But I only had eyes for one. My entire being was captured in the death grip of the laksa food porn.
I had to try it.
The two older stall helpers were very pleasant and, surprisingly, spoke English … always a boon. I thought it was a rather quaint role reversal that the cook was a young lady instead of the two older ladies. Chastising myself for making generalisations, I gave the young cook the benefit of the doubt and ordered a portion to take away.
My careful scrutiny of hawkers as they perform their magic over their seasoned woks has been known to unsettle a few. This neophyte cook, however, was ill at ease even before I cast my beady eyes at her. Her hesitant movements, staccato pauses to calculate and ponder portions and look of complete confusion did not inspire confidence. Worse, her parsimonious rationing was incredibly insulting.
The woman had the temerity to check me out. She must have concluded that I was on some kind of diet because, when she thought I was not watching, she actually withdrew ingredients from my portion! I caught her out and politely but pointedly reiterated that I wanted extra cockles and beansprouts. They charged me an extra 50 cents for that. I would not have minded if they had given me the normal portion in the first place!
Fuming, I watched as she gingerly ladled an anaemic looking coconut milk broth into a plastic bag. By now I knew that the laksa would be deplorable. It was obvious from the colour and consistency of the broth. I resigned myself to a sorry dinner.
As expected, the laksa was a let-down. The scant broth was creamy enough but lack the requisite spices for a proper laksa. I could tell they had been ridiculously stingy with the dried shrimps, candlenuts and other spices that give laksa its wonderful flavour and texture. The only saving grace was the prawns she’d bunged into the laksa. They were really fresh and succulent and I wished she had given me more than two pieces.
She also used a lot of deep fried beancurds to disguise the fact that the laksa had hardly any fishcakes, cockles or prawns in it at all. Which was a good thing and a bad thing. The fishcakes were limp, over-processed factory offsprings that I hastily cast aside after the first two bite. The cockles were overcooked and incredibly tiny. To cover up the insipid broth, she’d used a lot of laksa leaves to gull me into thinking I was eating laksa instead of an inept pretender. Even for a small eater like me, the portion was minuscule for the price. It was all terribly disappointing.
Other women search for Mr Right and it is often said that you have to kiss a few frogs to find him. Like them, I’m always on the quest to find the Right Laksa but I’d rather eat frogs* than that pathetic excuse for laksa again.
* Actually I rather like frogs legs and have been known to eat them so all you French people can relax
Categories – Rambling Prose