Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lackluster Laksa

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


Blogger Ruth said...

I hate it when you have a craving and then get the worst version possible!! At least you know one stall to avoid though!!!

1:11 am  
Blogger sweet-gut said...

The temerity! --- I've dismissed these laksa-pirates from my address book, and passed their details to McDonald's HR. There's a Mr Sheng's Tea House here (Holborn/London/WC1) which does a mean one, but I guess that's no use.


PS. Hawkers aside, perhaps you can advise on the conquest of the coconut --- how to stop it separating when the lime juice is added?

1:54 am  
Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande said...

I guess you have to cook your own ;-)

5:51 am  
Blogger michelle said...

Oh how sad! I truly hate when this happens - and it happens often enough to me! Too bad that we all can't have our own personal taster to weed out bad places that take our money and give us nothing decent in return!

8:53 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! You tell 'em

11:38 am  
Anonymous paz said...

Ohhhh! That's too bad! Too funny, the woman removing a portion of your food. Not.


12:32 pm  
Blogger sweet-gut said...

But seriously --- the more I think about dyslaksia the more I sympathise. The horror. Especially when it should be special. We're in their hands and they won't deliver --- they know it, and we know it, but too late. Like a bad haircut --- you're in the chair, they've started, you can't reverse; and then you feel their wimsy incompetent hands foobling about. Like I said, the horror. Actually I'm just beginning autolaksification, I mean cutting my own hair with a clipper, for exactly the reason you describe. Wish me luck. (My hairdresser has expressed less regret than I expected.) Anyway I'm grateful. You've reminded me how good laska can be. And given me pause for rage. Thank you. Maybe you have a recipe? Especially for the 'lemak' one which we don't yet have in Scotland?

12:47 pm  
Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

its just the same when i was last in Vietnam for my working stint - so hard to find laksa and whe u find them they somehow lack the oomph....sad eh ?

1:52 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Ruth - Tell me about it! There's another laksa stall just opposite them run by two old women. It's not the best but heaps better than the lackluster one. Thank God!

Donald - Did you know the first time the Singaporean restaurant opened in London, we all rushed down and gleefully ordered the laksa. I spat it out. It was that bad. And I do have a few laksa recipes and but have only really cooked one which I think is the most authentic. I can email that to you.

Dude, re the coconut milk, did you add it in when it is simmering and stir like crazy?

Bea - I tried before but mine is mediocre and to be honest, my three favourite laksa stalls do it so well I am embarrassed to even try to make my own!

Michelle, Brendon & Paz - thanks guys!

Foodcrazee - they have laksa in Vietnam? Actually, thinking about it, they should ... it's got similarities. Which makes it sadder that they can mess it up.

9:48 pm  
Anonymous sha said...

haha am like this sometimes I go search for a decent choc triple cake

many let downs but when things get bad (when am not bothered to whip) I always end up going to the same place knowing its not the one i truly like.

nah i had a decent laksa when I was in Singapore it was in a food stall in the city hmm must find the name
dig travel diary innit haha

am off to germany and bury my a.. in the snow
be back next week
my bag will be laden with wurst, cold meat, smoked bacon hmmmm

5:17 am  

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