It has been a real long while since I last had laksam. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder"... there's so much truth in that saying when it comes to many aspects in life, but probably just not so much with food. It wasn't until I came across Gertrude's from My Kitchen Snippets on her post on the Malaysian Food Fest (MFF) Kelantan Month that had once again stirred all the memories of everything Kelantan-related food in me after all this while.
Browsing and reading through her post, it felt like a walk down the memory lane - of all the family gatherings my dad's side of the family had had in Kelantan back in my younger years and particularly of the many years dad spent working in the state up North along the Peninsular East Coast, away from home.
A sweet moment of reminiscence that sure is...
My appreciation (with some curiosity) for the diverse cuisines in Malaysia is one precious value I take after my dad. We share the same enjoyment trying different cuisines whether or not they are the familiar to us, checking out new places, exploring different cities like the locals, strolling at one local bazaar after another and especially getting spoilt for choice when it comes to food. It was during those trips of ours to Kelantan that I was briefly introduced to Kelantan culinary delights. And the rest of the story - they simply unfold and develop themselves there onward.
Of the extensive list within Gertrude's introduction post that reveals some the most famous dishes in Kelantan with good details, my attention kept getting diverted back to one single dish among them - the laksam. Oh, how I've missed it! Made famous in the East Coast particularly in (but certainly not limited to) Kelantan and Terengganu, it is a local favorite for many, even for a Kuantan folk like me.
The difference between the laksam of both states? Not much really... they closely resemble one another especially in term of appearance. The only difference (but maybe not so notable after all) is probably how the Kelantan laksam tends to be a little sweeter in taste whilst the Terengganu version - a little more savory in general.
I have not an exact recollection as to when and where I had first tried the laksam, but it has always been one of the few dishes in my "lookout" list especially during the Ramadhan months with food bazaars springing to life everywhere. Having not had it for so so long, that post was all needed to first get me so intrigued, and then all motivated to check the laksam out a little more. That, plus some extra readings especially on its making and I'm all decided - this is it! I shall give it a try making my own at home!
Scouting out for a laksam recipe was not too difficult a task - thanks to its popularity! This is a recipe I adapted from Ita at Masam Manis in her post on Laksam which in turn has originated from Yani at Myresipi.com. My only setback in this laksam making - I did not manage to get hold of any asam gelugor (dried tamarind slices). So where it should be present, I substituted them with the tamarind juice instead (a suggestion brought forth by Chef Wan in his post on Tuna Curry featured on Asian Food Channel). It did concern me a little wondering if the lack of asam gelugor (and especially its natural fruity flavor) will affect the laksam much, but it was proven unwarranted in the end. There's the promised delightful tangy taste in the gravy nonetheless, and it's not at all disappointing. But should you have the asam gelugor readily available in your pantry, by all means please do use them...
Breaking the laksam down to its components, we have the laksam gravy, the noodle, the ulam (a mixture of fresh herbs and salad eaten raw) and the sambal. A brief look at it - it is generally a serving of rolled up flat rice noodles drenched in a rich and relatively thick white gravy, topped with a variety of ulam and finished with a huge dollop of sambal (and a squeeze of lime!).
|ikan kembung (Indian mackerel)|
The rich and relatively thick white gravy - it is the centerpiece to a serving of laksam, pretty much defining the quality of the laksam in general. Made primarily with fish - first steamed, deboned and then pulsed into a paste, the gravy with a natural sweetness coming from the fish is then made creamy by adding in the coconut milk. Some of the choices of fish include the ikan kembung (Indian mackerel), ikan selar (yellowtail scad), ikan selayang or ikan tamban (both translated as sardine on the MalaysianFood.net in its glossary page). With some minimal spices adding in some aroma and tanginess to the gravy, its taste (and appearance) is accentuated and made even more unique with the use of black pepper powder and especially so when it is freshly and coarsely ground.
The laksam noodle is made with a mixture of rice flour and wheat flour. Slightly thicker than the usual flat rice noodle (kuey teow), making the laksam noodle has always been more like a homemade affair - they are almost never seen or sold readily made and packed in the market unlike all the other easily available types of noodle. From a smooth batter, a small amount is spread in a thin layer and steamed to set. As it cools, it is rolled up neatly and cut to bite sized right before serving. Soft with a tad of springiness, they should neither be too thin or too thick in texture.
The ulam made up of different types of vegetables and herbs makes a great source of fiber that completes the laksam in terms of its nutritional value. It is also the garnishing that does the rest - it adds color, complements the aroma and enhances the taste. Some commonly used greens that make great candidates for this ulam include the bean sprouts, cucumber, long beans, daun kesum (Vietnamese coriander) and bunga kantan (torch ginger bud). Served raw (some julienned, some thinly sliced, others serves as it is), the ulam adds a contrasting flavor and texture with an extra crunch to a serving of laksam.
And for the finishing touch - the sambal! Made with fresh red chilies and some birds eye chilies for an extra kick, it comes with a hint of piquancy from the shrimp paste (belacan) added in. A plate of laksam now completely transformed visually with the vibrant red of sambal - with a grandiose squeeze of the fresh quartered lime to wrap things up... the laksam's all done!
Now... to the recipe!