Laksa Lemak

In honor of Chinese New Year, here’s a recipe for a very popular dish among what are known as “Straits Chinese,” those ethnic Chinese who live in Singapore, peninsular Malaysia, and the parts of Indonesia around there.  They are often called peranakan, which means something along the lines of “children” or “descendents” (from anak, or child), and have adopted many indigenous Malay/Indonesian cultural practices.  This includes cooking ingredients–although cooking techniques remain Chinese.  So anyway, here’s a recipe for “greasy noodle soup.”  It’s really quite amazing.  Omit the shrimp if you can’t eat them…we do.

(Forgive the weird formatting.  Typepad at our weekend email place is weird.)

Chili Emulsion

  • 5 chilies
  • 1 tsp. ground chili pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. palm sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. oil
  • water
  • 1 tsp. shrimp paste (optional)


  • four cups rich chicken broth
  • 1 cup thick unsweetened coconut milk
  • 10 candlenuts
  • 10 shallots, peeled
  • 1 tsp. whole coriander seeds, toasted
  • 2 inches fresh turmeric, peeled
  • 1 Tbsp chopped galangal, peeled
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, inner part only, chopped
  • 2 tsp. shrimp paste
  • 5 chilies (optional–you’ll get enough heat from the chili oil)


  • two chicken legs and thighs, boiled and shredded
  • 10 large shrimp, steamed
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled and julienned
  • 1 cup bean sprouts, briefly dipped in boiling water
  • 1 package cellophane noodles, cooked and drained
  • 8 hard-boiled quail eggs (or 2 regular ones, sliced)

First, make the chili oil. Mash all the ingredients except water together in a mortar and pestle or a blender.  Make sure they get nice and smooth.  Heat a wok over medium heat and add the spice paste.  Fry, stirring frequently, until fragrant.  Begin to add water, a teaspoon at a time, stirring constantly, to create an emulsion.  Remove to a plate and let cool.

To cook the soup, make a paste of all the ingredients from the candlenuts down.  Add a couple of teaspoons of water if necessary.  Place three Tbsp. vegetable oil in a wok, and heat until shimmery.  Add the paste and fry, stirring often, until very fragrant and beginning to turn brown.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Next add the coconut milk, and heat through till hot (but not boiling).

To serve, arrange in a bowl a pile of noodles, topped with beansprouts, chicken, shrimp, cucumbers, eggs, and chili oil.  Ladle the soup over the ingredients and serve.