From memory, this is possibly the first dish that I have ever learn to cook from my nan. The first amongst her many other wonderful achieves of recipe. She was like a walking recipe encyclopaedia. As a child, she was always curious about everything that she'd ever put into her mouth. Always making a point to queried about the ingredients and the process of how every dishes were prepared. She would begged the chef to reveal their recipes, tested them herself, and then re-invented them to suit her astoundingly acute palate. In my eyes, my nan was simply the best cook in the world!
In Malaysia, this is known as Laksa Lemak but across the causeway bridge, this is possible more famously being refer to as the notorious 'Katong Laksa'. As most Singaporean would know , for the best laksa, it's best to trek all the way to Katong and patron the hawkers there for the best of its kind, ignoring any inferior imitations along the way. This is altogether very different to Penang Laksa. The former uses coconut milk and dried shrimps that gives it the rich and creamy soup base while the latter is sharp and tangy, due to the appearance of tamarind and has an intense fishy stock made with mackerels.
For any of you who is familiar to the PROPER Katong Laksa, your eagle eyes will immediately detect the lack of a certain crucial ingredient that is known as the blood cockles in Singapore or see hum as the local would called it. Well, I will salute you as your spider sense in indeed tingling. Just like in my previous effort of the Char Kway Teow........this exotic shell life is too bloody hard to get hold of (uh..hummm forgive the pun) outside Southeast Asia. Although the news on the street is that there might be a way round it so if you do know where I can get my desperate hands on some see hum, do get in touch.
I did however, managed to secure the all-important daun kesom or laksa leaves/Vietnemese mint. I have stumble upon a pot of this during my recent visit to my favourite Maltby Street Market. Imagine my surprise and without any hesitation, I bought this love plant and into my garden it went. After the recent spell of miserable rainy days, at least one positive thing came out of it....my daun kesom is blossoming into a fine looking plant before my very eyes. The leaves gave the dish a very distinctive peppery and zingy freshness that will complement this noodle dish beautifully, however, if you can't get hold of it, just leave it out and you'll still have yourself a very tasty bowl of warming noodles broth.
Ingredients (Serves 4)
50g ikan bilis (dried anchovies)
4 tbsp sunflower oil
550ml coconut milk
1 tsp sugar
sea salt, to taste
12 taupok / fried tofu puffs, cut into halves
200g dried thick bee hoon, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, drained
12 cooked tiger prawns
2-3 cake of fried fishcakes (those from Chinese supermarket, not your typical English fishcake), sliced
a large handful of bean sprouts, blanched in hot water
2 soft-boiled eggs, cut into halves
a small handful of daun kesom, leaves picked and finely chopped
Sambal belacan, to serve
Fot the rempah/spice paste:
12-15 large dried chillies, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes (depending on how spicy you like it)
50g hae bee / dried shrimps, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
2 stalk lemongrass, cut into rings
1 cm square of belacan/shrimp paste, toasted in a dry pan or oven
10 buah keras/candlenuts or macadamia nuts
2in length of fresh galangal, skinned and chopped
1 large onion, skinned and chopped
4 clove garlic, skinned and crushed
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp ground turmeric
In a pan, cook the ikan bilis/anchovies in the water for 30 minutes to make a stock. Strain and discard the fish.
Pound all the ingredients for the rempah/spice paste into a paste using a mortar and pestle or alternatively in a food processor,
To prepare the gravy, heat the oil over medium heat in pan and then sauté the rempah for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the fish stock and then the coconut milk and gently bring to the boil. Add sugar and season with salt to taste. Leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes and add the taupok/tofu puffs
To serve, tip a small handful of noodles in a large bowl. Top with the prawns, fishcakes,beansprouts, egg and spoon in a cuople of ladlespoonful of soup. Scattered with the chop daun kesom and serve with some Sambal belacan.