Laksa is a generic name for a variety of spicy noodle soup dishes commonly eaten in Malaysia, with variants on the dish, such as khanom jeen in Thailand, eaten in wide range of other countries. There are a number of theories in respect of the origins of Laksa. On theory is that the name relates to the Sanskrit word lakh meaning ‘one hundred thousand’, another theory is that the dish has Chinese origins and the name laksa is derived from the Cantonese word lat sa meaning ‘spicy sand’. The dish laksa is closely associated with the Peranakan communities living in towns and villages along the straits of Malacca which have a mixed ancestry with women of the Malay peninsula marrying sailors and merchants from China in centuries past.
Laksa comes in many varieties which broadly fall into two categories: curry laksa and asam laksa. Curry laksa is the most commonly eaten type of laksa in Malaysia and if you ask for laksa in a restaurant or a street stall then more than likely you be served a curry laksa. Curry laksa is made with noodles accompanied by a coconut milk soup flavoured with Indian curry spices. Curry laksa features few vegetables, sometimes bean sprouts and occasionally mushrooms, and normally contains fish, prawn or chicken and is often served with a hard boiled egg and some spicy sambal paste on top. Asam laksa has a hot and sour flavour and the sauce is made with fish. Asam laksa is often topped off with a sweet shrimp paste. Coconut milk is absent from asam laksa, which instead features tamarind paste which gives the dish its sour taste. The most famous type of asam laksa is the variant which originates from Penang island where lemongrass and chilli are added giving the laksa a taste which is reminiscent of the hot and sour flavours of Thai cuisine.