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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Grace Place Sarawak Laksa

First off, I want to say thank you to all our readers, who have been bearing with us while we get settled in to our new home in Kuching. Even though Annie has been cooking most nights of the week, there haven’t been too many House of Annie recipe posts lately. Most of our posts have been about goingout someplace to eat.

The main reason for this is, the big shipping crate carrying all our stuff (including kitchen appliances, all our normal herbs and spices, and the home computer with all our archived food pics on it) from San Jose hasn’t arrived yet. On top of that, the one tiny fluorescent lamp in our wet kitchen (where most of the cooking is done) has gone out, so it’s nearly impossible for me to get good pics of whatever Annie is prepping for dinner.

I never intended for this blog to be a restaurant review site. Most of you readers probably couldn’t fly here to Kuching to eat at the places we’re eating out at. That being said, I do want to tell you about a place we’ve found that serves some good Sarawak laksa.

Grace Place Sarawak Laksa

grace place sarawak laksa stutong kuching

What is Laksa?

According to Wikipedia, laksa is a spicy, soup noodle dish, originating from the merging of Chinese and Malay cultures (also known as Peranakan or Nyonya) which is found primarily in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Okay now, show of hands: How many of you know have tasted laksa? All right, now how many of you have tasted Sarawak laksa? That’s what I thought, very few.

Like me, most people are familiar with the curry laksa, a coconut-and-curry-based dish found in Singapore or KL. There’s also assam laksa, that sweet-spicy-sourish, fish-based dish found in Penang (I am absolutely in love with assam laksa from Penang!). But I didn’t know about Sarawak laksa until one day on maybe my second trip to Malaysia, when Annie’s cousin in KL took us to a stall in Bangsar that was known for its Sarawak laksa.

At first, I didn’t know if I’d like it. The broth was thin and brownish. There were a few prawns in it, plus shreds of chicken and strips of egg omelette. There was coconut in it, but no sharp curry flavor like curry laksa. Instead it was a mysterious but harmonious blend of spices, punctuated by a generous helping of fresh coriander. After first tasting it, and then finishing the entire bowl, I knew it was something I could enjoy again and again.

Looking for Laksa

When we first arrived in Kuching, we tried some Sarawak laksa from a stall near the hotel. It wasn’t very good – heavy on the white pepper, which covered up the nuances of flavor. Disappointing, but not daunting.

Later on, we moved into a house rented from a friend. We were cleaning up the place one day, when the friend brought over some lunch (what did I tell you about Kuching hospitality?). It was Sarawak laksa (of course, being already in Sarawak, they just call it laksa here).

This laksa was awfully good. I finished it all in no time, and was left longing for more. Our friend said that the laksa was made by a relative who owned a laksa stall. She gave us the location so we knew where to find the place.

Grace Place Sarawak Laksa Stall

grace place grace place sarawak laksa stutong kuching

One thing I have to note here. In Kuching, everybody eats early. This is especially true if you want to eat Sarawak laksa. The best laksa stalls are sold out by midmorning; after 10 am, you may either get the dregs, or you may get nothing.

So we were very fortunate when we recently showed up at 10:30 at the laksa stall, to find Aunty Rose still tending there. But as you can see, there wasn’t much soup left in her pot! She was literally scraping bottom to fill our order.

Grace Place Sarawak Laksa

grace place sarawak laksa stutong kuching

Aunty Rose put a lot of effort into making a quality laksa. Every day, she would wake up at 4:30am to heat up her soup. By 6:30, she would be at the stall, selling her laksa. She’ll finish at around 2 pm, then head home to start prepping the ingredients for the next day. By 8 pm, she’d be done prepping and off to rest before the next day comes and the cycle begins again.

I don’t think I could survive that kind of life. But Aunty Rose does it with calm grace, and a smile.

Aunty Rose’s Laksa

aunty rose sarawak laksa

Her laksa is thoroughly enjoyable from the first bite to the last slurp. Mix in a little homemade sambal belacan, add a squirt of kalamansi lime juice, and dig in. The thin rice vermicelli noodles still have a little crunch to them. The shredded chicken is flavorful in its own right. The bean sprouts, normally an afterthought, have their tips meticulously picked (another sign of the care she puts into her food).

And the broth? Oh the broth! Rich, savory, coconutty, with a pleasant chilli heat to it, it is slurp-alicious! This is not a broth to be left alone once you’re done eating the noodles. This is a broth that is good to the last drop. Next thing you know, it’s all gone.

You push back from your bowl with a sigh, face slightly sweaty, nose lightly runny, lips and throat tingly. You’re satisfied for now, but you know you want to come back for more.

Grace Place Sarawak Laksa

grace place sarawak laksa stutong kuching

Unfortunately, you can’t have any more. You see, as of the end of September, Aunty Rose has retired from her stall. (Notice the “Stall for Rent” banner in the pic below.) I literally got the very last bowl of Aunty Rose’s laksa!

grace place cafe stutong

I asked Aunty Rose what she is going to do in her retirement. She laughs. “I’m going to clean my house!” Too many years of dedication to the stall, and to her laksa, left her with little time to do anything else.

I say she deserves her break. Of course, it would be a shame to just let her recipe be lost, wouldn’t it? So we asked her if she would share it.

That’s right. We got her laksa recipe!

And we’re going to share it. Because you see, our shipping crate has arrived in Kuching and will be delivered shortly. We have a contractor who is coming to replace and upgrade the lighting in the kitchen. Soon, we’ll be posting recipes (including laksa!) once more.

Life is good!

Aloha, Nate

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18 Comments:

Jenster said...

How awful to find a place you love only to find that it's closing. Thank goodness you got the recipe. Your description of Aunty rose's laksa sounds so good I can imagine myself draining the broth and trying not lick the bottom of the bowl!

I don't mind your restaurant reviews at all. They're a nice complement to your recipe postings.

gaga said...

I can't wait for you to share the recipe. I absolutely adore laksa and have yet to make it myself. I'm definitely looking forward to it!

Borneoboy said...

Hi Nate. This was also one of my favourite places for laksa. It is sad that Aunty Rose has decided to retire. Entrusted with her recipe, maybe you could take over the mantle ? ; )

Tuty said...

Nate,
My family loves laksa too! Can't wait for the authentic Sarawak Laksa recipe...

Marta said...

I'm drooling and can hardly wait. I'm looking forward to trying the recipe and recapture memories of our week in Kuching.

Kong-Kay said...

did you get aunty's contact number? probably can ask her to cook up a batch for a laksa party. i used to get "laksa lim" (old tiger garden, opposite star cineplex) to cook the broth with sliced chicken and all bowls and utensils provided.

Dorach said...

Yummy, I'm now craving for a good bowl of laksa. Other good laksa places include Chong Choon Cafe on Abell Road, Mdm Tang's at Jalan Petanak and Choon Hui Cafe at Ban Hock Road (near Grand Continental Hotel). All personal preference, of course :)

Single Guy Ben said...

I love reading people's eating adventures because we can live vicariously through your stomach! Plus, we get to learn about things like different kinds of laksa. Too bad Aunt Rose retired, but you're the star for getting the recipe. I can't wait to see the post and try it myself. Asian noodles are the bomb! (If it turns out, maybe you guys might start a stall. ;-)

Linda@eatshow&tell said...

I love the look at that Laksa. I've been to KL a couple of times, but never had the opportunity to order Sarawak Laksa. i've had the Assam Laksa in Penany once, but wasn't a fan of it, I think Sarawak will be more to my liking. Hopefully you'll be able to post the recipe =D

billy@ATFT said...

i am still yet to try Sarawak Laksa. Everytime I asked my friend to take me and try Sarawak Laksa, she just said is not that good since I am used to penang and curry laksa. Hmm must try it one day.

Jay-P. said...

It looks great, although myself I'm a deeply convinced fan of Penang Assam Laksa. On the other hand it also looked quite expensive compared with the average Penang one. Do they use more costly ingredients in the Sarawak version?
JP

Ellen Zachos said...

I'm ready to be introduced to the spicy, savory goodness of Sarawak Laksa. Your description is so vivid, I can almost taste it. I'll try to wait patiently for the recipe, but could you please hurry? :)

Liz said...

I haven't tasted Laksa but it definitely looks yummy.

Nate-n-Annie said...

@all - thanks for your comments!

@Jenster - heheh, I couldn't bring myself to lick the bowl...but if it were at home, I just might ;-)

@gaga - stay tuned!

@BorneoBoy - no way! the working hours would kill me!

@Marta - we'll be glad to help!

@Kong-Kay - we know how to contact her. Need to find out where to get the noodles. Laksa party sounds like a great idea!

@Dorach - thanks for the suggestions! Only problem is getting out early enough to enjoy them before they run out!

@Single Guy Ben - a laksa joint could do well in Berkeley, don'tcha think?

@Linda - I adore Penang Assam Laksa.

@billy - you just have to understand that Sarawak laksa is not curry or assam laksa. And just enjoy it for what it is.

@Jay-P - I would think the assam laksa is more expensive, if they use a lot of fish and prawns.

@Ellen - sure thing!

@Liz - hope you get to try some, sometime.

William said...

There are lots of good laksa stalls in Kuching. Laksa Sarawak is the dish that Sarawakians miss the most when away from home.

Carolyn Jung said...

This would have totally hit the spot today. You would not believe the weather in your former home city. It was storming something fierce today. The first big storm of the season. Definitely time for some spicy nourishment like laksa.

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

Can't wait for the recipe!

nasifriet said...

Hi, I stumbled upon your blog looking for the Malaysian Honeycomb cake. I'm glad you posted the recipe. I've baked the cake a few times already and my older son called it "space cake"....yes, THAT addictive!

And now this one....the irresistible Sarawak Laksa!! I grew up in Kuching and now live in Belgium. I got really excited when you said that you will be posting Aunty Rose's secret laksa recipe. I'd love to make my own laksa paste so I can indulge in this super delicious piquant broth anytime.

Looking forward to your post on the recipe :-)

Cheers!!