Singapore Laksa Recipe – How to Make a Spicy Coconut Curry Noodle Soup
This Singapore laksa recipe is the rich coconut milk-laced version of this Southeast Asian classic noodle soup dish. A great laksa is not made starting from a jar of paste, a great laksa starts with curry paste made from scratch in a mortar and pestle – like my version below.
I’ve been making this Singapore laksa recipe since we first started slurping the spicy coconut curry noodle soup back home in Australia in Sydney’s Chinatown in the 1980s. It served as an early after-work dinner before our evening uni classes and slurping a Singapore laksa became a Saturday morning ritual before shopping Paddy’s markets.
Before we get to my Singapore laksa recipe, let’s start with a little Laksa 101 course. Before the culinary anthropologists start wagging their fingers, a 101 is an introduction to a subject, I know it’s a lot more complicated, but this a recipe post.
Singapore Laksa Recipe – How to Make the Famously Spicy Coconut Curry Noodle Soup or Curry Mee
There are basically two dominant types of laksa, one with coconut milk and one without. The one with coconut milk mixed into a stock and curry paste broth is common in southern Malaysia and Singapore and is often called curry laksa or curry mee. ‘Mee’ means noodles in various Chinese languages.
The other type is called asam laksa or Penang laksa, Penang being the dish’s spiritual home. The broth of this dish is a fish stock most commonly made from mackerel and sardines, with no coconut milk to sweeten up the presence of tamarind.
There are many variants of these two main types of laksa, mainly geographic, and all are delicious. I can still recall a fantastic Sarawak version we slurped in Kota Kinabalu. Some say Sarawak laksa is a separate category of laksa altogether.
However, when I was growing up in Australia, the most common type of laksa was curry laksa. As a university student, I used to walk through Chinatown after work to get to my classes. While I started off eating at those ‘all you can eat for $5’ Cantonese joints, I soon graduated to a stall that sold ‘Singapore Curry Laksa’.
This is where things get a little complicated. The Singapore curry laksa this stall sold did not have curry powder as one of the ingredients. There were both thin rice noodles and thick yellow noodles in the broth. So by the strict definition that curry laksa includes curry powder, so this was not curry laksa, but a deviation and a delicious one.
Slurping a bowl of spicy coconut curry laksa became a Saturday morning ritual before we went to Paddy’s markets to buy some Asian ingredients and a roast duck for the weekend. I loved the seafood laksa so much I would feel mournful as I took my last spoonful, getting right down to the gritty spices that lingered in the bottom of my bowl.
Lara’s first travel writing assignment was a compact Sydney guide, which I commissioned in my role running a publishing and design department at an Australian publishing company. Naturally we included our favourite little Singapore curry laksa shop. I photographed our favourite fragrant bowl of noodle soup for the guide and asked the woman owner of the shop if I could have her recipe. She just smiled at me and shook her head.
Back in those days, the early 90s, the internet was still a baby, not even yet a dancing baby, and researching recipes required a trip to the library or a book store. I never found a Singapore laksa recipe that tasted the same.
With our move to Abu Dhabi, came cravings for curry laksa and the longer we stayed away the worse they got. Every time we returned to Sydney immediately after checked into a hotel, we’d head straight off to Chinatown for a bowl of Singapore curry laksa and a Cooper’s Pale Ale beer, my favourite. But I still couldn’t find a Singapore laksa recipe to rival that bowl that was packed with so much flavour.
About a year ago I found a Singapore laksa recipe by legendary Sydney chef, Christine Manfield. Scanning the list of ingredients, it sounded very much like the flavour profile of my favourite stall’s spicy coconut-laden curry laksa.
Manfield’s laksa paste alone had a very David Thompson-esque list of 17 ingredients, and the final result was worth the effort. While it wasn’t exactly the flavour I remembered, it was the closest and the most delicious version of curry mee I’ve had outside my favourite Sydney stall and I hate to say it, but that includes Singapore and Kuala Lumpur too.
I’ve since become a little obsessed with replicating that original curry laksa we fell so in love with and getting my Singapore laksa recipe just right. In my recipe manager I have 10 different recipes for curry laksa. I’ve even created an ingredient comparison chart in Microsoft Excel. I’ve gone through a lot of coconut milk in the past year…
Notes on my Singapore Laksa Recipe
While this Singapore laksa recipe is one for prawn laksa, you can easily turn it into a seafood laksa by adding fish balls, some octopus, cockles, etc. Just make sure to time your cooking of the seafood wisely.
When I photographed this yesterday I decided to create a laksa ‘with the lot’ with prawns, chicken and octopus. Lara and I are both fond of chicken laksa and many say the original curry laksa had both chicken and prawns.
My method for making this version is to poach chicken thighs bone-in to make stock, adding some slices of galangal and shallots for added flavour.
While preparing the curry paste, I skim the stock occasionally. After about half an hour, I remove the chicken pieces, strip the meat off, reserve for serving later, and put the bones back in the stock pot. I clarify the stock before ladling it into the curry broth.
With my Singapore laksa recipe, below, you can also add the prawn shells and heads to the stock. It’s worth it as it makes the stock both sweeter and bolder.
When it comes to the noodles, I like to use both rice and yellow wheat noodles together. I find the rice noodles on their own a bit boring and we can get both types here in Siem Reap fresh daily. The yellow wheat noodles used in Christine Manfield’s recipe are called ‘Hokkien noodles’ in Australian supermarkets are and are thick fresh egg noodles.
One important note for the curry paste is to make sure you cook it out. You want it to go much darker, to almost a deep red colour to maximise the flavour. Some recipes, such as Christine Manfield’s, state that you combine the curry paste with the coconut milk and cook together. I prefer the result when you cook the paste out first before combining with the coconut milk.
While you can use store-bought stock and tinned coconut milk, fresh is best for these ingredients. When it comes to store-bought curry laksa pastes, these are to be avoided unless you’re desperate and really don’t have the time.
It’s not just because most store-bought curry laksa paste brands have a couple of undesirable ingredients included and some important ingredients left out. Of the main two brands I see people use in their laksa ‘recipes’ (sorry, a recipe for laksa is not complete without a recipe for the paste) one is too sweet and the other too sour. Your home-made Singapore curry laksa will be just right.
Singapore Laksa Recipe
- Laksa Paste Mix
- 60 g red shallots, finely chopped
- 4 g fresh bird’s eye chillis
- 20 g garlic, sliced finely
- 10 g long dried chillis, deseeded & soaked
- 25 g candlenuts (can be substituted with macadamia nuts)
- 15 g lemongrass, white part, sliced finely
- 10 g galangal, finely chopped
- 10 g fresh turmeric, finely chopped
- Shrimp Paste Mix
- 20 g belachan (shrimp paste), roasted*
- 5 g turmeric powder
- 5 g coriander powder
- Dried Shrimp
- 30 g dried shrimp, soaked until soft
- 500 ml coconut milk
- 750 ml chicken stock
- 60 ml vegetable oil
- 12 tofu puffs (fried)
- 1 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
- 12 large uncooked king prawns, peeled, tails intact, deveined and butterflied
- 1 tbsp lime juice, or to taste
- 100 g fresh thin rice noodles
- 200 g Hokkien noodles
- 100 g bean sprouts, blanched
- Fried shallots
- Bird’s eye chillis, thinly sliced
- Coriander (cilantro)
- Vietnamese mint (laksa leaves)
- Lime wedges
- Using a mortar and pestle, blend the three sets of ingredients; the laksa paste mix, shrimp paste mix and dried shrimp separately. Blend together in a small bowl.
- To make the soup, heat the vegetable oil in a large wok or heavy pan over medium heat. Add ¼ of the final laksa paste (roughly 80 g), lower the heat and stir until fragrant, about 3–4 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk, bring to the boil and then down to a simmer for around 10 minutes to infuse the flavours.
- Add the chicken stock and let simmer for 10 minutes. Check the seasoning and add the fish sauce and lime juice to taste.
- Cook the noodles per instructions.
- Add the noodles evenly between the bowls. Divide most of the bean sprouts evenly between the bowls.
- Add the tofu to the soup. Add prawns and simmer until just cooked through.
- Ladle soup and prawns evenly over the bowls.
- Scatter the rest of the bean sprouts, a little coriander, mint and sliced chilli.