I’d fly to Rome just to know what pasta is “supposed to” taste like. Limited by such trivial constraints such as time and money, I’ve not been able to do it. Yet. I have, however gotten the opportunity to fly to Kuching, Sarawak to know what Sarawak laksa is “supposed to” taste like.
It is said that there is one coffee shop in KL that’s “authentic”. Good, yes. But what lies beyond the South China Sea in the “forgotten Malaysia”? It’s a curiosity I had to satisfy. I’ve been told tales by native Sarawakians, but I couldn’t take their word for it. I couldn’t accept their judgement in the assumption that their assessment might be tainted by their sense of state-patriotism. And so I flew to the land of the hornbill, that I may taste the truth.
A combination of recommendations, research, coincidence and convenience led me to a small-town-style coffee shop called Chong Choon along Abell Road in Kuching. I’d made it in time to enjoy their laksa , as it has been known to be completely sold out by 11am daily.
The first and most important test is the smell test. If you can smell (and be enticed by) the twin temptresses of sour tamarind and lemongrass, take it as an invitation to give in to the seduction.
What gives Sarawak laksa its appeal is the balance of flavors and textures from lean shredded chicken, omelette strips, and shrimp, brought together by a rich, coconutty, and predominantly sour soup base. What gives the Sarawak laksa at Chong Choon its appeal is the correct balance. Enough fresh juicy shrimp to accentuate the soup base, enough shredded chicken for density and bite, enough omelette strips for that unique eggy appeal, just enough bean sprouts for crunch, enough potency and aroma from the soup base for overall flavor and “that fuzzy feeling”, and not too much mee hoon that it would dilute the flavors of the rest of the laksa . Certainly a mark above what we’re offered in KL, as far as Sarawak laksa goes.
There’s this feeling, like a cold emptiness that I feel. I think it’s love. I had found the truth, and I had fallen in love with it. I don’t want just any bowl of Sarawak laksa . I want a bowl of Sarawak laksa from Chong Choon, and I want it so badly.
I miss you. I guess I’ll just handle this feeling the way I’ve always handled it – by eating.
Oh, the irony.