Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A very laksa weekend - part 1


Was away for the weekend. Went photo-hunting. I invited the usual group of outdoor friends and rented a lodge that sleeps 10. It was a really nice and fun outing as always but this time, made extra special because the chef was me! :) I treated them to my authentic, home-cooked Sarawak Laksa, seafood fried rice and mani-chai (sweet leaf) bihun.

So here’s my weekend story…


It’s not often I cook Sarawak Laksa for a big group of friends. The last time I did so was for my West Malaysian friends, and that was so many years ago. 2005? 2007? It’s a rare occasion because to me, making a good, big pot of laksa is just too much work! ;)

The night before our trip, I didn’t get any sleep at all. I was up literally from sunrise to sunrise. I tried to get some rest around 730AM but couldn’t really sleep so I decided to just pack everything into the car and started on my way to our destination, Kubah National Park around 9AM.

Got there and tried to check in but was told they didn’t have my reservation on record, the booking office in Kuching had failed to communicate/emailed them my reservation. Not the first time this has happened and we’ve been to Kubah so many times now, really did not expect it to keep happening! What if some other group had booked the unit we wanted and checked in before us? Luckily the unit I booked was free so I checked in without any further issues.

Anyway, even though dinner was hours away, I started preparing almost immediately. Sarawak Laksa cannot be cooked in just an hour or two, it takes time! Lots to do since dinner was on me that night. If you’d like to know how to cook delicious laksa, just follow these steps.

First thing to do was get the prawns ready.

De-shelling two kilos of prawns was so much fun! NOT! Nearly nodded off to sleep at the table; really felt like a zombie due to lack of sleep (actually no sleep at all!) the night before.

After de-shelling, I set the shells aside to be used later. Oh, be sure to thoroughly wash the prawns before de-shelling! Wouldn’t want any of your friends to eat a piece of fishing net, wood splinters or anything nasty!

I placed about 800 grams of laksa paste with 2 litres of water in a large pot, threw in a chicken breast and added all of the prawn shells set aside earlier. I let the whole mixture boil over medium fire for a couple of hours.

Next, I sieved the mixture a few times. Then finally, when I had a nice big pot of wonderfully spicy and fragrant laksa stock, I added salt, pepper etc. (you can add other stuff too, really up to the individual to experiment!) and coconut milk (santan) and brought the mixture to boil one last time.

This is the part I hated the most haha, de-veining the prawns! Yeehhhkk! I spent an entire hour just sitting there peeling and de-veining prawns. The spicy smell from the boiling laksa mixture filled up the entire chalet and wafted outside. I heard some hikers walking outside say, “wow, smells nice!!” hahaha I should have opened a stall and sold laksa that day, huh?

Half a kilo of small squids to be used for making my seafood fried rice. They’re such a * to clean. And the smell, whoa!! Fortunately, I had plenty of help from three friends who cleaned and sliced them up. That’s right, THREE friends helped clean just half a kilo of squid. Thanks guys!

Friends started to arrive late in the afternoon, so as I sat down shredding the thoroughly cooked piece of chicken breast (which had soaked up the laksa and prawn flavours nicely), some joined me and helped shred the remaining meat.

Many thanks to my three kitchen helpers! They quickly volunteered to help in the kitchen after they arrived; I didn’t have to do any more chopping, cleaning, slicing. They helped to do all that (peeled onions, garlic and even helped fry the flat egg omelettes for the laksa) and all I had to do from then on was cook! Without their help, I don’t think I would have been able to cook everything in time since I was so tired due to lack of sleep.

I also had taugeh (bean sprouts) set aside to be blanched and added to the laksa come serving time. Egg omelettes must be fried thinly then sliced. One may also add tahu-pok or dry, fried tofu.

After the laksa bit was done, I then cooked up a vegetarian meal for our vegetarian friend. First dish, vegetarian fried bihun with mani chai (sweet leaf or cangkuk manis) and mixed veges.

By mixed veges, I mean the frozen packed mix veges one can easily get in any supermarket. The mani chai was of course, fresh from my garden, plucked in the morning. I just fried everything in a big wok and then added the bihun (rice vermicelli) and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Voila. The finished product, ready for the hungry hiker.

Here’s a useful tip, if you didn’t already know... To get bihun with nice texture, first make sure you’re using high quality bihun, not those cheap RM1 a pack stuff. Then, do NOT boil the bihun, rather, bring water to boil in large pot or wok, add in the bihun and shut fire. Stire for a minute or so, making sure the bihun is completely soaked and turns soft. Drain and quickly add cool water, stir, drain and repeat. This ensures the bihun doesn’t turn lumpy before you’re ready to fry.

I also made vegetarian laksa for my friend. It really needed a few grains of sugar to make it taste nicer but I seldom cook with sugar and therefore, didn’t bring any.

Most of my friends had gone hiking but some stayed behind to help. Many were already very hungry come dinner time. So I served up this first bowl to the first tester. Everyone waited for him to give his verdict after he took his first bite. It was thumbs up!! In fact, he said it was the very best spicy Sarawak Laksa he’s ever had! Woohoo!

Friends helping themselves to the laksa. I really didn’t expect it to be this popular but when I cooked Sarawak laksa for a different group of friends a few years ago, they too loved it. I was, of course quite pleased. The laksa was so laku (best selling) that it was gone before I could have a decent bite myself! xD

Next up, my seafood fried rice with a wok-ful of ingredients. I used about 500 grams of carrots, peas and corn kernel (just buy them frozen!), more than a kilo of prawns, thinly sliced sweet cabbage, half a kilo of squid, two chicken eggs and lots of garlic and onions. 

I used fragrant white rice which I had cooked earlier in the day, nice fluffy and white. For frying, do not cook rice with too much water so that the grains are cooked but stay nice and firm and not too soft.

The ingredients nearly filled up the entire wok and a friend remarked “how are you going to get the rice in there?”. No worries, as you fry, the ingredients are bound to shrink a bit as they lose water.

I did not take any photos of the finished dish, sorry. There was much to go around and plenty left over. Got the thumbs up from everyone too.

And since no one could eat anything anymore, I didn’t proceed with the next dish, my mani chai bihun. That, I set aside to be fried for breakfast in the morning.

After eating, we rested for a bit then got ready for a night walk. Some wanted to look for amphibians, others reptiles. I just wanted to get some night air and exercise my leg muscles.

Here, one of my friends is zapping a snake with a bright laser to make it unconscious. It’s a lot easier to pick up a snake when it’s KOed. Haha, just kidding. The bright beam of light is from his LED torch (or flash light if you prefer) :P

Very poor picture of the juvenile Wagler’s Pit Viper we saw. I didn’t bring an SLR, nearly all of the photos above (except the first one), I took with my SE X10 Mini Pro and Samsung Tab 10.1.

It started pouring as we were taking photos of the snake. Friends continued their search while I chose to head back and get some MUCH NEEDED SLEEP! By then, I had been awake for nearly 36 hours, maybe more! I got back to the lodge, bathed and went to sleep.

It wasn’t a very comfortable sleep cause I was bitten by sandflies and I suspect, bed bugs as well, though I didn’t find any blood stains or bugs on my bed. It poured loudly outside and was quite chilly, the fan in the room didn’t work but I didn’t need it.

Seriously though, Kubah park management needs to do something about the increasingly decrepit conditions of their lodges. The shower didn’t work, the toilet flush handle was broken, the smaller toilet stank like shit (broken sewage pipe?) and the wooden sofa in the sitting room suddenly broke while friends were sitting on it (apparently not the first time cause when I reported it in the morning, I was told they had fixed it before!).

Thankfully the sofa didn’t take anyone’s ankles out but just imagine what an ugly scene it would have been had anyone had their feet under…

Heard my friends getting in in the middle of the night, turns out they had been out photo-hunting till about 1AM in the morning! Krraazzy!

To be continued in part two…


vinesandspines said...

ohhhh technique! especially for cooking the bihun! terima kasih!

vinesandspines said...

36 hours. last time i stayed up that late i saw fireworks when i closed my eyes.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

How wonderful laksa KL my kids and relatives really look for a shot "of home laksa" every now and then...Your photos are so edible!!

Thanks...I wish I could be in your group of photo hunters!! None I can likely join in Miri...a pity...

sarawaklens said...

@vines, ya I was a walking talking eating cooking zombie! You could try making your own Sarawak laksa base, there's a "secret-no-more" recipe out there on the net...

@sarawakiana, Sarawak laksa the best! one of our national/state treasures haha. BTW I know a group you could join in Miri, they often go to Lambir.

vinesandspines said...

ok i think its time i get serious about using the mani-chai in my yard and perhaps putting it in a place where it will grow even more. i was trying to stunt it's growth so it wouldnt turn into a monster. it is a tasty leaf.

sarawaklens said...

@vines, sweet leaf is easy to plant, you do need a few bushes if you want enough for a dish.

vinesandspines said...

or maybe i should just give a call to the person who gave me my cuttings. i'm sure she wont mind me trimming that giant hedge of it she has growing. i'd probably be doing her a favor.

sarawaklens said...

Chris, don't let it grow into a big bush, the old leaves are tough and chewy. We only take young leaves/stems. That's why you need to trim it often.

Anonymous said...

one look i know the laksa is very tasty - i usually judge a laksa by the color of the soup. if its blackish/brownish,its going to be quite salty. probably you have to sell your bowl of laksa for at least RM6 in order not to rugi...hehehe
Ah Ngao

sarawaklens said...

@Ahngao, RM6 donno ada orang mau boh... haha

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Can you let me know the contact? thanks

sarawaklens said...

@Sarawakiana, check out
You could also organize walks with your own friends! Have fun!

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