THEY left Sarawak to seek their fortunes in far-off lands. Most have found success and happiness in far-flung Australia, Britain, Canada, or the United States. All are united, though, by the love for Sarawak laksa.
In frigid Calgary, Canada, Jesse Cheah says he “wanted to share the joys of laksa” with members of the Malaysian Singaporean Bruneian Community Association (MSBCA), of which he is a committee member.
“We ordered about 50 packets (600g each) of the laksa paste from Barrett’s to be shipped to our club ? I wanted to help make our clubhouse a unique place for people to meet, eat and socialise.
“As a kid growing up in Miri, Sarawak, I always looked forward to Saturday mornings because Papa and Mama would take me to have laksa for breakfast at the kopi tiam next to the Chartered Bank. This laksa was the best in town, according to Papa. Maybe that’s because Papa always got more prawns!”
He’s now ordered another batch and is planning to have a few laksa sessions during the winter months.
“Imagine having a bowl of steaming hot laksa, then walking outside into -40°C weather – no winter jackets required! I think the local Canadians may get a bit jealous but we’ll keep this our MSBCA secret for now.”
Joey Francis, who grew up in Kuching but now lives in the United States, rues the fact that laksa is “about as rare as the dodo bird in California and Oregon,” where he now lives.
“I’ve only found it once in a small Malaysian restaurant called Yazmin in San Gabriel, in southern California. They called it laksa, it looked like Sarawak laksa and the flavour was close to it. I think it cost US$7 (RM26) a bowl – I’d gladly pay US$15 (RM55) for a bowl of the real thing here, that’s how much I miss it!
“I returned to Kuching in 1994 for my honeymoon and introduced my KL wife to her first Sarawak laksa. She was hooked after her first bowl. Of course, we bought as many packets of laksa paste as we could fit in our luggage.
“On our return to Oregon, we used our supply sparingly. We’d cook laksa on Sundays for lunch during the cold, wet winter. A steaming bowl of laksa was the ultimate comfort food.
“Two of my friends from Kuching live close to me in Oregon and when we get together for dinner, out comes the laksa. It was a sad day when we used up our last packet.”
Parvez Taher, son of a Bangladeshi diplomat who grew up in Kuching and who now lives in London, claims he “must be one of the biggest fans of Sarawak laksa in the world and a great ambassador for it”. “Unfortunately, we can get Singapore, Penang and curry laksa – or that is what they call them here – but nothing near Sarawak laksa!
“My mum used to cook it for us and my wife has also learnt how to do it but it can never be like the one in Kuching. But, as the saying goes, ‘beggars can’t be choosers’, so whatever paste I get, I am happy. My brothers, Javed (in London) and Tareq (Toronto), are also great fans.
In Brisbane, Australia, Chen Theng Ming complains “we can’t get it here – there’s only Penang laksa, cooked by a Taiwanese at that!
“I’d gladly pay A$20 (RM54) a bowl for the real thing if only it were available. I don’t have any Kuching friends here so no get-togethers for laksa either – so sad!”
Janet Leong, ex-Kuching resident now living Dunedin, New Zealand, is luckier because she can get the authentic Sarawak laksa paste.
“Here, they sell Cap Burung Layang Layang at NZ$9 (RM20) for 300g. It’s expensive and, of course, I have to cook it myself. But it’s still great!
“We actually do have some Malaysian owned Chinese restaurants in Christchurch that serve laksa and they are quite good.”
For “expatriate” Sarawakians in Kuala Lumpur, laksa is no longer as difficult to find as it was as recently as five years ago.
Alexis Bistro (owned by Sarawakian Angela Leong along with several other eateries) in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, can claim to be the first to offer the dish, in 1995, albeit at a premium price of around RM13-RM17 a bowl. The dish is now available throughout the Klang Valley.
For the uninitiated who would like to find out where the good laksa places are, first find a Sarawakian and ask him or her. We gravitate almost automatically towards them?.