Great Malaysian dishes: Kedah – Laksa

To celebrate the oneness of Malaysia also means to fete its delicious diversity. In this series, we take a closer look at the iconic foods of the country's states and territories. 

Click the link for all the stories in this series on Great Malaysian dishes

Illustration: Zulhaimi Baharuddin

In Kedah, they love laksa so much they have it at all times of the day. They even serve laksa for wedding banquets and during festivals like Hari Raya.

Laksa Kedah or laksa Utara (northern laksa) is a dish of rice noodles in a fish-based asam-flavoured gravy, garnished with julienned cucumber and onions, and fragranced with herbs like daun kesum. Its dominant notes are the sourness of the asam and the sweetness of the fish, but there is also a hint of spiciness. Those who like their laksa spicy can simply add on more cut bird’s eye chillies. Otak udang, or prawn paste, is a must-have seasoning to add more flavour and depth.

Laksa Kedah is distinguished by its thin, sourish gravy, and by the use of freshly-made rice noodles, which are softer than the pre-packaged kind. Malay laksa sellers serve the dish with a spoonful of sambal nyiur (coconut sambal).


There are also fishing villages along the coast of Kedah where fresh fish is abundant. The secret of delicious laksa Kedah gravy is in using the freshest fish; popular varieties are mackerel, such as ikan kembung, or ikan selayang or sardines.

Some families still serve their laksa Kedah with finely-sliced ulam such as daun selom, ulam raja and pucuk gajus (young cashew nut leaves).

There are laksa stalls all over the state, operating at all hours. But the most famous is the Laksa Teluk Kechai on Jalan Kuala Kedah in Alor Setar.



The fertile plains of Kedah make it the rice bowl of Malaysia. Rice is the heart-beat of the state and the people have a palate receptive to its gentle nuances. True blue laksa Kedah aficionados will tell you that freshly-made rice noodles have a softer, more porous nature and better absorb the flavours of the gravy.

One of the most famous laksa stalls here is Zakaria Laksa, run by a family who has been making laksa for almost 70 years. They make the rice noodles daily behind their restaurant. A rice dough is made, then placed in a mould called a kebuk, which extrudes long strands of noodles that fall into a vat of boiling water to cook. They are then scooped out with a sieve and left to drain and cool.

More dishes from Kedah

The gulai nangka masak lemak is a rich gravy-type dish made from young jackfruit, fresh turmeric leaves, lemongrass, as well as a paste comprising a mix of onion, ginger, lengkuas, chilli padi, shallots and fresh turmeric.

Gulai Nangka

You will find gulai nangka at any nasi berlauk stall in Kedah, an important producer of jackfruit (nangka). The aromatic, creamy yellow gravy is made with young, unripe jackfruit. The skin is removed and the fruit cut into wedges, seeds and all. Nangka has a substantial, meaty taste and can be a meat substitute.

Traditional sweets: Those who want a taste of traditional desserts could go for the Dodol


Made of coconut milk, palm sugar and rice flour, this is a thick, sweet and sticky cake made in various flavours including durian and pandan. During festivals such as Hari Raya, the making of dodol is a communal effort in the kampungs, as folk take turns to stir the great vats of sticky paste over a low fire, for hours on end.


Kuih Bahulu is a traditional Malaysian mini sponge cake baked in special moulds of various shapes.


Kedahans love this festive baked sponge cake made with eggs and wheat flour. They bake it all year round and enjoy it dunked in kopi o. Called bahulu, kuih baulu or kuih bolu – from the Portuguese “bolo” meaning "cake" – they come in various shapes but bahulu cermai, which resembles the star-shaped cermai fruit, is most popular.

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