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Sep 22, 2010 08:50 AM

laksa or mee siam?

Can someone tell me the difference between laksa and singapore style mee siam? I remember eating delicious and brothy mee siam at a Singapore-Malaysian restaurant in SF, but the recipes I see for laksa look very similar.

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  1. Laksa is usually rice noodles with coconut gravy and has prawns, fishcake, dried shrimp, etc. Mee Siam is with a sweet sour spicy gravy, no coconut and usually has some hardboiled egg, green onions, tofu, etc. The Malay mee siam is drier than the Singapore style, which tends to have more gravy IMO.

    10 Replies
    1. re: boogiebaby

      hmmm, I'm sure the mee siam I had was the Malay style with gravy - it was almost soup. It definitely had coconut in the broth, but maybe it wasn't 'authentic'? It had shrimp and hard boiled eggs - but I see those in recipes for laksa, too. It sure was delicious.

      1. re: acecil

        There may be different versions I guess. I've never had mee siam with coconut gravy -- it's normally a tamarind based gravy with is what makes it sour. I suppose some places may add some coconut milk to it for richness, but not nearly as much as laksa.

        1. re: acecil

          Your suspicion's probably right, acecil - the Mee Siam you had wasn't authentic.

          Mee Siam's distinct taste comes from a very assertive sourness, from the addition of tamarind juice (derived from mixing tamarind pulp with water, then sifted), the taucheo (salted brown beanpaste often used in Chinese cooking) and a rempah (spice mix) blend of chillis, shallots & garlic.
          The resultant soup stock should be brownish-red in color, and relatively "clear". This is poured over blanched thin rice vermicelli (bee hoon), and garnished with taupok (dried bean puffs), hard-boiled eggs, beansprouts, chives, and shrimps.
          Mee Siam is more common in Singapore than Malaysia. It's consumed most frequently during breakfast, but is available through out the day.

          Laksa in Malaysia/Singapore has different variants, which can be very different from each other. But I'm guessing the one you're referring to is the Curry Laksa variety - the sort we get in Singapore.
          As boogiebaby mentioned, the key difference at a glance would be the use of coconut milk in the laksa soup, which lends it a milky appearance. The rempah spice mix for laksa is more complex - it also uses chillis, shallots & garlic, to which we also add ginger, candlenuts (buah keras) for a thicker/richer texture, toasted belachan (fermented shrimp paste) for a sharp stab of piquancy, lemongrass and dried shrimps (for their distinctive aroma). Turmeric (either freshly minced, or in powdered form) is also added, and this lends the milky, coconutty gravy a yellowish tinge.

          The gravy is poured over thick white rice noodles (you can also choose other types of rice noodles, but the distinctive laksa noodle has about the same thickness as spaghetti), and served with prawns, taupok, cockles, beansprouts & finely-chopped fresh daun kesom (holy basil).
          The curry laksa is usually a lunch dish in Singapore & Malaysia, though it's also available throughout the day, but not usually for breakfast.

          P.S. - I'm from Singapore. I'd made 12 trips to SF in the past 3 years, spent 30% of my time there. Sadly, I'd not found any authentic Singaporean/Malaysian eateries in the Bay Area. Maybe if you ever come out to Singapore, give me a heads-up - I'll gladly show you the good Mee Siam and Curry Laksa spots here.

          1. re: klyeoh

            Thanks for that very clear explanation - it sounds like the dish I had was a cross between the two dishes, something like a mee siam with laksa broth. I recently found a laksa paste in a local asian store, and with the help of some online searching, used it to make laksa at home - that's when I got confused, because it tasted so much like the 'mee siam' I had eaten at this restaurant in the past.

            And thanks especially for the invitation!!! I'm actually am hoping to make a trip to Singapore in the next year or so and would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to have you show me some of your favorite spots!

            1. re: klyeoh

              klyeoh - what are some of your favorite spots for mee siam in Singapore?

              1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa stall at Hong Lim - they also do a mean Mee Siam besides their Laksa. Proviso: Hadn't been back there for a while ever since I re-located to KL early this year.

                1. re: klyeoh

                  Yep, I tried their mee siam for the first time last week and thought it was quite good. Any other recommendations?

                  1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                    Warong M Nasir is another good option - it's in Killiney Road, Mee Siam usually appears as a daily special. Theirs is spicier & sweeter than Sungei Rd's Chinese version.

                    Royal Cafe in Katong is also good. Thicker gravy than the former two.

                    1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                      Hi HK Foodie:
                      Re Mee Siam: beside Sungei Rd Trishaw, I also go to these two places for mee siam:
                      -for convenient purpose, I will go to the basement of Forumn Shopping Mall at Orchard Rd. There is a small shop called Subway; they do a decent mee siam;
                      -There is another shop called Hooked on Heads in Sin Ming Rd near Thomson Road. This is actually much further away from town and I won't recommend anybody to go there just for mee siam. I usually go there for its Curry Fish Head but they also serve very good mee siam as well. You can google and check its menu on its website.

              2. re: acecil

                oops, I meant to say it was closer to Singapore style because it had lots of broth

            2. My dear, there's no way you can mistake laksa for mee siam. Just look for the photos on the Web and you can see the difference! It's like me saying, oh dear, I can't tell the difference between spaghetti bolognaise and fettucine carbonara! That would have been absolutely absurd, wouldn't it?

              Laksa (you mean the curry variety, right?) has a thick creamy soup, with a red-yellow tinge from the chillis and kunyit spices used. Mee Siam has a consomme consistency, and is reddish, sometimes darker because soyabean paste is used to flavour the soup, and tamarind-flavoured water is added.

              NO tamarind goes into curry laksa. Tamarind goes into Penang Laksa, which has flaked fish & served with shredded cucumber, torch ginger, raw onions, shredded pineapple and a drizzle of black, thick prawn paste - I don't think you referred to Penang laksa here.

              I've always been very suspicious of so-called "Malaysian" or "Singaporean" restaurants serving pseudo-bastardized versions of our treasured culinary dishes to hapless Americans who might be conned into thinking they are tasting the "real thing". Shame on those "Malaysian"/"Singaporean" restaurateurs! A laksa should be distinctively a laksa, and a mee siam should be immediately recognizable as a mee siam!

              5 Replies
              1. re: M_Gomez

                **My dear, there's no way you can mistake laksa for mee siam... That would have been absolutely absurd, wouldn't it?**

                hmmmm... unless perhaps I now live in an area where no one I know would recognize food from Singapore or Malaysia if it fell on their head - and the only time I've eaten a dish called mee siam, it's really not. I really love the flavors of SE Asian foods, and since I haven't had the opportunity to actually go to Singapore, I'm trying to explore and learn as well as I can. No need for snarkiness or condescension here is there?

                1. re: acecil

                  In acecil's defense, SE Asian food here in the US isn't readily available. I live in the Los Angeles area, and it's difficult to find decent Malay/S'porean food here. It's easier for us just to make it at home. That's why whenever I come to S'pore or M'sia, I want to eat out for all my meals -- my family there doesn't understand why until they come to LA and see what's available to us. We have great mexican, thai, korean, etc food but Malaysian/Indonesian food is not widely known.

                  It's like a couple years back, my cousins took me to a mexican restaurant in Holland Village (forgot the name). the margaritas were decent, but the nachos were a disgrace. They put sliced american cheese on top of stale tortilla chips, heated them up and topped them with chopped jalapenos (fresh, not pickled), lots of fresh tomatoes, onion and cilantro. I explained to my cousins that these weren't "real" nachos. Same thing happened at an italian restaurant I went to. I ordered spaghetti bolognese and I got spaghetti with a thin watery tomato sauce with pieces of italian sausage in it. When I asked if this was my order, the server said yes, their bolognese is made with sausage. A) that's not a bolognese sauce then and b) they should have put on the menu that it was made with sausage and not ground meat like a real bolognese.

                  That being said, we do have 1 decent restaurant about 40 miles away that serves a curry laksa that hits the spot when you're having a craving. It's not 100% authentic, but it's close enough. Now it I could find a place that makes S'pore/M'sia style wantan mee out here, I'd be set!

                  1. re: acecil

                    I'm so sorry for the misunderstanding, acecil - my strong feelings & comments were actually directed at the restaurateurs, the so-called "SIngaporeans"/"Malaysians" who adulterated our lovely cuisine to hawk to unknowing Americans like yourself. These people are doing a disservice by confusing people who want to know about our food.

                    1. re: M_Gomez

                      I felt the same way, too. I frequent Chris Yeo's "Straits" restaurant in Westfield SF Centre during my frequent business trips to SF. Chris is Singaporean, but practically ALL the dishes have been localised, and they even used Thai green curry paste to cook "Sayur Lodeh"!! Imagine that! But it's the closest we get to Singaporean food in downtown San Francisco.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        Indonesia at 678 Post in SF does decent SE Asian food - but it is in the tenderloins (!) & the service could be slooooow. I agree none of the Singaporean place on the peninsula stay true to the label - most are Asian fusion anyway.

                2. A key difference between laksa and mee siam (besides their gravies) would be the type of noodles used: laksa's thick noodles vs mee siam's thin rice noodles. I had both today, and thought I'd share with you some photos:
                  Photo 1: Thin Mee Siam noodle
                  Photo 2: Thick Laksa noodle
                  Photo 3: the 2 types of noodles side by side

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: klyeoh

                    mmmm, thanks for the great pictures... but now I'm really hungry again!!