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Jan 25, 2014 09:51 PM

Looking for Laksa? Go West, Young Woman

I'm going to try to get this down quickly. I fell in love w/ Laksa maybe 25 yrs ago at Seattle's Wild Ginger and then at San Francisco's Betel Nut. I guess it's my fav Asian noodle soup, alongside Japanese nabiyakiudon. But I have never researched it, so I'm sure the CH Asian aficionados are way more informed than I about all its permutations. Anyway, iirc, it's pretty much a Malay and Thai coconut milk base with noodles, various sliced proteins and veggies and sprouts, herbs and fresh lime. "Good fer all what ails ya."
After spending quite a few hours searching through CH and Yelp, we bit the bullet today and drove awhile to get some in Newton Ctr at #1 Noodle House(NONH), and Wagamama in Harv Sq -where they call it Chicken Itame. (I didn't even check the Penang menu because I had such a negative experience w/ their food last year.)

Please please please NEVER go to NONH. They just must be the all time winners of the "nicest restnt people w/ the worst food" medal. Yikes. Seafood , noodles, and other proteins cooked carefully and well (go figure), but the stock, oooh the stock. Yes, the plain base, "chicken stock", is the color of dishwater and has less than zero flavor. Added to it is coconut milk like Hawkeye uses Vermouth in his martini- just wafted over the glass. And we all know the stock is at least 50% of the deal with noodle soups. ( Also tried 2 stuffed -wonton soups; o.k. wontons, same stock, same blech, both w/ and w/o hot pepper.) Down the drain all that goes. we'll put the other leftover components in our own laksa I guess......

Wagamama's Chicken Itame is not brilliant but it does give you an idea of what laksa can be, and we enjoyed and finished it all. (Expect protein to be scarce for the mid teens $.)And the woman who took my phone order was very friendly, helpful, and efficient.

Hopefully we'll have good laksa in Boston some day, but it appears to not be now. If and when it shows up, plse post about it!


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  1. I had the roast duck laksa at NONH recently and it was warming but very bland. The duck was good, though.

    1 Reply
    1. re: trufflehound

      Saw a recipe for Laksa Lemak on Serious Eats today, out of the Lonely Planet's The World's Best Spicy Foods.
      I've had good luck with their recipes:

    2. We also find NONH underwhelming. I'll be eagerly waiting for great laksa to come to Boston. In the meantime, we make this recipe at least once a month and its wonderful:

      1 Reply
      1. re: marketpeach

        peach, meant to thank you for that link. the recipe looks terrific and i hope to make it soon. Don't know if you ever shop at TrJ but they have a really delicious thai soup that i eat alot- Tom Yam. Obviously it is not laksa, but since you and I both love laksa, i thought you might enjoy this when you didn't feel like cooking:

      2. Oh, laksa. I fell in love with it when I lived in Sydney; I probably had it once a week all those years. I've tried NONH; I've tried Penang; I've been nothing but disappointed. Even more upsetting is that a friend who is a professional chef with a lot of southeast-Asian experience has tried and failed to adequately replicate it for me, even based on recipes I know to be reliable, because she herself has never had it and so doesn't know what she's aiming for... and I lack the food vocabulary to say anything more helpful than, '...almost? But not quite?' I might have to give Wagamama's itame a try out of desperation, even though I generally avoid that place like the plague.

        I did try it at a smallish Malaysian restaurant in NYC, in an arcade in Chinatown. It was miles better than anything I've found around here, but it was still fairly ordinary. We just don't have Malaysian food around here, and I have a deep distrust of laksa from Thai restaurants because I've been burnt too many times by relabeled tom kha gai; the flavour profiles are very different. Malaysian laksa is more curry-heavy and much less sweet than Thai coconut soups, and that's what I like.

        2 Replies
        1. re: TimTamGirl

          well, if you ever have the good fortune to get to San Fran, do try the laksa at Betelnut, and in Seattle, at Wild Ginger. Yummm. Of course, since you've had the real thing in malaysia itself, ymmv.

          1. re: TimTamGirl

            Which kind of Laksa?

            The recipe in "Thai Street Food" is very good; the recipes in the various Periplus books ("Food of Singapore", "Malaysian Hawker Favorites" "Food of Malaysia") are also good.


          2. A also tried the NONH laska twice after a good Chowhound review, the seafood was cooked well and in good portions and the flavour good. I didn't check the stock separately however, good idea!


            1. I have to agree about NONH. I'm a Newton resident, and about once every six months or so, I convince myself that maybe my last experience there was atypical. So I give it another try, and am invariably disappointed. The power of wishful thinking. Very nice people, but the food is very mediocre.

              3 Replies
              1. re: jodydavis

                jody, wouldn't it be funny (not) if NONH had almost no return customers but if Newton still had enough households that NONH has survived all these years on all those one-time customers?!

                1. re: opinionatedchef

                  I sometimes wonder if this might be the explanation. Or maybe it's the same combination of wishful thinking and poor memory.

                  The thing is, I would so love to have a decent soup noodle option in Newton Centre (ramen would be my dream), that I let hope triumph over experience.

                  1. re: jodydavis

                    yes, i bet we've all had experience with that! Lurking in the CH archives,there must be a thread called Places I Finally Gave Up On.