One of the tasks we set ourselves while in Kuching was to try and compare the laksa dishes in Sarawak to the ones we’ve had in Penang.
If there’s one thing sure to get your average Malaysian into an animated discussion it’s ask them where to get the best laksa in town. We did just that, and by lucky coincidence the Chong Choo Cafe was one of the places most often mentioned, and, it’s about two minutes walk from the hotel.
So off we set, up Abell street, our tummies rumbling with lunchtime anticipation, so eager are we to try this wonder dish we’ve decided to get an early lunch and miss the expected crowds, we arrive around noon to the sight of the aunties hard at work hosing the place out, “all finish” they call, “you come tomorrow”.
We resolve to head back on Tuesday morning.
Ok, so we didn’t see the sign above the laksa man’s stall.
We resolve to head back Wednesday morning.
We arrive at 11.30 to find the place again closed and the ladies hosing out.
We resolve to head back again on Thursday morning, this time early enough to miss the bizarre closing times of the Chong Choon cafe.
Thursday arrives, we’re up early, we forgo breakfast at the hotel, this time we are really determined to savor the, now mystical, Sarawak laksa.
We get to the cafe at the inbetween time of 10am, neither lunch or breakfast, to find the place packed, the locals all queuing for a table and eyeing off any customers who dare finish and try and linger over a coffee.
We get a table and after a short wait order, soon we have our much anticipated laksa in front of us.
There seems to be two or three very distinct varieties of laksa in Malaysia, the more famous assam, found mainly in George Town and made without the use of coconut cream, is very pungent with fish stock, mackerel chunks and even pineapple, it comes with a thick noodle and is quite sour.
The Sarawak version seems to have the thin little vermicelli noodle, the base is coconut cream and lots and lots of spices all ground up to create a curry like flavor, all this topped with prawn, beansprouts, some chicken strips and a few little fresh herbs.
First impressions are of curry powder, then coconut cream, sweet and pungent. It’s heavy as well and a squeeze of the little lime that comes with the dish cuts through it a bit, but not enough, it’s still too much at 10am, we’re struggling.
Annie decides to try something else and orders a random dish from one of the little vendors spread around the cafe.
What arrives is a mystery, it seems to have spaghetti, tofu, fried eggs, fried crispy onions and a few other unidentified products all mixed in together on the plate, the proverbial “dogs breakfast “. It’s not too bad though, and tastes way better than it looks.
We poke around with our plates for a while, finish most of Annie’s and sit back to watch the locals go about their day, until somebody starts to eye us off and we slink off, not too sure what all the fuss was about after all.
We decide that we’ve eaten a lot better meals in a lot other places around Kuchi, many almost empty, but at least open.
All photos copyright Ross Duncan