Laksa Lemak

Laksa Lemak literally translates to Creamy Laksa. This gorgeously aromatic bowl of noodles in a curry sauce is also known as Siam Laksa, possibly owing to it’s origins which are believed to be Thai.

Laksa is a soupy, usually curry-based rice noodle dish found in many different variations throughout Malaysia and Singapore. There isn’t really one ‘authentic’ version as it varies from state to state.

In Penang, there are two distinct versions of laksa – Assam (Tamarind) Laksa and Lemak Laksa. In both versions, potentially unique only to Penang, they are fish-based.

A bowl of thick rice noodles is topped with sliced cucumber, pineapple, onions, lettuce, mint and chillies. Also usually added to this, is a very fragrant, but impossible to find in the UK, finely chopped torch ginger flower.

Lemak in this version of Laksa refers to the creamy coconut milk base of this soup, which is generously poured over the bowl of noodles and veg. This is then topped with (my absolute favourite) watered down hae ko (fish paste) which is probably horrendously smelly to the western nose but is absolutely amazingly tasty.

Mackerel usually makes up the bulk of protein in this dish, cooked in water that is then used as stock, then deboned, flaked and then mixed in to the big vat of boiling soup. In my typical cheat, I simply use canned tuna.

It is one of the yummiest things ever… definitely try it out if you’re ever in Penang. It is quite difficult to find this at regular hawker stalls in Penang. Swee Kong coffee shop on Burmah Road (opposite the Police station) has a stall that usually sells from lunch time onwards. The trip round the island is worth making simply for our favourite Kim Laksa in Balik Pulau.

Laksa Lemak (Siam Laksa)

A wonderfully aromatic bowl of noodles in a delicious fish-based sauce
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Course: Main Course, Snack, Soup
Cuisine: Hawker, Nyonya
Keyword: fish, laksa, soup
Servings: 6
Author: Li-ling Ooi


Spice paste

  • 5 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 12 bulbs shallots, roughly chopped (or 4 white onions)
  • 6 bulbs garlic
  • 2 tbsp Tean's crispy prawn chilli (replace this with 6 pieces of rehydrated dried chilli and 2 tsp belacan)
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, finely chopped (use only the white section)
  • 2 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tbsp tumeric powder
  • 3 tsp belacan

For curry sauce

  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 400 ml (thick) coconut milk (1 can)
  • 4 tbsp salt
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 litre water
  • 4 cans drained tuna, flaked (145 g in spring water)

Noodles and toppings

  • 1 cucumber, julienned
  • 1 small pineapple, julienned
  • 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 handful mint leaves
  • 1 fresh red chilli, sliced
  • 1 pack pre-soaked rice sticks or laksa rice noodles (400g)
  • 6 tbsp 'hae ko' prawn paste (dilute further with hot water)

Optional toppings

  • 1 torch ginger flower, finely chopped
  • 3 small pickled onions
  • 1 handful 'chean hong' polygonum (Vietnamese coriander)


  • Cook rice sticks/noodles according to pack instructions. Drain and set aside.
  • Blend all spice paste ingredients (except oil) until finely ground.
  • In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add blended spice paste and stir fry until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  • Add fish sauce and coconut milk and stir to mix well.
  • Add salt, sugar and water and bring to boil.
  • Carefully pour in tuna. Stir well to break up larger tuna chunks.
  • Simmer for 10 minutes.

To serve

  • Place one serving of rice noodles in to a bowl.
  • Add generous helpings of the toppings as desired.
  • Pour sauce over noodles and add a generous amount of 'hae ko'.
  • Serve immediately.


If you prefer to use fresh fish, mackerel is the fish of choice for this dish.
  1. Boil 4-5 mackerel in 1 l of water.
  2. Debone and flake the mackerel and set aside to add in to the cooked sauce.
  3. Use the fish stock in place of water.