Anyone who’s ever tried (and failed) to get a midday table at Malay Chinese Takeaway on Hunter Street during the week, or queued at an inner-city food court for their fix, will know that Sydney is obsessed with laksa.
“I came here 30 years ago and even back then people were going crazy about laksa,” chef Sharon Kwan of Petersham's Sharon Kwan Kitchen tells Broadsheet. “Malay Chinese Takeaway and Malaya were the pioneers who brought laksa to Sydney. It’s such a comforting food.”
Zac Robinson, who rates and reviews Sydney’s laksas on his Instagram account Laksa Hunter, agrees. “Laksa is the food of the people. It keeps bellies full and spices them up.”
Robinson eats laksa at least twice a week, making him something of a connoisseur in his circle of friends. “It’s my favourite thing in the world to eat.”
With so many options and styles across Sydney, it’s almost impossible to narrow down the best. So, we’re starting with the inner west, where you’ll find a slew of excellent examples of this spicy noodle soup. We’ve asked the experts, we’ve sampled the soups, we’ve even tried DIY, and the verdict is in. Here are the tastiest laksas in the inner west.
Chicken laksa at Sharon Kwan Kitchen, Petersham – $19.50
“Malaysians serve the best laksa,” says Sharon Kwan. “I’m not just saying that because I’m Malaysian. They know how to balance the richness of the laksa. You’ve got to get the right spiciness, the right saltiness, the right creaminess.”
Kwan, who prides herself on her classic Malaysian food (“no dumbing it down”), cooks her chicken-stock base for 90 minutes before adding a curry paste laced with plenty of lemongrass. She also adds both coconut milk and dairy milk “to make the broth milky without being heavy”.
She’s got the balance down pat. Kwan’s laksa is bright in flavour, thanks in part to a generous handful of curry leaves and well-seasoned curry paste. Fish cakes, bean curd and a mixture of hokkien and vermicelli noodles finish the dish. 726 Parramatta Road, Petersham
Chicken laksa at Ho Jiak, Strathfield – $16
A common greeting in Hokkien Chinese-Malay culture is “Have you eaten?” according to Ho Jiak Haymarket’s sweets chef, Sharon. “The typical response is ‘ho jiak’, which means you love the food,” she explains.
There’s a lot to love at Ho Jiak’s Strathfield outpost, but the curry laksa is one of the most comforting dishes. “In Kuala Lumpur, a bowl of laksa has 100 variations,” says owner Junda Khoo. But at Ho Jiak, the nyonya curry laksa (served with your choice of protein) is the only one on the menu.
Ho Jiak’s laksa is for chilli lovers – it’s far spicier than most – but that’s a good excuse to order a creamy kopi susu (coffee served with condensed and evaporated milk) to take the edge off the heat. Shop 33, Strathfield Plaza, 11 The Boulevarde, Strathfield
Curry chicken laksa at Albee’s Kitchen, Campsie – $14
Albee’s Kitchen has been a Campsie institution for 15 years, but owner Albee Thu has been making laksa for much longer than that. She cut her teeth at a Kuala Lumpur hawker stall, making KL (curry) and Penang (assam) laksas from scratch.
Both styles are labour intensive. At the restaurant, the spices are all hand-roasted and ground into the powder and paste that make the curry laksa.
Although the curry laksa at Albee’s is delicious, come back on the weekend for the less common Sarawak-style laksa from Thu’s hometown in Malaysian Borneo. Based on sambal belacan (a fermented shrimp chilli paste), the broth is tart with tamarind and contains just a splash of coconut milk. 279 Beamish Street, Campsie
Chicken laksa at Malaysia Small Chilli Restaurant, Lilyfield – $14.90
Followers of this unassuming Lilyfield eatery will remember it from its Orange Grove Hotel days.
“They do my favourite laksa in the whole of Sydney,” Robinson says. “They’ve got a steady following of Malaysians.”
The laksa selection is diverse, with 12 variations on the menu. Some – such as the chicken, bean curd, mixed seafood and vegetarian versions – are familiar. Others are creative, containing wontons and greens, barbeque pork, or the Rolls Royce of laksas – there’s one topped with a quarter roast duck and king prawns for $24.90. 491 Balmain Road, Lilyfield
Bean curd laksa at Laksaboi, Marrickville – $25 (serves two, delivery only)
Laksaboi founder Ben Johansson learned to make laksa from his dad. The Johanssons aren’t Malaysian – they just love laksa. “Compared to the city, in the inner west there aren’t that many places to get laksa, and that’s a big part of why I started Laksaboi,” he says.
Laksaboi is a meal kit delivered by Johansson to homes in the inner west and inner south. The kit (for two, four or six people) comes with noodles, a jar of homemade curry paste, cans of coconut milk, noodles, bean sprouts, fried chilli and a handful of fresh tofu puffs. The instructions are approachable and give a lot of thought to the workflow of putting together the meal.
With pad-thai-style noodles and tamarind and fish sauce to balance flavours, Johansson’s laksa isn’t super-traditional, but it is delicious and makes homemade laksa more accessible to cooks who are attempting it at home for the first time. Just be sure to heed the instructions not to boil the soup or it will reduce to a tasty, but extremely thick, gravy. Online only