Before a friend gave me laksa Johor I only knew assam and curry laksa. Laksa Johor completely blew my mind. I insisted she teach me how to make it and this recipe is a keeper. It’s now firmly in my family’s meal repertoire.
The broth MUST be made by one person only
I learnt how to make laksa Johor from a friend of mine named Mariam. She's of course from Johor. We used to exchange dishes for buka puasa (break of fast) during Ramadhan. Ah... the art of exchanging dishes for puasa. I wonder if people still do that. I used to have a neighbour from Terengganu and would trade a rendang tok for her nasi dagang. That's how you get to have a great spread for your family for buka.
Now I don't think people do it as much and it is yet another wonderful tradition that’s disappearing. Most people nowadays just go to Pasar Ramadhans or buffets. So anyway back 15 or 20 years ago you can't just go into a restaurant and order a laksa Johor. If you want to eat it, you have to make it yourself.
The reason people usually make it only for special occasions is because it's labour intensive. This is the kind of dish where you call your aunts and cousins and assign them jobs (shred the cucumbers, pluck the fish, peel the onions). And as you peel, pluck, chop, shred you chit chat and catch up on family gossip. Anyone can help out making this laksa, only keep to the most important rule: the broth MUST be made by one person only.
Ingredients for broth:
1 ½ (375ml) oil
800g mackerel/ ikan parang (7-8 fishes)
300g onions (about 5)
50g garlic (about 12)
20g ginger (3 inches)
2 liters fish stock 2 liters
2 stalks lemongrass
4 pieces of assam keping
3 tbs chili boh
4 tbs curry powder
1 tsp rempah ratus (fenugreek, mustard seed, fennel, cumin)
Boil fish in 2 liters of water for 15-20 minutes.
Once boiled, debone it and blend with 500ml of the fish stock.
Blend onions, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, belacan with 300ml water.
Heat up oil, fry blended ingredients until pecah minyak
Add cilli and rempah with some salt, fry until a little crispy (about 5 mins)
Pour in stock first or else it would curdle. Close and let simmer on medium (3-5 mins) until it boils.
Stir in blended fish and assam keping.
Add in santan with ¼ cups more of water and finally kerisik. Stir it around to make sure the kerisik dissolves in the broth.
Lower fire to the lowest simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add salt to taste.
This laksa utilises a lot of leaves and herbs you would get in a Malay garden. When I was a young girl, my grandmother in the midst of cooking something in her kitchen would holler out and I would go out and pluck the leaves and herbs she needs for her cooking. That's how I learned about edible leaves and the fragrant herbs people used to grow in their garden. Once you have the broth simmering away, time to get the rest of the stuff ready.
Stuff that goes in the laksa:
1 packet spaghetti
Daun kesum (Vietnamese mint)
Bunga kantan (Torch Ginger)
Your laksa should be spicy and fragrant with a very robust taste.
Most of your vegetables and herbs should be shredded and traditionally, the Johoreans serve the spaghetti in tight little bundles- a portion a bundle.
Start with the spaghetti and slowly layer it with all the vegetables and herbs.
Then ladle in a generous amount of broth and eat it with sambal belacan. Just before eating it, squeeze some lime over it so it cuts through the richness of this laksa.
The jeruk asin or as they call it chaipo is optional. However for me the sambal belacan must be hot. I heard that some Johor families actually eat it with hot fried chicken and because the broth is thick it's usually eaten with hands.
As it takes a long time to make, it's also a dish for you to linger at the table and savour it. It's very rich so the amount above can easily feed 8 people or more.