An authentic Peranakan dish from L’ailOlive
At what point does ‘fusion food’ become, well, ‘food’? We’d not call our version of spaghetti bolognese a fusion of British and Italian (though the Italians are unlikely to lay claim to it at all), yet we call our doctored tikka masala an ‘Indian’. The Peranakan cuisine is often described as a fusion of Chinese and Singaporean, Malaysian or Indonesian—yet it dates back centuries, to the Chinese immigrants that arrived in the Malay Archipelago during the 15th to 17th centuries, and has become a distinctive cuisine in its own right.
The laksa noodles found at L’ailOlive is one such Peranakan dish, and its origins are complex. “There are two basic types of laksa: curry and asam (tamarind),” explains owner Salina. “Both consist of rice noodles or vermicelli with chicken, prawns or fish. Curry laksa is served as a spicy soup, with a rich, spicy coconut milk base, while asam is a sour fish soup. But from these two basic types, there are numerous versions of laksa across the region, ranging from mild Chinese-style curries, to spicy Penang laksa.”
As is often the case with such dishes, each locality lays claim to the ‘original’ or ‘best’ version: in L’ailOlive’s humble opinion, they’ve got it nailed with their recreation of a traditional laksa curry recipe from Katong, central Singapore. The main ingredients are typically bean curd (tofu), fish cakes, shrimps and cockles, served with a spoonful of sambal (a chilli paste), garnished with coriander or laksa leaf (also known as daun kesum in Malay) and wedges of hard boiled free-range eggs—theirs is an adaptation of such, recreated from a recipe passed down by Salina’s great-great-grandmother: “An original Peranakan.”
“We use yellow egg noodles and vermicelli noodles rather than thick, white laksa noodles, as they are more akin to the curry found in that particular region.” The sauce is made from scratch every day, using raw lemongrass, fresh chillies, pandan leaves, ground dried shrimps, and fresh coconut milk. “Our ingredients are all authentic, and sourced without compromise,” says Salina. “Fresh coconut milk is superior to the tinned coconut milk you find in today’s supermarket: it’s creamier and gives the soup a colour of flaming sunset, without making it cloudy, and because it’s not processed there is no loss of flavour—it is the taste of a true curry laksa.”
Topped with plump, juicy king prawns, homemade fishcakes, chicken, freshly boiled eggs and crispy shallots, it’s a taste and texture sensation. “We are obsessed with flavour and only serve what we would eat ourselves,” says Salina. “And our uncompromising pursuit of excellence has earned us two stars in this year’s Great Taste Awards”—enough to make any great-great-grandmother proud.