Easy Malaysian Laksa Recipe

Easy Malaysian coconut curry laksa with vermicelli noodles, shrimp, chicken, and tofu is a fragrant noodle soup that will transport you to faraway places.

When traveling through Southeast Asia, laksa is the unavoidable food, says food blogger and photographer Ksenia Prints of At the Immigrant's Table. Served everywhere throughout Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, it's a spicy noodle soup that is filled with chilies, coconut milk, seafood, and in many places, chicken and tofu as well. Crowned by CNN as one of the world's tastiest foods, laksa is the perfect marriage of Asian cultures, with Chinese, Siamese, and even Indian influences.

Yet in the Western world, laksa was virtually unknown — until the late Anthony Bourdain offered an ode to it on his cult television show, "Parts Unknown". His laksa was the Malaysian laksa, served with chicken and seafood and spicy sambal sauce on the side. And the Internet — or the popularity of Malaysian food — was never the same after that.

Unlike traditional laksa, which can be a multi-day affair that instructs you to cook chicken broth from scratch and tells you to grind your own paste, our version takes a few shortcuts — namely, using store-bought chili paste and ready-made stock — and is ready in 30 minutes. And on most days, that's perfectly alright with us. So go ahead make our easy Malaysian laksa, and fall in love with this versatile, fragrant, and complex pan-Asian dish.

Gather the ingredients

As a soup that traditionally took days to make and offers a complete meal in a bowl, laksa has a long list of ingredients. But thanks to a few shortcuts and ingredients you can find in most Asian stores, our version is much easier and faster.

A trip to your favorite Asian market will set you back just a few dollars, in return for a package of dry vermicelli rice noodles, a jar of laksa curry paste (you can also use Thai red curry paste if that's all you find), 2 stalks of fresh lemongrass (or 1 tablespoon freeze-dried lemongrass), dried kaffir lime leaves, and fish sauce.

We also suggest that while there, you stock up on some — or all — of the following laksa toppings: tofu puffs (you can sub it for 1 package of tofu that you can pan-fry and slice up), mung bean sprouts, fresh cilantro, fried shallots, and a jar or sambal oelek (Asian chili paste).

The other ingredients you'll need for laksa are ones you'll find in any supermarket, and they include our two proteins — chicken and shrimp — plus chicken broth, scallions, brown sugar, 2 cans of coconut milk, and a few limes.

Gather and prep the ingredients

To make the laksa cooking process as speedy as possible, we recommend you prep all your ingredients in advance.

Firstly, this means dicing your chicken into strips about ¼ inch thick. You must also peel and devein your shrimp. If using a package of tofu, we recommend frying it on both sides in a pan with a touch of salt and pepper, about 4 minutes per side (just until golden).

If using fresh lemongrass, make sure it's diced. Crush your kaffir lime leaves — this releases more of their oil and aroma into the soup.

Finally, cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. Drain them from the hot water, place in a bowl, and set aside.

Prepare the laksa broth

As we're using store-bought chicken broth, the cooking process for our laksa is already shortened considerably (normally, you'd have to begin preparing laksa by cooking chicken with a few aromatics in a big pot of water).

For our easy laksa, in a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, add the oil and sauté the curry paste until aromatic, about 3 minutes.

Add the chicken broth and scrape up all the curry bits, whisking to combine. Add the diced lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and brown sugar, and bring the soup to a boil. Once the laksa is boiling, lower the heat to simmer and continue cooking.

Add chicken and shrimp to soup

To the pot with laksa broth, add the chicken strips and let them cook for 5 minutes. Add the cleaned shrimp and cook for 3 minutes longer.

Add the 2 cans of coconut milk to the soup. Whisk thoroughly and constantly until the coconut milk and the broth mostly combine and blend together (you should end up with a pinkish-red broth with only a few flecks of lemongrass — at first, you'll have a whitish broth with colorful blobs of paste and lemongrass). 

Cook the laksa for a couple of minutes, just until everything is heated through — cooking coconut milk for too long will cause it to lose its sweetness.

Season laksa with fish sauce and lime juice

The final seasoning of our laksa comes from the saltiness and umami of fish sauce and the tanginess of fresh lime juice.

Add 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and lime juice to the stockpot, starting with the juice of 1/2 a lime. Taste and correct seasonings as needed, adding more fish sauce or lime juice as per your preference. 

You may also add salt to your liking, though this is not traditional. Avoid using ground pepper — if you want more heat, you can add sriracha or another Asian hot sauce after serving.

Serve laksa with all the toppings

Traditionally, laksa is served in individually prepped bowls and not family-style, with every person styling their own bowl. But in our adapted version, feel free to do what's easiest for you!

To assemble a bowl of laksa for serving, divide the noodles among the bowls. Ladle the soup atop the noodles, ensuring each person gets some chicken and at least 3 shrimp.

Top the laksa bowls with the tofu puffs or fried tofu, a handful of fresh bean sprouts, fresh cilantro, diced scallions, and fried shallots.

Serve the laksa bowls with a bowl of sambal oelek chili sauce or Thai red chili slices, and lime wedges, allowing each person to customize their perfect balance of sweet and sour.

Easy Malaysian Laksa Recipe
5 from 30 ratings
This recipe for Malaysian laksa might look complicated, but once you get going, it's pretty easy! Why not wow your family this weekend by giving it a try?
Prep Time
15
minutes
Cook Time
20
minutes
Servings
6
servings
three bowls of laksa served
Total time: 35 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 pound chicken breasts
  • 1 pound shrimp
  • 10 tofu puffs or 1 package of tofu, pan-fried, for serving
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, or 1 tablespoon freeze-dried lemongrass
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, crushed
  • 1 (250-gram) package dry vermicelli rice noodles
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 (120-gram) jar Malaysian laksa curry paste, or Thai red curry paste
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • Juice of ½ to 1 lime, plus lime wedges for serving
  • bean sprouts, for serving
  • fresh cilantro, diced, for serving
  • diced scallions, for serving
  • Fried shallots, for serving
  • Sambal oelek (Asian chili paste) or fresh Thai chili slices, for serving
Directions
  1. Prep all the ingredients: Dice the chicken into strips about ¼ inch thick. Peel and devein the shrimp. Cut the tofu puffs into pieces. If using packaged tofu instead of tofu puffs, fry it on both sides in a pan with a touch of salt and pepper, about 4 minutes per side, and cut into slices. Dice the fresh lemongrass, if using. Crush the kaffir lime leaves.
  2. Cook the rice noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, add the oil and sauté the curry paste until aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and scrape up all the curry bits, whisking to combine. Add the diced lemongrass, crushed kaffir lime leaves, and brown sugar, and bring the soup to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer.
  4. Add the chicken strips and cook for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 minutes longer. Add the coconut milk. Whisk thoroughly and constantly until the coconut milk and the broth mostly combine and blend together. Cook for a couple of minutes, just until everything is heated through.
  5. Add the fish sauce and the lime juice, starting with ½ a lime. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.
  6. To assemble a bowl of laksa for serving, divide the noodles among bowls. Ladle the soup over the noodles, ensuring each person gets some chicken and at least 3 shrimp. Top the bowls with the tofu puffs or fried tofu, a handful of fresh bean sprouts, fresh cilantro, diced scallions, and fried shallots. Serve with the sambal oelek or Thai red chili slices and lime wedges.
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