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Dearth of Laksa
June 24, 2005 — 8:25 pm

One of the first things I did when I got back to Portland was search online for Malaysian food in Portland — specifically, curry laksa noodle soup. I became obsessed with this stuff while living in DC, as previous entries make abundantly clear. After first growing to love one particular version at a pan-Asian restaurant in Dupont Circle, and suddenly finding that restaurant had closed, I went on a citywide search for more. Straits of Malaya likes to say that laksa is kind of like the Malaysian version of chicken noodle soup . . . and the way they prepare it, it’s about as interesting. The pan-Asian spot at Union Station and the Mandarin Inn in Alexandria both had strangely sweet/tangy versions of laksa that were full of green beans. They tasted OK, I guess, but really . . . no, thanks. Malaysia Kopitiam‘s laksa is rich and spicy, the most filling and complex version I’ve had. I originally thought that Malaysia Kopitiam’s laksa wasn’t as good as the first bowl I fell in love with, but I grew to like it the most. See, I found a pan-Asian chain in DC and Arlington, Cafe Asia, that turned out to have very similar laksa to the first variety I tried. But by then, I had already grown to appreciate Malaysia Kopitiam’s full, flavorful version. So although Cafe Asia’s laksa was tasty, there was really no going back.

In Portland there doesn’t appear to be nearly as many choices. In fact, so far I’ve found exactly one: Taste of Bali, across the street from the downton Hilton. I ate there for the first time a couple weeks ago, and while I might have been impressed with their food a few years ago when my dining habits included frequent trips to Panda Express, the laksa wasn’t much more than a letdown. Soggy noodles, fatty chicken, far too light on the curry, not much complexity in the composition of the broth, etc. I had some chicken curry there a few days ago, which was better, but still . . . I really miss Malaysia Kopitiam. I’ve found a few pan-Asian listings in Portland, which I’ll try before long, but none of them have laksa on the menu, as far as I’ve been able to determine. I mean, I’d gladly take something akin to the Cafe Asia version of laksa, too. There’s amazing Vietnamese food in Portland, since we have such a large Vietnamese population here, but the Malaysian food is sorely lacking.

Today it occurred to me that I should try looking for laksa in Seattle. I don’t get up there often, but I’m sure I can find an excuse for the occasional trip. The results seem promising: Malay Satay Hut. Wild Ginger, Red Crane, and a little stall at the Maunakea Marketplace called Triple One, all crying out for a trip north.

After a little more exploring at the blog which provided that review of Triple One above, I found this entry about a trip to Singapore. In Tyler Cowen’s excellent Ethnic Dining Guide for the DC area, Tyler mentions this in his review of Malaysia Kopitiam:

You can’t go wrong with Malaysian food, but once you know its peaks, all these places are disappointments. I love Malay and Malaysian food, but not in the U.S. This place is OK, but best for those who don’t know the real thing.

Since I’m thinking that Malaysia Kopitiam serves some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, I can only imagine how much I might enjoy a trip to Singapore. I’ve never been particularly interested in travel — when I go somewhere, I generally go to see people, not places. But a trip to Singapore, just for the food? I can see myself doing that . . .

— Eric D. DixonComments (0)

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Eric D. Dixon

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