{Review} Laksa Sarawak @ Chong Choon Cafe

Some things you will never get in Australia. One of those is the leisure of having a good breakfast at your favourite kopitiam – an affectionate term for the traditional coffee shop – while not having to bust the bank.

Kopitiams are places where people fill their bellies with good food, where old uncles leisurely read their newspapers accompanied by a cup of tea or coffee, where women gather and swap the week’s gossip highlights, where the waitresses snap out order repeats while wiping down your table with a rag cloth, and most importantly, where the vein of the community runs strong and true. It’s where culture and tradition is alive and strong.

There are many such places in Kuching, us lucky fools. Wherever you go, there are kopitiams in abundance offering a wide variety of goodies to fill your belly.

One of my favourite places to have breakfast is Chong Choon Kopitiam, situated at Abell Road. The major drawcard is the famous Sarawak Laksa. Poh Lam Laksa or more commonly known as the ‘Chong Choon Laksa’ is mostly responsible for the traffic congestion along this particular part of the road due to cars double-parking on the main roads and numerous traffic tickets that ensue. Inside the shop, the situation is no better. Customers standing around occupied tables, eyes hawk-like sharp and ready to pounce on the next available seat. The spirit of competition runs heavy every morning.

Beverages run from your usual local coffees and teas, to fresh barleys and soybean milk, to the must-have jumbo three-layer Teh C Peng. Food-wise, there was a toast stall selling thick toast slathered with a variety of toppings hidden in the far end of the shop. We had a honey-butter thick toast and it was pleasantly satisfying.

As it was Valentine’s Day morning, industrious vendors were selling heart-shaped pineapple tarts instead of their usual square ones and at a more elevated price. Naturally. This stall also sells other types of biscuits in plastic jars, Nyonya kuih and also fried radish cake.

However, the true attraction is definitely the laksa. Everybody comes here for the laksa. Except some that forgo the king for the Mee Jawa. I can never understand these people though.

Oh the laksa. Thin rice vermicelli, topped with beansprouts, chicken strips, peeled prawns, usually present egg strips and bathed in a rich and flavourful soup. The paste for the soup is made up of countless ingredients, such as candlenuts, lemongrass, garlic, galangal, chillies and belacan to name a few. A combination of all these ingredients results in a soup that’s savoury, a little bit spicy and tastes very strongly of shrimps. The addition of coconut milk works to enhance the flavour, allowing the soup to be more wholesome. Vermicelli – or more commonly called Bee Hoon – soaks up the wonderful soup, allowing deliciousness in every mouthful. Coriander leaves added almost like an afterthought atop the finished dish provides some freshness to the heavy flavours. Before digging into the laksa, the juice of half a kalamansi lime is squeezed into the dish and the entire contents of the bowl tossed. The sourness of the kalamansi adds another dimension to the laksa. Some patrons also tip a teaspoonful of sambal paste into the laksa for a fiery kick but my tender tastebuds doesn’t allow such heaty treatment.

Before long, all the bee hoon would be slurped, the prawns munched on, the soup gulped and the entire bowl emptied. Ah, such is the life of a Kuchingnite.