- The Dish: Customisable laksa with a choice of hotness level and the option of meat, fish or vegetables
- The Place: Sambal Shiok, 171 Holloway Road, London N7 8LX
- The Chef: Mandy Yin
What? Laksa is one of Malaysia's national dishes. The spicy noodle soup has many versions across the country, with 13 regions producing a different style.
There are a number of standard ingredients: chillies, galangal (a member of the ginger family), laksa leaves, curry spices and noodles. But where laksa from Penang will utilise mackerel and tamarind, one from Sarawak will have more of a seafood stock base, while a Johor laksa sprinkles in desiccated coconut.
An all-day delight, this hearty bowl is eaten from breakfast and lunch, through to afternoon tea and dinner.
Where? Malaysian chef Mandy Yin founded Sambal Shiok five years ago, starting off in street-food markets working with the likes of Street Feast, Southbank Centre Market and Street Food Union in Soho.
Now, she has opened a specialist laksa bar in London, which will allow diners to customise not only the heat factor, but also the ingredients.
Sambal Shiok’s laksas have Kuala Lumpur at its heart, says Yin, with Penang's fiery chilli heat rooted in Peranakan cooking (a blend of Malay and Chinese cuisine) from Malacca.
“The best laksas are the combination of flavours. You start off with a strong hit of shrimp paste, you get some tamarind and heck of a lot of chilli, and it’s brought together with coconut milk,” she tells Food Spark.
At Sambal Shiok, the spice paste is homemade and the best you can find in London, adds Yin.
“Most places start off with commercially available paste which isn’t very strong, but ours is a punchy, pungent shrimp paste and spice mix, with lots of chillies. We start off at level 10 for the chilli level, so we offer people a hot level of spiciness and a medium level, which is a normal hot broth with added coconut broth,” she says.
“I think it’s better to start off at the top of the chilli level and start to tone it down, rather than starting low and adding on to it, otherwise you are never going to get to where it can be.”
There are five different laksas on the menu, with options like poached chicken, king prawns and a vegan version that comes with charred aubergine and sautéed potatoes.
“I believe in being as inclusive as possible. With the vegan laksa, the spice base is similar to the other ones, but leaves out the shrimp paste. And we use a couple of other ingredients to pump up the umami,” she says.
“It’s quite hard to find. Traditionally in Asia and Malaysia, the vegetarian or vegan options sometimes can be a bit lacking, so I always think why not if you can? There is no harm in changing something.”
Open for dinner, a takeaway service will likely come in once the team is settled into the restaurant, says Yin.
Why? In the last decade, consumers’ palates have become more sophisticated as they travel and explore new foods, says Yin.
“People are more open to very strong flavours – in fact, they want it – so there is no need to tone it down to the Western palate as it’s the same as the Asian palate now,” she says.
Customers are also looking to delve into regional specialities like the laksa as their curiosity surrounding cuisines drills down deeper.
“Malaysian food is so vast and there is the range and variety available because you have got regional fusion food. In Malaysia, you have indigenous Malay, Chinese Indian and we take a lot from our Indonesian neighbours as well,” says Yin.
“With each culture, we have taken the best out of every culture, so we have got such a melting pot of cuisine that is totally unique and underrepresented internationally. There are a few of us Malaysian chefs flying the flag.”
Once settled in, Yin has plans to introduce a dish called nasi lemak onto a brunch menu, as it is a popular breakfast dish in Malaysia.
“It’s coconut rice with sambal [South-East Asian hot sauce], eggs and peanuts, and deep fried anchovies. We will do it in the traditional way: wrapped in banana leaf to give it that flavour,” she says.
“When I post it on Instagram, it goes absolutely nuts, so we listen to what my customers want. The possibilities are endless for Malaysian food.”