Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Laksa Betawi

Laksa Betawi is an Indonesian variation (more specifically from Jakarta--Batavia--which is the center of Betawi culture) of curry laksa or laksa lemak which is popular in Singapore and Malaysia.  Less spicy and simpler than its cousins across the straits, laksa Betawi is a lush, savory soup.  Made with coconut milk, it is richer than soto ayam, the chicken soup that is popular throughout the archipelago, but not quite as rich as opor ayam.

Like soto ayam, laksa Betawi is a meal in itself.  Usually served with lontong, it contains both chicken and shrimp.  The shrimp may be dried (ebi), or fresh.  In Indonesia it includes kemangi, lemon basil, but here in Northern California kemangi can only be found during the summer months, so I substituted Thai basil.  Rau ram (Vietnamese coriander, daun laksa in Malay), which is the herb of choice for curry laksa, would also be an acceptable substitute.  While it does not call for chiles in the broth, it would typically be served with a sambal, allowing each diner to spice it up to her preferred level of spiciness.

Laksa Betawi

1/2 chicken, preferably free-range, cut into 4 pieces
8 oz medium shrimp, peeled and deveined,  shells reserved.
2 salam leaves
1 stalk of lemongrass, crushed with side of a cleaver or a pestle
1/2 inch cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1 can of coconut milk (I prefer Chaokoh brand)
4 cups of water
2 TBS vegetable oil

Spice Paste
4 oz/120 gr peeled shallots (Indonesian recipes usually call for a certain number of shallots, but Indonesian shallots tend to be uniformly small, about the size of two garlic cloves.  In the US, sometimes you can find the smaller shallots, but more often much larger ones are available.)
5 cloves garlic, peeled
4 kemiri
1 inch fresh tumeric, peeled
1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 TBS salt

To complete the bowls
2 cups beansprouts
4 oz rice vermicelli, cooked
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise
Kemangi, Thai basil, or laksa leaves

Grind the spice paste ingredients until you have a fairly smooth paste.  In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil and stir-fry the spice paste until fragrant.  Add the shrimp shells and the pieces of chicken.  Lightly brown the chicken before adding the salam leaves, lemongrass, cinnamon, cloves, coconut milk, and water.  Simmer, covered, about 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and can be easily shredded. 

Remove the chicken from the broth.  When it has cooled enough for you to handle it, remove the meat from the bones and pull into shreds.  Add the shrimp to the simmering broth and cook just until done.

When you are ready to eat, place some vermicelli, shrimp, chicken, and beansprouts into individual bowls.  Ladle the hot broth over the ingredients.  Add the kemangi or basil leaves and a slice or two of the hard-boiled eggs. 

You may choose to serve this with slices of lontong in place of, or in addition to, the rice vermicelli.


  1. Looks delicious :) I would like to try, but I never saw kemiri in my country. Is it possible to replace them with something?

  2. If you can't get kemiri, you can use macadamia nuts.


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