Does laksa exist in Chicago? | The hunt

Our search for the Malaysian soup adored in Australia.

Photograph: Getty Image/Greg Elms
Laksa is a traditional Malaysian dish.

The challenge Find laksa, a Malaysian soup that TOC managing editor Brent DiCrescenzo fell in love with in Sydney, Australia. Made up of vermicelli-like rice noodles, coconut curry, a chili paste–based broth and a protein (usually tofu, seafood or both), laksa is as much a lunch food as it is a drunk food in Sydney. (DiCrescenzo declines to tell us in which context he had it.)

The hunt We approached our search for the dish in two ways. First, working under the assumption that all Australians love laska (an assumption that turned out to be fairly accurate), we asked Australians to give up their sources. Then, we googled it.

Aussie Naomi Levine, owner and operator of TipsyCake in Bucktown, freaked when we mentioned laksa. “I LOVE LAKSA,” she wrote in an e-mail. And she said she isn’t the only one: In Australia, laksa is as popular as burritos and pizza in Chicago. But when was the last time Levine had laksa? “The last time I visited Sydney, of course!” she said. “You can’t find it here, not at all. It’s terrible.” Levine says she fantasizes about opening a laksa joint of her own and that she has an amazing recipe. All she’s waiting for is the right location and moment.

Meanwhile, the hunt continued. We put in a call to the Australian Consulate, because when you have a question pertaining to Australian culture, they’ll be the ones with the answer, right? Wrong. We were told that most of the Australians in the office haven’t gone searching for laksa because it is “entirely not healthy,” a point that was entirely lost on us.

The find Sources (a.k.a. the Internet) consistently led us to two spots: Penang, a Malaysian spot whose city location closed in 2008, and Thalia Spice (833 W Chicago Ave, 312-226-6020). Levine dismissed Thalia’s version as “not as authentic as what they have in Sydney,” perhaps, she said, because the seafood in Chicago is innately different than the seafood of the South Pacific. DiCrescenzo essentially agreed. “It tasted the same,” he says, “but texturally it was all wrong.” The takeaway: For those of us who haven’t experienced the real thing Down Under, it’s a start.

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