On a cold and wet day, there's nothing Singaporeans love more than a fiery bowl of laksa – with extra sambal, of course. While everyone knows of the famous Katong laksa that even Gordon Ramsey loves, is it truly the best bowl of spicy coconut-ty broth around? We scour the city and try various laksa stores to see which one comes out on top.
Also dubbed the ‘Original Katong Laksa’, this stall at Roxy Square seems unfazed by the surrounding competition trying to acquire that title. We’ll accept the story of how Katong Laksa came to be because of a man called Janggut, who originally sold laksa along the street in Joo Chiat but let's focus on the food, shall we? With just that one dish on the menu (save for a few add-ins), you can order a meal here without even uttering a word. First things first, this dish is not a looker but no one’s judging. Because the noodles are cut short (apparently a trend started by Janggut himself), you get an equal serving of noodles, shrimp, sambal and that robust gravy with every scoop.
Tan Yang Choong learnt the trade from his father who started the business back in 1965. Today, he works in unison with his wife, preparing piping hot bowls of laksa while she takes orders and collects money. The bright orange laksa broth comes topped with slices of fried fishcake, tofu puffs, prawns, blood cockles and a generous dash of Vietnamese coriander. But what makes it stand out from other places that hawk this iconic local dish is the chilli. At $3 for a very generous bowl, we can see why this laksa joint is popular with the heartland working crowd.
You won’t find the usual luscious broth in this rendition, but the resulting dish is just as lip-smacking. Violet Oon, whose name is synonymous with Peranakan cuisine, serves a version of dry laksa that is every bit as lemak. Rice noodles come tossed in a laksa paste and topped with prawns, tau pok, and bean sprouts. Go ahead and slurp this, you won’t need to worry about spicy broth getting everywhere.
Depot Road Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa might have a Michelin Bib Gourmand award but it's our least favourite bowl. Instead of a consistently lemak broth, the gravy split into two layers: a thicker, more intensely flavoured top and a thinner soupy bottom that lets the dish down. We don't think the claypot adds anything to the taste either, aside from presentation and keeping it warm for longer. For the price you're paying ($4-$6), there are barely any ingredients to go around. Top that off with a long queue in the heat – we'd rather get our laksa elsewhere.
The most commercialised of the lot, 328’s laksa ($5.35-$7.50) still hits the right notes as it lets you scoop all the good stuff into one spoonful – even the fishcake is thinly sliced so you’ll get a bite of it along with prawns, beansprouts and cockles. The broth itself is thick and coconut-y, which may to too jelat for some. But not us. And while you’re at one of its many outlets, don’t forget to order a slice of otah ($1.40) to accompany the dish. We're just annoyed that we only get one little packet of sambal now instead of a whole jar of the stuff.
Not to be confused with the other Sungei Road laksa stall, the one in Hong Lim Food Centre is just as well loved for its fruit juice mee siam as its laksa ($3). The laksa gravy doesn't have the red hue we're accustomed to and its consistency is thinner than most but it still packs quite a punch, so no complaints here. You get quite a lot of liao, including strips of chicken, for such a cheap bowl too.
With only one thing on the menu, this humble eatery has been in business since 1956 and still rakes in long queues every day. Its laksa gravy, cooked the old-school way over charcoal, is light and not too spicy – that’s what the sambal is for. Stir it in if you want more heat in your bowl ($3). Topped only with fishcake and the plumpest cockles we've ever seen, you’ll polish off a whole bowl in under 5 minutes so we recommend getting two. Trust us.
If you’re walking past the iconic Thian Hock Keng Temple on Telok Ayer Street, step into the hidden Chong Wen Ge Cafe for its laksa ($10.90). Each bowl comes with two giant prawns sitting on a heap of noodles, with sliced fish cake and cockles in a fragrant and mildly spicy broth. Servings are generous so be prepared for a post-lunch food coma.
Located near the bus interchange, this small coffee shop sees lines forming all day long for its wallet-friendly bowl of laksa (from $2.80). In business for over two decades, it’s a secret spot for many Yishun residents. Their version of laksa is less lemak and lighter in flavour with a shrimp-heavy chilli paste that gives the gravy a real kick. While they don’t serve prawns, you’ll hardly miss it thanks to the inclusion of plump fishcake slices, beancurd puffs, cockles (optional) crabstick and hard-boiled egg.