Thursday, 25 October 2012

Naga’s Laksa: A taste of Southeast Asia


THE study of literature is also the study of culture.  

A story in Afro-Asian literature by Malaysian Shih Li-Kow, “Deep Fried Devils” (“Yow cha kwai”, Chinese twin crullers, or Malaysian and Bikol chakoy!) named many dishes the students had never heard of, much less tasted. 

Our class therefore decided to go on a food-tasting cultural experience.

Fortunately, some Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Thai dishes are now available locally and inexpensively at a relatively new and little visited restaurant, Laksa.  

Here’s what seven Ateneo de Naga University students, first timers to SEAsian cuisine, had to say about the food, the restaurant, and the perils of using chopsticks.

Vietnamese fresh spring rolls with vinaigrette dip

Karren Palacio and Jesa Dayandante:  Too bland for me, even with the vinaigrette.  Naalala ko ‘yung mga herbal na gamot na ibiniblender ni lola. Magkasing amoy sila. 

Mas masarap kung isinasawsaw sa vinaigrette dressing.  Kakaiba ang wrapper; mas manipis at medyo rubbery kung ikukumpara sa lumpia wrapper ng mga Pinoy.

France Peñano and Vince Sotaso: We loved it. The servings were just too small and “nakakabitin.” 

Those cute, little, colorful cylinders proved that it is indeed possible to appreciate slightly raw vegetables. I (Vince) clumsily picked one up with my chopsticks, and the wrapper unraveled, causing the contents to spill out. 

I picked up the spoiled display with my spoon, dropped a little vinaigrette on it, and placed it in my mouth. 

Pure heaven. It has a certain crispness which doesn’t allow the tongue to monopolize the explosion of flavors, but instead share some to the teeth. 

It was a playful tease because I couldn’t quite get right how it tasted; the taste was delicate, as if it wanted to hide itself but at the same time, flaunt its scrumptiousness.

                                      Malaysian laksa

Karren:  Tastes a bit like chicken curry. The combination of sweet and spicy was perfect, the fried tofu was good, but the clear sticky noodles were too heavy for me.

Mariz Fernando:  Tastes somehow like kare-kare but with a different rich flavor of curry and spice. I like the taste and smell.

Jesa: Lasang gata na may konteng anghang. Kakaiba dahil pinagsama-sama ang pansit, sprouted, at gulay na pechay. Nag-aagawang alat at tamis ang lasa. Nangingibabaw ang lasa ng curry.

France and Esme: We liked it and opted to have a second serving.

Vince: The dish looked inviting, with rich, brown soup in which the sprouted monggo, assorted vegetables, soft noodles and the nicely crisped tofu were artistically submerged. It had just the proper amount of saltiness. 

I enjoyed the soup more than the other ingredients primarily because the tofu, noodles, and the vegetables were familiar to my Filipino taste buds. 

A nice appetizer, but don’t fill up on it too much so you have space for the other dishes.

Beef rendang (Indonesian dish)

Jesa: Ito ang pinakagusto kong matutunang lutuin. Paano naging kulay green iyong kanin?  Masarap. Kahit hindi mo na lagyan ng iba pang ulam, solved ka na. Ang tanda ko lang na sahog ng beef rendang, laurel.

Vince: Best consumed only with the spicy yellow rice it came with.  The texture was okay, and it was fun to chew. But it lacks sweetness and saltiness which would really bring up its beefy aspect. Without the rice, it was a little bland – for meat.

France and Karren:  It is similar to but tastier than java rice served in ordinary cafeterias. Though it only has a few pieces of beef, the taste of the rice makes you crave more of it.   

The beef was tender and flavorful, with the mixture of sweet, salty, spicy, and a taste of curry flavor. This became an instant favorite of mine.

Pad Thai

Vince: The most flamboyant of them all in terms of presentation, but it seemed a mere rehash of Pinoy palabok, only with an additional covering. The noodles were soft, and I could not seem to find any spices or vegetables.

Karren: I never thought that peanuts and bean sprouts in stir-fried noodles would result in a more scrumptious noodle experience. It had a unique plating with a criss-crossed omelet cage topped with tasty prawns. 

I liked the flavor of the sauce with just the right mix of sweet and tangy. The texture and flavor of the noodles were perfect!

France:   Sa tingin ko pa lang masarap na. It was delicious. I wanted another serving but when I looked again, the serving plate was empty.

Jesa: Papano kaya nagawang sala-sala tulad ng pawid ang itlog na nagsisilbing kumot ng buong sahog? Kayang kaya kong ubusin ang isang buong serving ng Pad Thai.
Kevin Bonafe: This was the dish that struck me most; it tasted really good and was not too spicy.

 Chicken satay (Malaysian)

Karren:  Perfectly grilled; tender and flavorful; delicious even without the peanut sauce.

France: Love its taste!

Jesa: Kakaiba ang sauce. Kung sa Pinoy madalas na sawsawan ay gawa sa suka na may sibuyas, bawang, paminta at sili, sa  mga Malaysian naman ay gawa sa mani. Kakaiba ang lasa—matamis na medyo malangis. Doon ko unang nalaman na pwede palang gawing sarsa ang mani.

Thai tofu and mixed vegetables

France: I’m not a fan of half cooked veges, especially with beans. I wonder what the violet vegetable in it was.
Jesa: Para din naman pagkaing Pinoy.  Beans, cabbage, carrots, sprouted, at pritong tofu ang mga sahog nito.  Masarap pala ang tofu. Napansin ko lang, mahilig sa sprouted ang mga Southeast Asian.

Vince: The presentation was pleasant with the lush combination of green and brown to conjure the idea of a very agricultural culture. I like how the leaves and the stalks were crunchy. It was a perfect combination of flavor and texture. 

I like how the string beans didn’t leave an acrid imprint on my tongue that I even looked forward to digging into the dish even if vegetables are not really my thing. This is one Asian food I quite patronize.

Esme Albis:  My first time to eat the mushrooms called kurakding. It made me say, “Ang kurakding garo pagkamoot, basang sana minabutwa!”

Sticky Rice topped with Mangoes (Thai dessert)

Jesa, Vince, Mariz, France, Karren: Their version of our kakanin and latik. Tastes like linukay in our town. The best tasting suman that I’ve ever had. With condensed milk and mangoes in every bite, it was heavenly.  It’s not too sweet, good enough for diabetics.

Jesa, Kevin: Mukhang madali lang naman siyang gawin.  Bawal sa diabetic dahil sobrang matamis. A perfect dessert for sweet-toothed people!

France, Vince: It would have been better if they had used sweet mango which was on the sour side.
Prices and others

Kevin:  An al fresco restaurant, the details and accents were generally Asian, with low tables and seats, made of parallel wooden slats reminiscent of parallel bamboo shoots.  

The chinaware was flat, broad and intricately-designed.
Jesa:  Gusto ko na open place, kakaiba ang effect. Siguro dapat dagdagan ang mga taong nag-aasikaso sa mga customers.

Kevin and Esme: The crew was hospitable, like all Southeast-Asians. The lady who served us had an instant greeting and a smile, was courteous and gentle, and assisted us down to taking a group photo.  Good service.

Karren, France, Mariz, Esme: The prices were amazingly affordable compared to other Asian restaurants in Naga. They serve combo meals, ranging from P99-P180, but it’s still better if you order dishes for sharing for variety. 

Ordinary students and customers can’t afford it; on the other hand, no need to go to Manila or other Asian countries where they are available. I love Laksa. 

I will definitely go back to try the Thai Five Spiced Liempo, their dimsum, Japanese Chicken Teriyaki, Hainanese Chicken and more Pad Thai.  I plan to visit here again with my family.
Vince: Ah, food. 

By this means, one travels the world not by feet, but by tongue.  Asia really is a wonderful place. It is where agriculture and fishery assimilate and produce tantalizing food.  

 Our trip to Laksa proves that although the Philippines has its fair amount of wonderful food, a glimpse into our neighbors’ delicacies would help in appreciating our own. – Bicol Mail

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