2 August 2023

The great laksa debate: where is Canberra's best bowl of spicy noodle soup?

| Lucy Ridge
Bowl of laksa

The Singapore laksa from Lim Peh Wan Tan Mee at Verity Lane. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

My colleagues at The Canberra Page like to pose hard-hitting, current affairs questions to their audience and this one recently piqued my interest: Who does Canberra’s best laksa?

The competition was fierce, with more than 450 commenters all hyping up their favourite bowl of curry noodle soup. And so I’ve been drafted to do some rigorous investigative journalism to adjudicate the battle.

Laksa has a rich and storied history. Born from multicultural marriages along historic spice routes, it is now a staple dish across Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

In Canberra, we generally see the curry laksa variant, common in Malaysia, which has a rich, spiced, coconut broth served with thick wheat and thin rice noodles, and topped with a wide variety of meats, seafood, vegetables and tofu. Other variations include laksa assam, which is made with sour tamarind, or Singapore-style laksa which uses ground, dried shrimp.

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I’ve waded through the top comments to find the contenders and eaten a medically inadvisable number of laksas in the name of journalistic integrity. I eliminated a few unworthy candidates and offer a selection of the best below. I’ve managed a decent geographical spread, although Gungahlin remains sadly underrepresented (now taking recommendations).

Special mention also goes to the now-closed Heng Hing Roast Inn at Belconnen, and the short-lived Singapore Laksa special from Lim Peh Wan Tan Mee at Verity Lane (please bring it back)!

Where available I ordered the combination laksa, which typically comes with a variety of meats and vegetables, and often (but not always) seafood.

To judge each candidate I asked: Does this laksa fulfil the deep craving in my soul which only a laksa can satisfy? And, does it qualify for true laksellence – that’s laksa excellence – or is it just soup-er?

Bowl of laksa

The Phat Panda Laksa had a deliciously intense broth. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Phat Panda, Tuggeranong

Phat Panda is a very small stall tucked away in the South.Point shopping centre. After three wrong turns I made my way into the small kiosk, which specialises in Asian street food. I’m generally not particularly bothered with presentation when it comes to laksa, but at first glance the broth appeared very oily. Fortunately, that oil was actually a good vehicle for the spice and flavour so once I started eating it didn’t bother me. The broth was excellent: spicy, creamy, with a well-balanced and intense curry flavour. There was a good selection of toppings, including several big pieces of chicken, prawns, wombok, lots of coriander and beansprouts. The tofu was quite firm yet still had decent sponge quality, but there was only one type of noodle.

It gave me the soup sweats, hit the spot, and was a laksellent performance.

bowl of laksa

Streets of Asia in Tuggeranong came highly recommended. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Streets of Asia, Tuggeranong

This laksa came highly recommended from a number of trusted sources so I had high expectations. Unusually they offered a small or large option, so I went with the large. Overall, this laksa was a decent bowl, but not the best. I found the broth a little sweet and lacking in heat. The toppings were varied, and I particularly enjoyed the addition of fried pork wontons, which offered a crisp bite. The same can’t be said for the soft tofu, which had been battered and fried but quickly succumbed to the soup and ended up just being soggy. A side plate of bean sprouts and lemon was a nice touch to add a little freshness to the rich dish.

It was a satisfying laksa and I would call it souper, but not quite laksellent.

A bowl of Thip's Thai Laksa

The laksa at Thip’s Thai is slightly less creamy than others, but the toppings are brilliant. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Thip’s Thai, Belconnen

Hidden up the stairs of the Churches Building on Benjamin Way, Thip’s Thai is something of a cult favourite for Belconnen residents. There’s a steady flow of office workers grabbing a lunch box of preprepared dishes in the bain marie but those in the know will order from the menu of Thai classics.

The laksa at Thip’s Thai is less creamy than others I’ve tried but it’s incredibly flavourful. Makrut lime leaves, lemongrass and ginger perfume the dish, which comes with vegetables, truly delicious fried chicken, and seafood including mussels on the shell. The toppings are all excellent, and while the combination doesn’t come with tofu, the mussels offer the same soup-sponge quality which I enjoy. The spicy broth leaves my cheeks flushed and my belly satisfied.

The spicy and sour qualities of the soup make it firmly Thai-infused and I enjoy that the toppings are different to other laksas. Overall a laksellent dish!

Two bowls of Laksa from Dickson Asian Noodle House

The Dickson Asian Noodle House laksa is a favourite of Canberrans. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Dickson Asian Noodle House, Dickson

I have to admit my bias here: the Dickson Asian Noodle House combination laksa (with extra tofu, always with extra tofu) was my top contender coming into this contest. And I’m not alone there: many commenters on the original post wanted to shout out the DANH Laksa as superior, not only to other laksas, but even to other laksas in the Asian Noodle House brand across Canberra.

The broth here is well balanced and spicy and comes with both chewy egg noodles and slippery rice noodles. The combination toppings include premium items like roast duck and char siu pork as well as chicken and vegetables. Unlike other restaurants, if you want the addition of seafood you need to order a jumbo laksa, which gets you a range of prawns, squid and fishcakes in addition to the meats. The toppings are all good quality, and the tofu is the perfect sponge to soak up the delicious broth. My hot tip is to order extra tofu: you won’t regret it.

Overwhelmingly this laksa fulfils the cravings of my soul, it is the laksa by which all other laksas are judged and it continues to be the benchmark of laksellence.

bowl of laksa

Tak Kee Roast Inn uses their signature barbecue meats in their laksa. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Tak Kee Roast Inn, Dickson

I was surprised to see that several commenters believed Tak Kee Roast Inn had overtaken local favourite DANH. While I’ve often enjoyed a gow gee soup or BBQ pack at Tak Kee, I’d never tried their laksa.

The Tak Kee Laksa is generous: lots of toppings and excellent egg and rice noodles. They also have my favourite tofu and their combination includes crunchy Chinese broccoli stems, prawns and fish cake slices. Unsurprisingly, these specialists feature plenty of BBQ meats in the soup, which add a delicious sweet smokiness to the mix. It does, however, make char siu a dominant flavour of the dish, which may not be to everyone’s taste.

But if you like that barbecue char (as I do) then you’ll also consider this a laksellent dish.

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So, who does the best laksa?

Controversially, I’m calling it as a dead heat between the two Dickson candidates. The Tak Kee laksa is definitely good enough for me to cheat on the DANH, but not quite enough that I’d totally change my allegiance. Thip’s Thai and Phat Panda come in a close second.

At the end of the day the true test will lie in the personal preferences of each laksa lover, so leave a comment with your favourite laksa.

I’m going to go eat a salad now…

Original Article published by Lucy Ridge on Riotact.

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