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And the laksa search continues…

5 Dec

My search for an incredible laksa is still underway. As I had anticipated, my search looks like it will be quite the challenge as Vancouver is a city of ramen, not laksa. And whilst I enjoy the occasional bowl of steaming ramen (particularly on a grey, cold day) I am more inclined to crave laksa rather than ramen.

Laksa?! If you are like most people that I know in Vancouver, you may be scratching your head wondering what the hell I am going on about. So, here is a quick “Introduction to Laksa 101”:

  • Laksa is a noodle-based spicy soup.
  • The noodles can be vermicelli or egg noodles.
  • Apparently there are numerous types of laksa, however the two most popular type are the curry laksa (made from coconut milk) or asam laksa (a sour fish soup).
  • It is typically found in Singapore or Malaysia.
  • You can pretty much have anything in it; seafood, chicken, barbecued pork, tofu, boiled eggs, assorted vegetables…the list goes on.
  • It’s delicious.

Laksa is extremely subjective; how one person likes their laksa is likely to be different to how another person will like theirs. So what am I looking for in a laksa? Personally, I am only interested in the curry laksa and, to me, the broth is the most important element of a laksa. I love a fragrant, thick, spicy coconut milk broth. My biggest complaints with Vancouver laksa has been that they are not thick enough, not spicy enough (this is usually fixable with some chilli paste), and not enough depth of flavour in the laksa paste. Most of them just simply fall flat on taste.

For the noodles,  I prefer egg noodles because I like them thicker, and for the toppings I don’t enjoy seafood in my laksa (I had a bad food-poisoning experience with seafood laksa once before) but I love chicken, tofu, boiled egg, and a few vegetables. A garnish, like cilantro and chilli slices, adds flavour but also much-needed colour. A laksa with no garnish is a sad laksa indeed.

My search has continued and with only weeks until the end of 2011, I’ve amped it up. I was at Banana Leaf on West Broadway at Willow Street on the weekend and ordered what used to be one of my go-to laksa (mostly because it was the closest thing to what I am used to). Unfortunately, the laksa standards at Banana Leaf have been slowly dropping and the one that I had on Saturday (not to mention ones that I’ve recently had prior to this one) was very disappointing.

I have been ordering chicken laksa everywhere that I go so that the reviews can be consistent and comparable. This was a Singapore Laksa with chicken.

Room for improvement:

  • The broth was far too runny. It would have been better slightly thicker.
  • There was absolutely no heat/spice to the broth. This was what really let the whole dish down. More spice and more depth of flavour was needed.
  • I was not asked how hot I wanted the laksa (mild, medium, or spicy). This likely would have helped with the complaint above.
  • No egg noodles, just vermicelli.
  • There were far too many vegetables. More chicken would have been preferable, especially as I paid the same price as a seafood laksa but had opted for no seafood.
  • The garnish was waaay too much. Yes, garnish is great. A bunch of cilantro, on the other hand, is over-kill.

Price: $11 (without tax)

Rating: 2/5

I’m sad to say that all three locations of Banana Leaf have let their laksa standards slip. It was most certainly not incredible. And the search goes on…

Banana Leaf

25 Mar

3 Vancouver locations (see website for more details)

www.bananaleaf-vancouver.com

Brief Description: Authentic Malaysian cuisine served in a casual setting. Great value for money.

As much as this Greedy Guts enjoys eating out (and, oh, how I do!!) sometimes I just want to go somewhere where I know that I am going to get a good meal at a good price, every time. That place is Banana Leaf. Malaysian food is amongst some of my favourite food and Banana Leaf does it well.

Because of Malaysia’s geographical location, its food is a unique blend of cuisines from a variety of different cultures, all with their own flavours and appeal. I believe Banana Leaf summarizes it perfectly when they say “Malaysian food, with its diverse influences, makes it the perfect match for Vancouver’s own multicultural atmosphere.” I couldn’t agree more!

Papaya and Pineapple Salad

Banana Leaf has quite a following so at times it can be difficult to get a table. If you can, try and visit at an off-peak time. From my own personal experience, the food standards at the Denman Street location have really dropped, especially when I compare it to the other locations. Recently I have started to visit their location on West Broadway (at Willow) and the quality of food is noticeably better.

For the most part, service is satisfactory and the meals are delivered promptly. Dishes will usually come out at different times, generally not together, as sharing is encouraged. And you will want to share. The standard of food is high and the dishes are so diverse that it seems almost silly to limit yourself to one selection. And at the price, you can afford to order more than one dish. A major part of Banana Leaf’s appeal is that I can go in there for lunch and eat like a gluttonous pig and walk out having spent less than $20.

Calamari

If you’ve been following my culinary adventures, you will realise by now that I have a shameless fetish for risotto and créme brulee. Now, I feel it is time to introduce you to another of my highly desired foods…laksa! I can’t help but relish in the soft egg noodles that swim in the spicy coconut milk. At times I have been so captivated, so caught up in the moment of enjoying my laksa, that I have actually splashed the spicy soup in my eye…twice. On seperate occasions. It’s a hazard of being a laksa aficionado. I was worried that I wouldn’t find a good laksa in Vancouver but alas, I found Banana Leaf fairly soon after my arrival. I’ve definitely had better laksa’s in Australia but until I find something better in Vancouver, Banana Leaf’s laksa hits the spot.

Singapore Laksa (with no seafood)

Another dish that Banana Leaf do extremely well is the Beef Rendang. Covered in a spice-infused rich sauce, the beef is tender and crumbles into delicious flakes when you bite into it. Use the must-have roti to mop up the sauce-covered rice and you’ll quickly learn the appeal of Rendang. I could sit here and write a review of every dish that I’ve eaten from the menu, but that isn’t necessary. You could order almost anything on the menu and I doubt that you’d be disappointed.

Roti

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Final Thoughts: Basically, Banana Leaf represents it’s Malaysian roots very well in Vancouver. The food is authentic and very well-priced. Although some of the noodle dishes are a little heavy-handed in the sauce department, overall, the food is delicious. That is, after all, why I keep going back.

Banana Leaf (Broadway) on Urbanspoon

Banana Leaf (Denman) on Urbanspoon

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