During our recent epic trip to Asia (HK, Macau, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), a substantial duration of time was devoted to eating in the city-state of Singapore (the ultimate foodie nirvana, if you ask me). On numerous occasions, we gorged Anthony Bourdain-style, on delectable dishes such as nasi goreng, beef rendang, laksa, satay, and roti canai, just to name a few. Now back in Vancouver, we’re stricken with a scarcity of great South East Asian restaurants to satisfy our lust for tropical Asian cuisines.
The laksa at Bo Laksa King, located inside the mini-mart on Joyce Street, was the only exception. Sadly, that particular location is now closed – but luckily for us, Bo and his wife Tiffany have an alternative location: Bo Laksa King’s Bubbles And Bits on East Hastings. Located inside a bubble tea cafe, the decor and casual atmosphere are what you might expect from a no frills establishment – dark paint colours the walls, fluorescent lighting illuminates from the ceiling, and wifi is available for everyone.
Chicken Satay: Three skewers of grilled chicken satay, balanced on coconut milk infused steamed rice, held together by a slice of fresh cucumber. Served with a sweet, savoury, creamy, but slightly thin and less chunky than usual, peanut sauce.
Roti Canai: East Indian-Malaysian savoury puffed pastry – to be torn and dunked into curry gravy served on the side. This roti was spot-on: crispy on the outside, soft and chewy in the middle.
Drunken Beef: Tender beef slices, chunks of mushrooms, thinly sliced jalapeño peppers, ginger, garlic, pungent Thai basil, and aromatic lemongrass doused in a sweet and spicy soy sauce. Served with steamed rice and a small pickled salad.
For a couple years when I was younger, my family and I lived in Brunei – the tiny country that shares the island of Borneo with Malaysia and Indonesia. (You might remember the Sultan of Brunei who was, at the time, the richest man in the world). My family and I were fortunate to travel extensively throughout the region and experience the variety of incredible South East Asian cuisines. Ever since that cherished time in my life, laksa (varieties are found in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and sometimes Indonesia) has been one of my all-time favourite dishes. When I returned to the hot and humid tropical region last month with Gary, the experience truly felt like “coming home”.
Laksa ($7.50): Curry coconut milk based soup, with your choice of yellow or vermicelli noodles, a whole hard boiled egg, cilantro, jalapeno, bean sprouts, fish balls, tofu puffs, dark meat chicken pieces, lime, and prawns. To begin, the bowl is really large so you feel like you’re being served a substantial meal. The fish balls were incredibly soft – just like the succulent fish balls we devoured in Singapore.
However, the broth was slightly different from the laksa served at Bo’s previous location. Although, no two laksas are identical as there are just so many varieties of laksa: For example, laksa lemak, made with rich, creamy-textured coconut milk, or the tangy asam laksa, made from a tamarind-flavoured fish stock, and even Sarawak laksa, a red curry-like laksa that doesn’t contain any actual curry! Bo’s laksa on this particular evening lacked the fragrance, thick density, and multiple layers of distinct ‘flavour explosions’ that make an amazing laksa.
Perhaps my taste buds were comparing this dish to the plethora of laksas I had so recently enjoyed in SEA. Needless to say, I was slightly disappointed by this dish. Now that Bo has expanded his menu to include more Burmese dishes and even Pad Thai, it seems like he is partially neglecting his prized laksa. He is the Laksa King in Vancouver, you know.
Tip: Get there early for dinner, as they tend to get really busy on weekends. Also, the establishment is cash-only so leave your credit cards at home.