In Short: The best laksa in Singapore, and only 10 minutes from Singapore’s city centre. Supported with a delicious assortment of dim-sum favourites.
It’s only appropriate that for our first foodie experience in Singapore that we visit a restaurant that serves cuisine unique to the Malaysian-Singapore peninsula.
Singapore is melting pot of cultures, and laksa is an example of the cultures coming together to create a new cuisine. The Peranakan people who descended from the intermarriage of Malays and Chinese are responsible for creating laksa. While it’s always a point of conjecture about who makes the best laksa in Singapore, my favourite laksa has to be 328 Katong Laksa. Back a few years ago when I first visited 328 Katong Laksa, it was at their stall by the roadside under the searing sun. My mother-in-law wasn’t impressed that I had dragged Mavis, and little Coco and Viner Sammi (who was just an infant at the time) into the baking midday sun with 80% humidity for an even hotter bowl of gravy and noodles. We didn’t regret it because it was that good! Things have changed a little since that time, with the 328 Katong Laksa now housed in an air-conditioned store, with a striped orange and white façade, and lots of room to stretch out. There’s also seating outside if you want to enjoy the warm evening sea breeze or hear the torrential downpour that is inevitable at this latitude.
We build towards the laksa by first treating ourselves to starters. We start with a glutinous rice. While most versions become quite gluggy as they sweat in the lotus leaves, I notice with 328 Katong Laksa’s offering that each grain can be separated. The secret to 328 Katong’s version is that they fry the rice with shallots, while imparting the flavours and fragrance of the shallots, it also gives the rice a glistening sheen. I enjoy the contrast between the sweet flavour and the earthiness of the mushroom.
Crab chilli crab pau jumps out from the menu, and is even better as I bite into it, with the full chilli crab flavour that makes it one of Singapore’s favourite dishes. I love the hit of chilli mixed in with the sweet tomato sauce. Little chunks of crab are in there with every bite, and I love the texture of the pao, which is so soft and easy to bite into. Seriously, I could sit at 328 Katong Laksa and fill myself with about a dozen of these. Excuse my fantasies of utter gluttony!
Prawn dumplings are perfect renditions of the fare that are the staple of any dim-sum experience. The casing is soft, and the prawn full of flavour. Whereas some hau kau can have a huge casing with a token prawn, here at 328 Katong Laksa the prawn takes centre stage.
Our final starter is a char siew pau which, like the prawn dumpling, can be found in dim-sum carts around Asia. When you leave Australia and enter into Asia, the char siew paus take on an extra flavour dimension that’s hard to explain. Warm chunks of pork, filled with a savoury gravy and is intermingled with sweet notes. The bun is super soft and pillowy.
Onto the main event and the laksa takes centre stage. It’s as spectacular as I remember. The gravy is packed with flavour and the coconut milk is not too heavy, yet it’s not watery either. Then there’s the flavour of shrimp paste and laksa leaves, along with a myriad of herbs and spices that make up gravy base. Along with the noodles, there are prawns, fish cake, bean sprouts, and finely minced dry shrimp. 328 Laksa is unique in that the noodles are cut up and you eat the laksa with a spoon owing to the “scoopable” noodles. The gravy clings to the noodles, and I found when I finished scooping the noodles and ingredients, there was very little gravy to finish.
Coconut water may be the rage Down Under, but the locals in south-east Asia have been enjoying the benefits of this fruit for decades. There are few things as refreshing as a coconut water straight out of the fruit. After the spicy laksa, this is the perfect drink to wash away the spices and heat, while at the same time hydrating. The added bonus, as always, is being able to scoop the rich, white flesh after the juice is consumed. Sweet, rich and creamy; it’s the fruit that just keeps on giving!
We couldn’t leave 328 Katong Laksa without sampling a sweet item on their menu. Liu Sha Baos have become an indispensable part of the local dim sum scene in Singapore. Hence, when 328 Katong Laksa decided to introduce Dim Sum items onto their menu, it was no surprise that one of their dim sum items was the charcoal salted egg liu sha bao (竹碳流沙包). Firstly, the bao itself is greyish in colour, from the use of bamboo charcoal powder, which is believed to have health benefits. But don’t let the color distract you from the taste of the bun itself. Health benefits and colours aside, it is actually soft, fluffy, and quite delicious. The salted egg filling was oozy, with rich flavours that were not greasy or oily, like some restaurant-standard liu sha baos that I have tasted. They are perfectly sized so you can enjoy a couple of the charcoal salted egg liu sha bao and not feel too guilty!
328 Katong Laksa continues the tradition of producing brilliant laksa in a comfortable setting. If you do find yourself in Singapore, a visit to the Katong area on the east coast will transport you back to a Singapore of a bygone era and contrasts with the gleaming metal, and neon lights of Orchard Road. Don’t settle for food court laksa, venture 15 minutes in a cab or Uber and you will be rewarded with laksa of the highest order.