Saturday, 17 December 2011

WHICH IS THE REAL " KATONG" LAKSA?

Katong Laksa, need I say more.



When I was growing up at Rose Garden in Katong, one of the highlights was eating laksa either at Roxy Theatre or at the corner of Ceylon Road.  The other highlights were staring at cute Katong Convent girls and feeding my face with Nonya Kueh Salat.  So here it goes, these were the 2 original "Katong" laksa places in existance at that time, yes, only 2!


Laksa Lemak or Nyonya Laksa is a type of laksa with bee hoon or rice vermicelli, served with a fish based gravy, with dried  shrimp and rich coconut milk.  How lemak the laksa is depends on the amount of coconut milk used in the gravy.  Katong laksa falls in this category.  The toppings are fresh shrimp and sliced fish cake served with sambal chili and fresh daun kesom or laksa leaf as garnishings.  The Peranankan version does not have cockles or shredded chicken but stalls these days offer the cockles or hum which is  Hokkien thing!

Janggut Laksa

Clockwise from top left : Palace Theatre, 49 East Coast Rd, Roxy Theatre, Palace Theatre.


OK homies, let's start with the main Pimp Daddy of them all, the first laksa stall in Katong.  Mr Ng Juat Swee better known as Janggut was selling his laksa carrying his pole with metal buckets over his shoulders around the Marine Parade beach area in the 40's.  He was born in the Fujian Province , a Hokkien, moved to Singapore in his teens and married a Peranakan and this explained his Nonya laksa.  He would cut the noodles from the beginning so that it would be easier to use a spoon, a unique trait to Katong laksa.


Ng Juat Swee or Janggut standing in the centre during the early 80's with his brother Chwee Seng on the extreme left.

They called him Janggut as he had hair growing out from his mole below his chin.  Janggut means beard in Malay.  The Peranakans give everyone a nickname; one of my Aunts is Hitam because she is dark, another one is Chekgu beacuse she's a teacher, another one is Tempang beacuse she is lame!
Anyways, this was the original name for his laksa and everyone in Katong called it Janggut Laksa!  It was also known in Chinese as Jiadong Laksa which means Katong Laksa.

When his younger brother Chwee Seng was about 23, he helped Janggut sell laksa on a tricycle around the streets where they lived on Marshall Road and in front of the  bungalows by Marine Parade beach.  They also then rented a stall at 49 East Coast Road in the late 50's and opened the stall with his family and called it Marine Parade Laksa.  It was later registered as Marine Parade Laksa in 1963.  His rent was a whopping $30 a month then!!  Customers would also order the rojak in the same kopi tiam and would buy kuehs next door.  It was truly the neighbourhood food hangout.


Heng working at the coffee shop as a kid when Janggut was around.

Heng in 2011 with less hair at his coffee shop in 49 East Coast Rd where he worked when Janggut was around.


I spoke to botak Heng, the coffee shop owner's son, who was only a kid working in the coffee shop and he told me his family allowed Janggut to take literally the corner of the shop facing Ceylon Rd.  He would sell on Sundays and Mondays and his younger brother Ng Chwee Seng sold the rest of the days.  Janggut passed away in 1986 at the age of 85.  His kids never followed his trade.


Nancy moved across the street to 51 East Coast Rd to start 328 Laksa.

When the rent was raised, they closed the shop down for 2 years.  In the meantime, the space was taken over by the present lady owner Nancy of 328 Laksa.  She was only there for about 1 year and moved across the street to 51 East Coast Road to start her own chain.

The present Prata shop at 57 East Coast Road where Chwee Seng's kids worked.


After a 2 year break, the Ng family finally started the stall again in 1998 at 57 East Coast Road up the street under the overhead bridge that connects to Roxy Theatre.  They shared the coffee shop with a popular duck guy.  Rent was about S$1400.  It was run by Chwee Seng's kids Miss Lim Sway Hong and her brother Ng Kok Soon.   Chwee Seng did open another stall in Bedok in 1978 and is run by his 3rd son Kok Wee.  They finally closed the 57 East Coast Road stall as rent sky rocketed (what's new you damn landlords ) and moved it to Roxy Square in 2000 and opened the Queensway Shopping Centre stall in 2005 making it 3 outlets.  We all wished that they stayed in the beautiful shop houses but rents now are crazy and so the most feasible thing for them was to move to the newer food centres or in a small mall.




The new location of Janggut Laksa in Roxy Square in Katong still gets the regulars who live around there.

The Original Katong Laksa

Can you smell the gravy?

The Queensway Shopping Centre outlet has a younger crowd.


Mdm Ng, Janggut's niece, is at the Queensway outlet most of the time.

Janggut Laksa



So in a nutshell, the oldest laksa in Katong was called Marine Parade Laksa or Janggut Laksa and now known as The Orginal Katong Laksa.


Roxy Laksa

Roxy Theatre in Katong.
Roxy Laksa, somebody slap me!

The other original Katong laksa started a couple of years only after Marine Parade laksa.  It was called  Roxy Laksa as it was situated in Roxy Theatre across the street from Marine Parade Laksa.  Mr Lim Kiok Seng opened it in 1952 and had a cart parked outside in the alley way on the left of the Theatre.  He later moved inside after the theatre was renovated to the back at the canteen, and the Shaws who ran the theatre never charged him rent and just made him pay for the water!  Something you money grabbing landlords can learn from and help the little guys.   I remember slurping down some laksa every time I saw the Sound of Music, which I saw 8 times.  Yes, I was in love with Julie Andrews growing up as there was nothing much to do in Katong in those days and you don't see many white women walking around Katong eating Kueh.

Roxy Square where the old Roxy theatre used to be.



A great new location for the Roxy Laksa with the lagoon in the background.

Daisy and Mike Lim who now run the stall.

Mr Lim Eng Hock, the son of the Kiok Seng expanded the business to army camp canteens in the 1970's and then passed it to his son Lim Swee Hong better known as Mike.  

Roxy Laksa then moved to East Coast Lagoon Food Centre in 1979 to make way for Roxy Square.  Mike uses fresh squeeze coconut and the best sea prawns in line with the original recipe and only makes the rempah or spice paste on the day itself.  No it's not out of a box unlike some 5 star hotels I know who charge $30 a bowl for that instant crap.


Freshly cut  sea prawns all ready to go.


Mike with the magic potion.


Daisy his wife adds the fresh daun kesom to my lunch!


Martha Stewart came in 2010 to the stall to shoot her show.  You will never be able to make this in New York baby! 


I bet you Martha Stewart is trying to figure out how to make this.  Honey, stick to your chicken noodle soup.
They serve the original Peranakan recipe of fish cake and prawns only but do offer cockles for the die hards.  No cutting corners.  I remember turning up at 7am in the morning and he was preparing the gravy for the day from scratch!  I did beg him for a bowl then and got one to start my day!




So now you know the real Katong laksa story.  There are only 2 original Katong laksa stalls and only these 2 are the real deal.  Nothing else;  don't buy pirated laksa!


Mdm Ng Sway Hong, your chef at Janggut's in Queensway.

I was just down having a chat with Ng Sway Hong, Chwee Seng's daughter, at Queensway as she manages the stall there.  It was like talking to family as we are from Katong and she was more than happy to set the record straight in her humble way.  Her customers called her that day and told her I was snooping around her Roxy Sq outlet which I find hilarious because this is what Peranakans do, they always keep a tab on everyone and you thought only the Mafia had a network!  We call it 'kaypoh which means 'busybody'.  Needless to say,  a bowl of laksa was waiting for me and she also managed to let me try her chicken curry with bread which was shiok and buay tahan (for my foreign friends it means  'It kicks ass!).


Gentleman, this is your chef. at Roxy Laksa and grandson of the founder and not some hired help from a town you can't pronounce.

Mike the grandson of Roxy Laksa  still cooks for you as I don't dig a bunch of Chinese nationals cooking my laksa; what do they know, they cant even cook their own sorry ass lard filled Chinese food let alone our OWN sophisticated Peranakan food!  I'm sorry but it's true.  He also uses the good ingredients and doesn't stinge on them.  His gravy is not instant from a box drain water and has a punch.  This is his ONLY stall so support him people as he's one of yours!  He is the last of the dying breed we appreciate so much.


Being from Katong, I take this very personally and want to give credit to the real people who busted their asses for 60 years coming up with this dish and feeding me when I was a kid with ADD (at that time they just called me energetic and gila ("mad" in Malay), ADD sounds more sophisticated and polite).  So slurp it up and stain that shirt you are wearing with some real Katong Laksa gravy and wear it like a badge of honour.





Here are some of the other players in the game that came later.
George Lim's father worked for Janggut and he opened a stall in Chai Chee in 1982 and is the only one that has registered his stall name "Katong Laksa".  He now is in a coffee shop at 1 Telok Kurau Rd with the famous  Golden City  Carrot Cake woman.

328 Laksa is a huge chain owned by Lucy Koh and her husband.  They are on the opposite corner of the old Marine Parade Laksa at 51 East Coast Road with a bunch of Chinese nationals running it ( who doesn't these days)!  She has a bunch of outlets scattered around the island and the most visible chain.

49 Laksa at 49 East Coast Road is at the original Marine Parade Laksa stall and owned now by Heng who worked there as a kid when Janggut was around.




The Original Katong Laksa or Janggut Laksa
-50 East Coast Road, Roxy Square #01-64
-Blk 128 Bedok North St 2 #01-02
-Queensway Shopping Centre #01-59
Miss Ng (Janggut's niece) : 9622-1045

Roxy Laksa
48 East Coast Lagoon Food Village
Mon-Fri : 1030am - 9pm, Public Holidays : 830am - 9pm
Closed on Wednesdays
Mike Lim : 9630-2321


Please also check out : www.russelwongphoto.com

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for the history! With so many places claiming to be the "Original" Katong Laksa, it's good to hear it from someone who lived there through it all! Also looking forward to trying out this recipe, but there's no way I can get fresh coconut milk here in Japan. Is it possible to make coconut milk from dried coconut?

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  2. Brilliant piece, Russel.

    Do you happen to have any pictures, especially interior, of the Red House Bakery by any chance?

    Danesh

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  3. Thanks Danesh. I never shot the Red House Bakery at it's peak as i was too young. It's boarded up now and was serving really bad tea the last time I was there. Maybe Chin Mee Chin kopi tiam next.

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  4. wow so much work goes into this research no wonder my poor bro always have laksa stain on his shirts! ok now that you have spilled the beans n we know which is the real deal, lets all go n support the QUEENSWAY REAL LAKSA, JANGGUT LAKSA! thanks bro well done, hope to get more scope from you about the best makan.

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  5. Awesome post man, learned a lot!

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  6. What!! All these while I've been eating the NON original Katong Laksa!!! This calls for a laksa expedition to taste the REAL deal! Thanks Russell for this post!

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  7. Wow this is by far the best story I've seen on laksa, Katong or any other laksa. Really enjoyed reading this. Appreciate and thanks for the painstaking work that must have gone into this post.

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  8. Where has the 49 laying laksa stall moved to? It's been closed for 4 months.

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  9. Really sad how the original guys were pushed out of katong. I remember frequently patronising them when I was still a student, and the 2 uncles would recognise us and just say go sit, because they remembered our usual orders without bean spout!! What is really disgusting is how the other players later market themselves as the original one when they took over, and although i'm not peranakan, i'm also kaypo like you and know all the juicy details on how it became such confusion. I miss the old days of having my laksa sitting outside the shophouse, slurping the gravy until every drop is gone.

    BTW, are u aware that there was an amazing indian rojak stall at the corner of the same shophouse? Any idea where they shifted to?

    Oh and there was also another laksa stall just beside them at number 47 iirc, its more malay style but they have also always been there.

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