The Laksa War

Katong laksa is a generic term given to a type of coconut curry-based laksa that originated from a store along East Coast Road. There were many variations of the Katong laksa, and tracing the origins has become quite complicated.

Origins of the Katong Laksa

I grew up in a very nice house along East Coast Road and was brought up eating Katong Laksa. During my formative years, there were at least 5 Katong laksa stores along the golden stretch between Joo Chiat and Amber.

The dish was first popularised by brothers Ng Juat Swee and Ng Chwee Seng, who started selling the noodles in a coffee shop in No. 49 East Coast Road in 1963 called Marine Parade Laksa. Four rivals had popped up along the same stretch of East Coast Road by 1999, and many of them had names with “Katong Laksa” in it. One used evaporated milk in addition to coconut milk so that it would be not as “jelat” as the all coconut milk type. The brothers’ version skipped the cockles. But all had their vermicelli chopped up and can be scooped up with a spoon which is very convenient for a child.

Nancy Lim used to work for the Ng brothers. When the coffee shop owner raised the rent and the brothers decided to move out, Mdm Lim took over and renamed it 328 Laksa. The Ng brothers set up shop at 57, competition started similar joints at 45 and 47. A year later, the owner of the coffee shop, Mrs Teo Hee Cheng, kicked Mdm Lim out and started her own laksa store. Mdm Lim started at No.51. So now, the competition became red-hot at 45, 47, 49, 51 and 57, and everyone had ones own favourite, and they all claimed to be the original.

The first victim and ultimate winner

Violet Oon, the matriarch of Peranakan cuisine, wrote an article in 1999 and declared No.47 the worst among the lot. And they became the first casualty of the Laksa War. No.45 was next, and then there were three.

Mr Ng Just Swee expanded across the island and called themselves the Janggut Laksa. Why Janggut? Mr Ng Just Swee had a mole with hair sticking out of it, called a Janggut in Malay. Yes, it had nothing to do with laksa. Mr Ng Chwee Seng’s descendants continued today under Original Katong Laksa and had several outlets around Singapore, included the one in Queensway Shopping Centre.

So what happened to No. 49? The coffee shop did not survived without the laksa. It was sold and became Rabbit Carrot Gun.

328 Katong Laksa emerged victorious through really good marketing and self-promotion. Nancy went on international TV when she “beat” Gordon Ramsay in making laksa. But the ultimate was when they were crowned with a Bib Gourmand honour in 2017 when Michelin came to town.

328 Katong Laksa

328 was quite good and then they expanded. Franchises pulled down the standard and then they retreated back to 51 ECR. Then fame and fortune came with Michelin, and they expanded again. Now with a central kitchen and scientific methods of maintaining the taste, they seemed to discover the magic formula.

I bought takeaways, and they came in plastic cups that had been thermal sealed. You have to heat up the soup before introducing them into the bowl of noodles. And I don’t really dig the fact that they started selling fancy laksa like mussel laksa, Morton bay bugs laksa, etc.

Taste wise, they had maintained the standard, but something was not right with the chilli sauce. Overall, I could understand why they lost the Bib Gourmand in 2018, the overall value for money and quality was gone. Perhaps they should lose their franchise again.

328 Katong Laksa
51 East Coast Road, Singapore 428770

http://328katonglaksa.com

Date Visited : Sep 2018

Michelin Singapore Bib Gourmand 2016, 2017, lost the title in 2018.

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