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Adelaide’s best laksa

Asian Gourmet
Western Wall (opposite Camera Co)
Adelaide Central Markets
Adelaide South Australia 5000
t 8231 9657
open Monday to Wednesday 9.30am to 4.30pm, Thursday 9.30am to 5.00pm, Friday 9.30am to 9.00pm, Saturday 9.30amto 3.00pm, closed Sundays

FOOD Opened in 1979, the Asian Gourmet was one of the very first Asian eateries in the Adelaide Central Markets. Just how much Australian eating habits have changed since those days is something to reflect on. It is important to understand that in the early 80s at about the same time Philip Searle (formerly Possums in North Adelaide and now Vulcan I New South Wales) and I would almost fight physically over the one or two available cos lettuce at the Adelaide Central Markets. Fight over we would all head for a laksa at the Asian Gourmet. In the late 70s friends were still coopted to bring blachan from Melbourne, one friend arriving at my home with it tied to his roof rack, lamenting that no one could possibly eat anything that smelled so disgusting. Dried stinky shrimp paste is of course the fundamental basis, the secret ingredient of so many fabulous Malaysian dishes. Times have thankfully changed!
Last Friday at about 10am with just a three people in the little restaurant, a man about my senior age at a neighbouring table sweetly volunteered to take my picture with the food. As if it isn’t bad enough having to face up to that God—awful (but unfortunately truthful, and somewhat younger) picture of me that heads this column? He sweetly explained that he had eaten at the Asian Gourmet every Friday in the last 20 years and always the same dish, their Sarawak laksa. By my calculation he has eaten it 1040 times and is still enthusiastic, not tired of the same flavours and textures and looking to enjoy it well into the future. There is something to be said for a dish that is only available on one day of the week. Surely if we could eat it every day our appreciation would be something less, despite the fact it would be exactly the same dish it would become commonplace.
For some reason laksa is peculiar to South Australia, evidenced by people returning home and heading straight for the nearest laksa shop lamenting that neither Sydney nor Melbourne have a decent laksa. To be fair there are dozens of different versions, but Hainese Chicken and laksa appear on the menus of nearly all—Asian restaurants in city and suburban Adelaide. We can lament that so many Australians think that Hainese chicken is made with the ubiquitous chicken breast instead of the thigh meat that is succulent, moist and delicious but it is a loved dish. It is a simple dish of rice chicken and broth, always better at the end of the day when the broth has been embellished by the temporary swimming of multitudinous pieces of chicken through the day.
Asian Gourmet does not serve the largest laksa bowl and theirs is slightly more expensive at $9 than most laksas in Adelaide and the Asian Gourmet’s Sarawak laksa is only available on Fridays until sold out (usually 3pm) but it is the best by a very long way. Laden with shredded succulent chicken and small shrimp with sliced fried tofu, bean shoots and noodles the scalding broth is rich with coconut milk and spicy without being palate numbing. A lot of laksas are basically commercial laksa paste and coconut milk and short on flavour and because the simple ingredient additions are added when serving they do nothing to enliven the dish. Meaning the broth is critical to the excellence of the dish. The Sarawak laksa at Asian Gourmet is unlike any other Adelaide Laksa, almost but not quite curry in flavour it is complex and the components almost unidentifiable. They also serve on a daily basis the more predictable Singapore and seafood laksa, which are great but pale against their signature Sarawak laksa.
At the high end of cooking it is humbling to be served a brilliant dish that costs a fraction of what we charge. Humility and cooking are not natural companions and the egos of chefs (including myself) frequently disguise the insecurities they feel. Asking any of the world’s most famous chefs what is their greatest eating memory is levelling as they recount, oysters broken from rocks and eaten there and then, a suckling pig on the streets of Shanghai, a duck, wood smoked and exquisite, a divine dumpling somewhere else, snails and a sherry in the Barcelona markets, a fish caught and eaten there and then. It is an endless list of uncomplicated food, the total opposite to the complexity of the food they serve in their own restaurants. The truth of this is that chefs at the top end are not satisfied with making two or three dishes, making them day in, day out, year in year out. Do we fail to ever really perfect a dish? My friend Xiao Wu master chef in Chengdu for the Changfu group, like all really great Chinese chefs critically analyses every mouthful he eats and I have never forgotten his lesson. Without us having a common language he took a meatball from his soup and between his thumb and forefinger squashed it and showed me a thumbs up. He was right he had taken me to eat perfect meat dumplings and in a single gesture without the benefit of language had shown me their excellence a small ball of soft sublimely textured perfection. This tiny eatery made only one thing and despite the fact that my friend is the executive chef of the most expensive traditional Chinese restaurants in Chengdu he showed the meat dumpling maker reverential respect. A lesson perhaps for all of us so we pay homage to Asian Gourmet’s Sarawak laksa the best in Adelaide by a glorious mile.

WINE unlicensed but plenty of bars and and old style Aussie pub on Gouger Street.

Owners — since 1985 Doreen and Charles Lo

the people behind Galaxy Guidesfood editor and publisher
Ann Oliver

champagne editor
Kaaren Palmer


Jan Bowman
Political comentator, briliant photographer…farmers’s market obsessed…Brisbane based.

Olivia Stratton Makris
Masters of Gastronomy, NYC, Spain and constant assistance and editorial suggestion…Adelaide based.

Michael Martin…Northern America 2016.Photographic assistance Kym Martin…Adelaide based.

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copyright © text, recipes and images Ann Oliver & Kaaren Palmer 2016.