I discovered lac xa tom kho (Vietnamese dried shrimp laksa), a Khmer specialty not known by many, on my latest trip to the Mekong Delta.
A bowl of lac xa tom kho decorated with mince onion and spice herb
Lac xa is a dried shrimp noodles soup cooked in coconut milk originally brought over from Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Malaysia. The dish is popular in the Khmer community in Soc Trang Province, where they are served as a simple countryside meal to treat guests.
Ingredients consist of dried shrimp, coconut milk, rice vermicelli, curry, lemon grass, fish sauce, sugar, salt and pork fat. Dried shrimp is the most important ingredient. Good quality shrimp has a bright-red color since it is made from fresh shrimp. Dark red means that either the shrimp is too old or artificial coloring is used.
Dried shrimp is first put in water to soften it and taken out to dry. Lemon grass is sautéed in pork fat rather than cooking oil to preserve its taste. Processed dried shrimp is then added along with fish sauce, salt, water, sugar and curry.
To make the soup, cooked shrimp is boiled in a pot of coconut milk for about five to seven minutes. Nuoc dao dua is then added to the pot and let to boil for a short while.
Rice vermicelli is processed and prepared by pouring hot water on it to prevent overcooking.
To serve, first lay the vermicelli in a bowl over a layer of veggies (minced banana, water morning glory), herb and bean sprouts. Finally, pour the soup into the bowl but avoid submerging the vermicelli.
I only ate lac xa tom kho once but the taste of sweet coconut milk blended perfectly with delicate dried shrimp and exotic spices is hard to forget.