A bowl of good laksa is a tricky thing to find in this town. The opaque coconut broth of curry, chili and dried shrimp should be distinctively flecked with vermillion chili-red and turmeric yellow. Its spice might sing with lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger and lime leaves, but it should be artfully balanced with the subduing coconut. The new Awana offers a mighty fine version of this noodle soup, along with plenty of other Southeast Asian homestyle classics.
Awana’s Hong Kong owner, who already has several casual Cantonese restaurants in Shanghai, says he expanded into Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine for this newest venture because the competition in the cha canting
market has become too heated. He and his partner designed the clean, welcoming interior themselves to save on the project’s budget and those savings are reflected in a reasonably priced menu. Lunch sets are just 30-48RMB for a main plus two tiny side dishes, and a self-serve fresh fruit plate. An extra 8RMB gets you a cup of excellent coffee.
Awana’s head chef, a Shanghainese cook who previously worked at the Hilton, learned the cuisine directly from Singaporean chefs during a stint at a Suzhou-based Singaporean restaurant. He’s got the sauces and flavourings down, from the chili-thick dried fish sauce he sautés with tender morning glory (28RMB) to the vibrant spice and garlic maxiang jiang
sauce which accompanies the signature crisp-skinned fried chicken (48RMB).
Sambal dragon beans (32RMB) fried with ground pork are crunchily delicious. Chicken flavoured rice (6RMB) is worth the extra 3RMB over regular rice; the shiny grains are plump with savoury chicken aroma. The seafood laksa (42RMB) meanwhile, is a bowl packed with textures: clams, shrimp, squid, puffed tofu, pressed tofu, half a boiled egg, mung bean sprouts and, of course, soft rice noodles which taste even better after soaking up the broth for a few minutes. Crystyl Mo