Malaysian Rice Noodle Soup (Laksa)

March 27, 2017
Malaysian Rice Noodle Soup (Laksa) - Sweet, spicy and fragrant. A happy contrast of hot broth, springy noodles and a madness of garnishes

Ryan:  “Wanna start a coffee shop”

Liz:  “Only if I get to bake things there”

Ryan: “Of course”

Liz:  “Sure”      ~

Photo Credit: Facebook

(This post may contain affiliate links)

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Today starts the second in a series here at The Veggies, one devoted to people living lives filled with creativity. Over the past few years, they’re the kinds of people I’ve found myself fascinated with and gravitating toward. People who are a joy to be around, they’re so lit up about doing what they love.

I’ve started asking them questions. The more I ask, the clearer it’s become, just how many options there really are for people (of all ages) to live a pretty incredible life.

I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing

— — —

Liz Jeffrey and her husband Ryan are the geniuses behind Arcadia, one of Ames, Iowa’s most loved coffee shops. Home to “The slowest cup of coffee in town”  Not only is their food comforting (mmmm .. Laksa soup and Sweet Potato Gnocchi), but the homey vibe makes you want to stay a while, have a turtle bar, and take a million Instagram pics

During the day, you’re likely to see Liz through the kitchen’s big window. She’ll be the one baking her signature breads and pastries, and flashing you a welcoming smile. If you’ve yet to stop, it’s likely you’ve heard her name whispered with reverence at a party. That stunningly beautiful cake on the dessert table?

“It’s a Liz cake, you know”

Their story has a little something for everyone. A restaurant or coffee shop owner? Words of wisdom. A patron? How to be a better customer. A coffee lover? The secrets to a better brew. A baker? Tips and tricks for baking success. Somewhere in between? One never knows where they’ll find nuggets of inspiration

Today, in Part I of a week-long series, they chat about moving to Ames, early experiences in the culinary world, and her parent’s funny reaction when she told them they were getting married

Photo Credit: Pinterest

How did the two of you meet?

Liz:  My brother and I are four years apart, so I was coming to the University of Iowa as he was working on leaving. One night when I was a sophomore (and Ryan was a super-senior) my brother said: “Hey, I’m going to a friend’s cookout; do you want to come?”

I saw Ryan and thought “He’s kinda cute, I might stalk him later”   He promises me he would have stalked me too, but that’s not how the story went

Ryan:  She prefers to not acknowledge that part of the story

Liz:  When I got home I searched the University’s website. Because he has two first names, I wasn’t sure I was going to find him, but eventually, I did and emailed him first “Hey do you want to hang out again?”

But then he invited me to a movie

— — —

What brought you to Ames?

I grew up in the Quad Cities and Ryan grew up here in Ames. When I graduated, I knew I wasn’t going to continue in Biology. I didn’t have the patience for it, didn’t think I was smart enough to do it, didn’t want to get my Ph.D., and I certainly wasn’t going to write a thesis.

So I got a job at Bochner Chocolate

Ryan also knew Neuroscience wasn’t in his long-term plans. So I said “Hey, my boyfriend needs a job too”  (He got better hours!)

Not long after, Ryan’s dad offered him a job. He’d always hoped one of the boys would come back home and work for the family company, but to date, neither had shown much interest. We’d always liked Ames. When we told people in Iowa City they said

“But you’re going to Ames on purpose? Like for real .. forever?”

Malaysian Rice Noodle Soup (Laksa) - Sweet, spicy and fragrant. A happy contrast of hot broth, springy noodles and a madness of garnishes

Malaysian Rice Noodle Soup (Laksa) - Sweet, spicy and fragrant. A happy contrast of hot broth, springy noodles and a madness of garnishes

How did you go from biology graduate to culinary student?

At first, we thought “Maybe we can both work for the family company.”

But words of wisdom from his father prevailed “It’s not a good idea. If you want to start your own business together, that’s fine. But we can’t hire you both. It never works well”

I’d always known I wanted to go to culinary school. So I put my name on the list and worked at a bank while I waited. It was a great job; I got to dress up, and they offered benefits. (Because we didn’t get married until five years later)

Ryan:  We were under the philosophy that our relationship was none of the business of the state or any other agency. So there was no reason to get married

At some point, the math made sense. So I told my parents at Thanksgiving, to which they smiled “Can we get some more mashed potatoes, please?”  A few weeks later, I reminded them, “Hey .. you’re coming for the wedding, right?”

“What do you mean? We didn’t think you were serious.”

 — — — 

What was it like getting started in the food industry?

The culinary program took two and a half years to finish. That’s a long time. We honestly had no idea what we were doing. I’m surprised we didn’t poison anyone

I always knew I wanted my own place. We both have an entrepreneurial spirit, and being a worker bee just isn’t part of my DNA. That being said, while in culinary school, I had to get a job, so I went to work for a cafe-style fast food place.

It was hard work at minimum wage, and in many ways, I learned what I didn’t want to do. You had to be quick at something, and you had to be very sharp. Because there were at least nine or ten orders, and you had to have them all consolidated. You were timed. I made it six months

Eventually, I got a job at The Cafe. One of the guys I went to culinary school with worked there, and he got me an interview in the bakery

I worked there for two and a half years, which is a long time. I learned a lot and was really happy. But eventually, I began to contemplate moving on

( .. to be continued .. )

January 11, 2017 – The night of Arcadia’s soft opening

My love affair with Laksa began the night of their soft-opening. While everyone else tried dishes of grilled octopus, kefta, and harissa lamb ragu.  I ordered soup

It was amazing and has been my go-to ever since

This is a spicy noodle soup featuring springy rice noodles swimming in a fragrant coconut broth, spiced with laksa paste, lemongrass, chilis, garlic, and ginger. A medley of chicken, shrimp, and tofu make the soup hearty and filling, without feeling heavy

Added are the madness of garnishes, from just a few rings of scallions to caramelized shallots, scallions, chilis, bean sprouts, cilantro, and lime juice – for a hint of sour at the very end

A few notes about the recipe

Homemade laksa paste is truly wonderful, but you can also use premade

Most recipes call for using all rice noodles, although traditionally the soup is served with a combination of vermicelli and Hokkien noodles

Tofu puffs are spongy and a bit funny looking; they’re wonderful for soaking up the coconut broth. I found mine at our Asian grocery in the refrigerated aisle. They’re more about the laksa experience rather than the flavor

Laksa is typically served with bean sprouts and either seafood or shredded chicken. Other additions include any combination of fried shallots, sliced fresh scallions, sliced fresh red chilies, cilantro, and lime wedges



ps:  You can read more about Liz and Ryan in Part II  |  Part III  |  Part IV  |  Part V  of the series

pps:  To read more about Laksa .. NYTimes

Malaysian Rice Noodle Soup (Laksa) - Sweet, spicy and fragrant. A happy contrast of hot broth, springy noodles and a madness of garnishes

Malaysian Rice Noodle Soup (Laksa) - Sweet, spicy and fragrant. A happy contrast of hot broth, springy noodles and a madness of garnishes

~ Adapted from Bon Appetit

Malaysian Rice Noodle Soup (Laksa)


  • Laksa Paste
  • 3 dried red chiles (such as guajillo, Anaheim, or New Mexico, stemmed, halved, seeded)
  • 1 2- inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 4 red Thai chiles, chopped
  • 3 medium shallots, chopped
  • 3 lemongrass stalks, tough outer layers removed, finely grated
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 4 tsp Thai shrimp paste
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

  • Soup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 2 14- ounce cans coconut milk, divided
  • 3 cups chicken stock (homemade is best)
  • 12 tofu puffs, cut in half (optional)
  • 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 8 oz wide rice vermicelli
  • 2 tsp natural sugar (or light brown sugar), optional
  • fine grain sea salt

  • Toppings
  • Bean sprouts
  • Cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • Crispy fried shallots
  • Scallions
  • Finely sliced red chili


  • Laksa Paste
  • Place dried chiles in a small heat-proof bowl, add boiling water to cover, and let soak until softened (~ 12–15 minutes).
  • Drain and set aside
  • Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high, add the ginger and garlic, stirring occasionally, until lightly charred and garlic is just tender (~ 6-8 minutes)
  • Transfer to a clean surface and peel the garlic
  • To the bowl of a food processor, add the reserved chiles, Thai chiles, shallots, lemongrass, oil, shrimp paste, coriander, curry powder, cumin, ginger, and garlic
  • Puree until smooth (it’s okay if a few flecks of chile remain)

  • Broth
  • In a large saucepan over medium-high, cook the laksa paste, stirring often, until it has slightly darkened and begins to slide around the saucepan when stirred (~ 2 minutes)
  • Add half of the coconut milk and continue to cook, stirring often, until reduced by half (~ 4–6 minutes)
  • Add chicken stock, tofu puffs (if using), and the remaining coconut milk.
  • Bring to a boil and add the chicken.
  • Reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender (~ 20–25 minutes)
  • Transfer chicken to a plate and let cool; shred meat
  • Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.
  • Add chicken and sugar (if using) to the soup; season with sea salt.
  • Divide soup and noodles among bowls.
  • Serve with toppings
Serves: 8
Nutrition + Show
Calories 423
Total Fat 25.1g
Saturated Fat 15.3g
Carbohydrates 30.9g
Fiber 1.1g
Sugars 5g
Protein 18.9g
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  • Reply robin Rue March 27, 2017 at 4:23 am

    That sounds amazing. We’re big fans of Asian inspired foods here in our house and I can’t wait to try this recipe.

  • Reply Chris Lewis March 27, 2017 at 5:03 am

    5 stars
    This looks delicious! I love how easy this looks to make and I for one am always looks for tasty things to bring in my lunch during the week and this looks amazing!

  • Reply Alli Smith March 27, 2017 at 5:08 am

    5 stars
    The soup looks amazing! I must try the recipe. I enjoyed reading about Liz and Ryan and would love to visit their coffee shop.

  • Reply Mia March 27, 2017 at 6:04 am

    This is my kind of recipe!! It looks so healthy and fresh! I don’t asian-inspired cuisine very often because although I like to develop my own recipes, I’m not very confident with that cuisine. Thanks for the awesome recipe!

  • Reply candy March 27, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Sounds and look like a wonderful restaurant. We love recipes with pasta and this looks really fresh and delicious. Will be adding this to the menu plan.

  • Reply Diana March 27, 2017 at 7:44 am

    This recipe looks amazing and I absolutely love reading Liz and Ryan’s story – what a great idea for a series. I’m looking forward to the next one and to making this soup as well!

  • Reply Christy Maurer March 27, 2017 at 9:04 am

    What a fun story about how they met! I would love to visit their town and “stalk” their food lol.

  • Reply Katie Kinsley March 27, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Mmmm, this looks like a tasty bowl of noodles! I’ve been trying to get on the healthy train, so I would try switching the pasta for some zoodles.

  • Reply Jeanette March 27, 2017 at 10:19 am

    This looks so good! I’ve never attempted to make anything with rice noodles before but this looks so good I can’t wait to try it.

  • Reply Monica Y March 27, 2017 at 11:29 am

    5 stars
    Their story is fascinating. The restaurant looks awesome and that recipe? I want to try it soon. I have been looking for a good noodle recipe everyone in the family would enjoy and I think I just found it. Cannot wait to try it.

  • Reply paula schuck March 27, 2017 at 11:42 am

    5 stars
    This looks fantastic. Also thanks for the story as well. This is an interesting take on a food post actually. I am a huge fan of rice noodles and cooked with them often for many years. I am looking to get back to doing that because I try to be a bit more gluten free. I am not entirely 100 per cent committed to that but I do try to limit gluten. So this is perfect. Thanks!

  • Reply Jacqui S March 27, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    5 stars
    I have to agree. Unless going into business together, definitely not a good idea to work together! That dish looks really good. I haven’t tried rice noodles yet, but have heard they don’t taste bad. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Ana De- Jesus March 27, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    How lovely that Liz took the chance to reach out to the guy she fancied and now they are a partnership! I love the sound of this laska soup, I bet it is divine x

  • Reply kathryn Maher March 27, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Yummy this Laksa soup looks devine and is definitely my kind of cuisine. Liz and Ryan’s story of how they got together is great and their Arcadia shop front photograph looks fab and a cool place to enjoy coffee.

  • Reply Rebecca Swenor March 27, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    5 stars
    This is indeed a great story and Arcadia sounds like a great place to go with friends along with family. . I have never tried or made Laksa soup but it looks delicious. This recipe I will have to try for sure. Thanks for sharing your awesome story and recipe.

  • Reply Annemarie LeBlanc March 27, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    5 stars
    That rice noodle soup bowl looks so delicious. I’ve had Laksa before, but it would be so nice if I could make one myself and put on a “personalized” touch to it. Thanks for sharing Liz and Ryan’s story.

  • Reply Destany March 27, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    That looks super yummy! I love the story – it’s absolutely adorable 🙂

  • Reply Jenn March 27, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    This noodle soup looksdelicious. I would really love to try this recipe. My husband and I love a great rice noodle soup.

  • Reply Melanie March 27, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    In the past, I would have overlooked this recipe because of the ingredient count. I would have thought that it was too complicated! But I have become a much more comfortable cook since then, and I would love to try this recipe. It looks flavorful and like a great dinner.

  • Reply Pam March 27, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    love the story about how they announced they were getting married and the family didn’t believe them. Also, I would love to visit their coffee shop some day.

  • Reply Lisa Favre March 27, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    What a beautiful interview – I especially like the dialogue you included at the very beginning of your post. This noodle soup looks absolutely delicious! I’ll have to ask my mom to try making it for me. She rocks at making dishes like these!

  • Reply Jenny March 27, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    I love Asian food. This looks so delicious, I’ll be saving it for later for sure! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Censie Sawyer March 27, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    I love this story/interview. A a great place to enjoy some yummy food. I showed my husband this recipe because this is so his kind of food. he agreed and we are making it this weekend. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Reply Martha March 27, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    It’s actually simple to make, but requires a few ingredients that are not readily available at most grocery stores.

  • Reply Elizabeth O. March 28, 2017 at 2:33 am

    They sound like a lovely couple that’s very passionate about food. I’m sure the cafe is amazing. I love Laksa! It’s one of my favorites and it would be nice to make it at home! The spicier the better.

  • Reply Chantelle March 28, 2017 at 4:55 am

    That makes me hungry and here it is only 6 am lol. My husband once told me to try laksa, he said it is so good!

  • Reply Yona Williams March 28, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    The Arcadia Café looks like something that I would like to try out. The picture of the rice noodles looks incredibly appetizing. Cilantro is one of my favorite herbs to use. I like that the dish has a hint of sourness to it.

  • Reply Stacie March 28, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    5 stars
    That recipe sounds amazing! Just looking at it has my stomach growling like a V6 Hemi.

  • Reply Nancy March 28, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    What a scrumptious recipe! I bet my kids would love something like this and I am always up for trying something new.

  • Reply Cacinda March 28, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    5 stars
    This is such an awesome story! That recipe sounds fantastic, I have got to give it a try.

  • Reply Kita Bryant March 28, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    It sounds like they’ve had quite the adventure. I am drooling over the recipe. Noodles are one of my addictions.

  • Reply Joely Smith March 28, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    This is SO my type of place! Great food, coffee and cocktails! I am SO there! Well, I wish I were lol

  • Reply Kerri Olkjer March 28, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    Aw, what a great story! And the recipe looks delicious.

  • Reply Bonnie March 28, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    Thanks for this amazing recipe. That soup looks really tasty. Would love to try a bowl.

  • Reply Chrishelle Ebner March 28, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    5 stars
    What a great restaurant/ coffee shop. Y’all are very lucky to have a cute little place to eat. The rice noodle bowl sounds amazing. I love a good rich broth. Yummy.

  • Reply Claudia Krusch March 28, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    I am so happy you guys took the leap. I would love to try this soup. It looks so delicious. I will have to check it out when I am in the area.

  • Reply Madeline March 28, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Mm, Laksa! It’s one of my favorite soups. I love the taste of the creamy coconut milk with some spice.

  • Reply Paula Bendfeldt March 28, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    This recipe looks amazing. I love Asian food but I don’t think I’ve ever had Malaysian food. Your photography is beautiful!

  • Reply Oyinkan Ogunleye March 29, 2017 at 12:06 am

    4 stars
    This looks amazing! Absolutely love Asian recipes.

  • Reply Fatima March 29, 2017 at 6:46 am

    Love your photography skills and the laksa looks great! I have never tried it but I am tempted to try now!

  • Reply Tiffany March 29, 2017 at 6:54 am

    3 stars
    What a beautiful story. I love when the foundation of a business is more than just a desire to make money. I think passion and love for what you do it was will bring success. PS – the food looks amazing so that helps too 🙂

  • Reply Melissa Dixon March 29, 2017 at 10:40 am

    This sounds so good right now. I think I am going to attempt to make this soon!

  • Reply Kathy March 29, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    That recipe looks amazing. I need to give this a try. I love all kinds of Asian foods.

  • Reply CourtneyLynne March 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Omg can we say yum?!?! I’m all about any type of noodle dish! They are my absolute favorite. Must give your recipe a try

  • Reply Amy D March 29, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    5 stars
    This looks so delicious and the photos are amazing! I would love to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade!

  • Reply Maggie March 29, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    This dish looks amazing. I love my carbs; however, I am working on losing weight again and I must limit those carbs. These noodles would be a total splurge. 🙂

  • Reply Nikka Shae March 29, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    This dish looks so amazing. I want to put this on the menu for my household.

  • Reply Amanda March 29, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    That soup looks amazing…give me ALL THE CARBS, especially on cold and dreary days like today. Oh, and I love hearing the stories of Quad Cities alumni…I went to college there!

  • Reply Echo March 29, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    4 stars
    This is so cute! Those noodles look so delicious! I am obsessed with oriental noodles!

  • Reply Adaleta March 30, 2017 at 1:38 am

    Nothing is better then a good story and good food! I must try this dish!

  • Reply Nina March 30, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Oh meeting people pre-facebook. Facebook became popular when I started college, so you’d just look up someone who you thought was cute. Which I think was part of Mark Zuckerburg’s idea. This is a cute story.

  • Reply Susan c Quackenbush March 30, 2017 at 9:36 am

    5 stars
    I love a good story and good food. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Lindsey March 30, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Ok, so your recipes are absolutely heavenly, I love a good soup especially a spicy one, packed with noodles. A great meal for any night of the week.

  • Reply Ana Ojha March 31, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    5 stars
    As a coffee lover, I’d love to visit Arcadia! The story of Liz and Ryan is fascination and you’ve conducted the interview very well. Liz sounds to have a dynamic persona! Also, your Malaysian Rice Noodle Soup looks incredibly delicious. Thanks for sharing another awesome recipe with us!

  • Reply Marielle Altenor March 31, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    5 stars
    The rice noodle soup recipe looks and sounds amazing. I looked up Ames on Google Map. lol I had no idea where that was!

  • Reply Sage March 31, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    4 stars
    Wow this is really looks delicious, I read your post in the morning and after reading it’s recipe i am feeling hungry. I wish i can eat right now. In between lovely post thank you for sharing, will try this out to cook.

  • Reply DR April 11, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    4 stars
    This looks freaking amazing. I have always wanted to learn to cook fresher, cleaner foods so im glad i stumbled through here. Loving the week idea by the way, “the creative life.” I like to think we are all creative in our own way, often people don’t ever find the right way to express their creativity. DR

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