Penang Asam Laksa (Rice Noodles in Hot and Sour Fish Gravy)
Just a few weeks ago, I went out with a friend of mine and told her that I was craving for Penang Asam Laksa. I mentioned that I hadn’t eaten Asam Laksa for too long that I couldn’t even remember how many years? Yeah, it does sound incredibly shocking but that was the fact. When you don’t live in Malaysia, it does seem a little bit difficult to eat something like Asam Laksa unless you go to a good Malaysian restaurant or make it yourself. It could be quite time consuming but it’s worth the time preparing it.
My friend, Azma, told me that there are a few Malaysian restaurants that serve good Asam Laksa. Somehow, we ended up in an Asian supermarket buying some cooking ingredients. I said if I could find Polygonum leaves, also called Vietnamese Mint (Malay: daun kesum) and Indian Mackerel (kembung fish), then I didn’t mind to make everything from scratch. She previously gave me some Torch Ginger/Ginger Bud (Malay: bunga kantan) that I have kept frozen, which came in handy for me to make Asam Laksa. If it wasn’t her who brought these ginger flowers from Malaysia, I had no idea where I could buy them in London! She had also kindly brought back some Laksa noodles (thick rice vermicelli) that I had asked my mom to buy. So, I gave one packet to her. These items seem impossible to be purchased (or you gotta try all the possible supermarkets) when you are not in SE Asia. So, it seemed that we were back in the olden days using Bartering system, which I find it great!
Asam Laksa is a hot and sour fish-based gravy served with thick rice vermicelli. Don’t be confused with Curry Laksa, which the broth is curry-based, so, it’s totally different! Asam means tamarind (Asam Jawa) in the Malay language. Tamarind is a common ingredient in Asian cooking that is used to produce sour flavour.
For me, the most important feature of this dish is the fish, that is poached then flaked. The poaching liquid is then strained and use as the stock. If Indian Mackerel (usually comes in frozen) can’t be found, the equivalent of wolf-herring or spanish mackerel can be used. When flaking the fish, be extra careful as you don’t want to be choked on tiny bones!
There are many variations of Asam Laksa. Penang is famous for its Asam Laksa, everyone who visits island of Penang in Malaysia will never miss out in enjoying a good bowl of Asam Laksa! Where I come from, we have what we call Kedah Asam Laksa (Malay: Laksa Kedah), where slices of hard-boiled eggs are added as part of the garnishes. I guess, I love both variations so far.
The usual garnishes/toppings in Asam Laksa include thingly sliced cucumber, red onions, pineapple, mint leaves, and bird’s eyes chillies. I like to add some raw chinese string beans for extra crunch! It is very often that Asam Lasak is topped off with ‘petis udang’ or ‘he-ko’ (蝦羔), which is a very thick sweet prawn/shrimp paste. This can be optional if the smell is too pungent for you.
I made quite a big pot of the fish gravy, so, I ended up having Asam Laksa for about 2 days as my lunch and dinner. The taste was just amazing and I felt like I was back in Malaysia. *LOL* My taste buds just love the gravy that is full of flavours! I remember when I was cooking it, Le Francais said “Ça sent bon! Qu’est ce que tu as mis dans la soup?” (It smells good, what did you put in the soup?) He likes it but he said it was too spicy for him. Well, can I cut down the amount of chillies? It wasn’t that spicy, but for him, it was hell too spicy. The next day when I offered him again, he said ‘No, merci. C’est trop épicées pour moi.’ (No, thank you. It’s too spicy for me.) However, he came around 1 or 2 minutes after for a few sips of the gravy!! Too spicy but couldn’t resist, hey?
By the way, a few days after, I mentioned to Gertrude from My Kitchen Snippets that I made Asam Laksa from scratch as I was craving for it. She then sent me a packet of Asam Laksa paste (amongst other stuff) all the way from the U.S! So, if I need quick-fix of Asam Laksa, I can make it real fast now! Thanks, Gertrude.
Right, I hope you like this recipe. Well, I haven’t forgotten about the Dorset Cereals Giveaways! Congratulations!! to the winners that have been randomly drawn as follow:
Prize 1 to 4: DORSET CEREALS – Exotic Pineapple & Papaya with Toasted Coconut
- John K
Prize 5 to 8: DORSET CEREALS – Berries & Cherries Bars
- Mei Yin
- Lubna Karim
- Tan Siew Moy
Prize 9 to 12: DORSET CEREALS – Fruit, Nuts & Seeds Bars
Prize 13 to 16: DORSET CEREALS – Super High Fibre Bars
- Deb Harriss
- The Little Teochew
For the Penang Asam Laksa (Rice Noodles in Hot and Sour Fish Gravy):
600g indian mackerel/wold herring
90g tamarind pulp
3-4 pieces tamarin peels
2 stalks polygonum/daun kesum/vietnamese mint
1 ginger flower
5 red chillies
5 dried chillies
60g belacan/shrimp paste
1 small cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2-3 red chillies, chopped
150g mint leaves
600g laksa noodles
5 tbsp thick prawn paste
100ml hot water
a pinch of salt
1. If using dried laksa noodles (thick rice vermicelli), prepare according to the instruction on the packet.
2. Gut and clean the fish and place in a shallow dish for steaming. Steam the fish until cooked. Leave the fish to cool before removing the flesh. Set aside the fish flakes. A pool of clear fish stock would have been collected in the steaming dish – strain the fish stock into a big pot along with 2 litres of water. (If you choose to boil/poach the fish like I did, make sure you take the fish out, leave cool. Then, strain the stock.)
3. Mix the tamarind pulp with water and strain into the pot with the fish stock. Add the tamarind peel, polygonum leaves, ginger bud and the spice paste.
4. Bring the stock to a boil and lower the heat to simmer until aromatic. Before turning off the fire, add the flaked fish and season to taste.
5. Split and core the cucumber and cut into think strips (julienne). Cut the pineapple into think strips too. Peel, halve and slice red onion thinly. Slice the chillies thinly. Then, separate the mint leaves from the stems.
6. Add just enough hot water to the prawn paste to achieve a pouring consistency.
7. To serve: Place a serving of laksa noodles in a bowl of deep dish. Top with a little of each of the toppings/garnishes. Ladle hot laksa gravy over the noodles and toppings. Serve with a tablespoon of the prepared prawn paste.