Do you know that Penang asam laksa made it to number 26 on World’s 50 Best Foods on CNN Travel? How amazing is that???!
In Malaysia itself there are many types of laksa – depending on which state you are from. I grew up with my parents who are both from Terengganu so as a kid, I only knew two type of laksa which are laksa kuah putih (white gravy laksa) or laksa kuah merah (red gravy laksa). They have basically the same ingredients but the ‘red’ in red gravy laksa comes from the chilli paste that is added to the otherwise would be white gravy. Generally, this is the kind of laksa you’ll find at the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia.
All laksa in Malaysia have one thing in common – it is served in fish broth (duh)! Soooo…..what differentiate all these different type of laksa, as you would guess it, is the fish broth. To name a few, laksa from Terengganu is made with fish broth and coconut milk, the one in Malacca (also known as ‘Nyonya laksa’) is made with fish broth, coconut milk and some additional spices that makes the broth look like thin, creamy curry (I personally call it curry laksa but don’t quote me, some locals say there’s a difference between Nyonya and curry laksa, which I have no idea what). Now, the laksa in Penang, namely Asam Laksa, is made with sour (which is the ‘asam’ factor in the broth) fish broth. No coconut milk.
Being one of the must-eat-hawker-food of Penang, the sweet and sour taste of asam laksa will keep you coming back for more. Fret not, I got you covered with this one and the only Penang asam laksa recipe you’ll need in your life to recreate this master piece at home. Before I let you go ahead to the recipe, I am going to break down the flavour of Penang Asam Laksa for you.
- Sour – As the name ‘asam’ implies, the broth will include a souring agent. You can use either tamarind peel or tamarind paste. Some people will use both in one recipe.
- Sweet – This is the secret to an awesome asam laksa broth – pineapple! Blend fresh, sweet, ripen pineapple together with your spice paste. However, canned pineapple works just as well. It also doubles as a souring agent in this recipe.
- Spicy – Ooooh, yes! This is definitely optional. If you’re blending fresh chillis together in the spice paste, you’ll most likely get a pale orange-ish broth. If you’d like a more red-ish broth, opt for chilli paste instead. Having said that, it is perfectly okay to use either one or both in this recipe.
- Aromatics – There are a few aromatics that are essential for this recipe. Daun kesum or Vietnamese mint in English (here in Singapore it’s called ‘laksa leaves’), ginger torch bud (bunga kantan) and shrimp paste (belacan). You can leave out the ginger torch bud if you can’t find them but never leave out daun kesum or shrimp paste.
The Only Penang Asam Laksa Recipe You'll NeedPrint Recipe
- 2 pieces (about 200g total) of mackerel fish
- 78g canned sardine in water, drained
- 1 tsp shrimp paste (belacan)
- 4 shallots, quartered
- 1cm knob (1/2 tsp) of fresh tumeric, sliced
- 1cm knob (1/2 tsp) galangal, sliced
- 3 pieces bird's eye chillis (use more or less depending on how spicy you like your food)
- 1tbs chilli paste (use more or less depending on how spicy you like your food)
- 1tsp tamarind paste, or to taste
- 1 slice of tamarind peel
- 527g of canned pineapple chunks, drained
- 3 stalk of lemongrass, bruised
- 2 stalk (40 pieces of leaves) of daun kesum
- 1 ginger torch bud, cut in half lengthwise
- 500ml water (you may not need to use all)
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 2 tsp sugar, or to taste
- A packet (420g) of laksa
- Red onion, finely diced
- Cucumber, jullienne
- Pineapple chunks, roughly diced
- Mint leaves
- Red chillis, thinly sliced
Cook mackerel fish in a boiling water until they are done. Take the fish out and place it on plate, set it aside to let the fish cool down a little bit.
Strain the water that was used for boiling the fish and reserve the water - this is your fish broth.
Once the fish is cool enough to handle, separate the fish meat from its bone. Discard the bone, reserve the fish meat.
In a blender add the mackerel fish meat, sardine, shrimp paste, shallots, tumeric, galangal, chilli, chilli paste, pineapple and blend into a finely ground spice paste.
Add the fish broth, spice paste, tamarind paste, tamarind peel, lemongrass, daun kesum and ginger torch bud into a saucepan on a medium heat. If you think the gravy is too thick, add some water until it reaches your desired consistency. Simmer the gravy for 15-20 minutes. Add salt and sugar, adjust to your taste.
Prepare your laksa according to the packet's instructions.
Once the gravy is cooked, serve it with laksa, garnish with red onion, cucumber, pineapple, chillis and mint leaves.
As you can see, my asam laksa gravy is thick - thanks to a lot of fish meat and the blended pineapple. If you like a thinner gravy like the ones sold at the hawker's, blend less fish meat. Instead, you can reserve some fish meat and add them later to your bowl so you'd have chunks of fish in your gravy. Same goes with the pineapple. You can also use the water/syrup drained from the canned pineapple to boil the fish or add to the asam laksa gravy. However, never use the water drained from the canned sardine because you'll end up with very fishy smelling asam laksa gravy.