Penang Asam Laksa

The tastiness of Penang's Asam Laksa is so widely known that many have traveled far and wide just to sample it.



One dish that every tourist must try out when visiting Penang is the Penang Asam Laksa. It is available at many hawker stalls and eateries all throughout the island. Though all of them tout their asam laksa dish as the best, the most famous asam laksa stall in Penang is the one operating at the Air Itam market. Some believe that the dish may have originally been a fisherman's fare, as the main ingredient used are small and less favoured types of fishes.

The ingredients used in creating this tantalizing dish are simple and can be found almost anywhere. Garlic, lemongrass, fresh turmeric, shallots, chilli paste and belacan are all grounded into a paste before starting on the broth. Tamarind paste is then mixed with warm water, squeezed and sieved into a stock pot and brought to a boil. Vietnamese mint leaves, sugar, dried tamarind slices or locally known as asam keping, slices of torch ginger bud or bunga kantan and the ground paste of spices are added into the boiling broth. Cleaned whole mackerel fish is then added into the stock and boiled until cooked. The fish is then removed, set to cool before cleaning off the bones and flaking its meat. The broth is simmered to reduce and intensify the flavours. The mint leaves and dried tamarind slices are removed before putting in the flaked fish meat. It is usually served with thick rice noodles garnished with sliced cucumber, pineapples, onions, mint leaves and a spoonful of thick prawn paste.

Though the whole combination of the taste of gravy, noodles and its condiments blends very well together, it is the soup that most people love. So much so that there are certain places in Penang where fried spring rolls are sold together with the soup only, so that the consumers may dip the crispy spring rolls into the soup before it is eaten. It is not surprising to find that some of these dishes can also be found in these other states albeit a slight twist to the recipe. For instance, the laksa that is popular in Ipoh is very similar to the one in Penang except that the Ipoh laksa is slightly more sour and contains prawn paste in their gravy. Laksa Johor has only one thing in common with Penang Asam Laksa – the type of fish used, but differs in everything else.

It is apparent that the consumers do not mind what kind of noodles are used in a bowl of asam laksa so long as it is tasty. The fragrant aroma of the gravy that wafts to their nostrils, the anticipation of biting into that spoonful of noodles and finally slurping it all down with a huge dose of the tasty asam laksa is magical enough to transport them to another state of mind where nothing can come between them and their little bowl of heaven.