Recipes excerpted from Penang Makan: Heritage Street Food Recipes. Reproduced by permission of Bulan Press.
Penang Assam Laksa
In Malaysia, there are a few variations of laksa, a noodle soaked in seafood broth, but I would definitely say that Penang Assam laksa triumphs above all. This sour fishy noodle broth was made popular by the Peranakan community of Penang but its origins are Malay.
Growing up my mother had a hard time making me eat seafood as I was born a carnivore, it took years before I could eat a bowl of laksa. After I finished my first steaming bowl, all I could think was, “Why did I wait so long?!”
In Penang, you can find assam laksa in almost any hawker centre, but there are few that can claim to be the very best. My favourite stall is a tiny little kopitiam in Taman Emas run by two sisters. Since I’m not always able to visit this hidden treasure of a stall for a golden bowl of bliss, I decided to recreate the dish at home. I find the balance of sour, sweet and spicy flavours of assam laksa most appealing, like everything else in life, balance is important.
3 garlic cloves
2 stalks of lemongrass 1 thumb-sized galangal
5 fresh red chillies, deseeded for less heat 5 dried red chillies, soaked
1 thumb-sized belacan (dried shrimp paste) toasted
350g ikan kembung (Asian mackerel) or ikan parang (wolf herring)
1.25 litres of water
1 stalk of lemongrass bruised with the back of a knife
1 teaspoon tamarind pulp mixed with 100ml water
3 pieces of asam keping (tamarind peel) 3-5 sprigs daun kesom (laksa leaves) Salt & sugar to taste
400g fresh laksa noodles blanched
½ cucumber, sliced into thin strips
¾ pineapple, sliced into thin strips 1 onion, thinly sliced
1 torch bunga kantan (ginger flower) finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, thinly sliced (this is optional)
3-5 sprigs mint leaves
Hae ko (prawn paste sauce)
In a food processor, blitz all the broth paste ingredients into a smooth paste. Gut and clean the fish. Bring water to a boil and add the lemongrass and fish. Boil for 5 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. Remove the fish and leave aside to cool. Once cooled, debone and flake. Strain the fish stock into a clean pot then add the fish broth paste to the stock. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes until the gravy is aromatic.
Add the fish flakes, tamarind paste, tamarind peel, laksa leaves and add back the lemongrass stalk. Bring the broth to a boil. Season to taste with salt and sugar. If you have the patience, let the broth simmer on a low heat for about 20 – 30 minutes longer for all the ingredients to infuse each other and make the broth taste better.
To serve the laksa, place laksa noodles in a bowl and top with the fresh condiments before ladling the fish broth over the bowl. Serve with a spoonful of prawn paste sauce.
About the Author
Dayana Wong was born and raised in Penang, Malaysia, a vibrant heritage town noted for its culinary delights. It’s apparent that Penang Makan: Heritage Street Food Recipes is a labour of passion. She loves collecting cookbooks, “It took me a while to realize my passion, which was all along books.” Here, she tells us more about how she discovered her affinity for Malaysian food, preserving family recipes passed down through the generations, her two-year journey from ideation to recipe testing, and what it takes to launch a cookbook.
Penang Makan: Heritage Street Food Recipes is priced at RM120 and available on www.bulanpress.com, Kinokuniya KLCC, MPH, independent bookstores across Penang, Lit Books in the Klang Valley. All recipes are Halal.