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Family Recipe for Asam Laksa

Penang's famous Asam Laksa - family recipe by SeasonWithSpice.com

After sitting back to read through the “Story of Penang Asam Laksa”, it’s now time to work. Don’t worry, this asam laksa recipe is passed down from my mom, who learned from my grandma, who probably learned from my great-grandma, so it’s been tasted, authenticated, and loved by four Malaysian cooks.

But since my mom has burned her tastebuds from a steady diet of chilies her entire life, and tends to cook most dishes a bit too spicy these days, I cut down her chili amount, so as not to mask the other flavours.

ingredients for assam laksa recipe bunaga kantan, lemon grass, galangal, onion, chili, garlic

Chili, galangal (lengkuas), lemongrass, fresh turmeric, shallots, garlic, and torch ginger flower (bunga kantan) - the building blocks of asam laksa. 

ikan pelata or yellowtail kingfish for asam laksa recipe

Typically, hawker stalls use local mackerel (ikan kembong) in asam laksa because the low quality fish is the cheapest at the market. When cooking at home, try a better quality fish such as horse mackerel (ikan selar kuning), fresh sardine, or what was used in this recipe – yellowtail kingfish (ikan pelata).

Into boiling water, add the chunks of galangal, lemongrass, and torch ginger flower, along with the cleaned, whole fish. Let boil until the fish is cooked. Then remove the fish, and set aside to cool before breaking off the meat. Or if you have a pair of iron hands like my mom, you can start straight away.

vietnamese mint or laksa leaves, tamarind peel, belacan

To the soup base, add in fresh Vietnamese mint (otherwise referred to as laksa leaf or daum kesum), for its citrusy aroma. Some dried shrimp paste (belacan) for depth and pungency. And then the essential souring agents for the soup - tamarind pulp and dried tamarind peel (asam keping).

how long to cook fish for assam laksa

And finally, place the fish flakes back into the broth, and add in the ground spice paste. Let it simmer for an hour, until the flavours fuse and intensify.

garnish vegetables, spices, herbs for laksa recipe

Last, fill a bowl with laksa noodles/thick rice noodles, pour in the soup, and garnish with sliced cucumber, pineapples, onions, mint leaves, chilies and torch ginger flower. Add calamansi lime and a spoonful of sweetened dark prawn paste (heh ko sauce) on the side.

A Penang iconic dish synonymous with its home - multifaceted, chaotic, soulful, intimidating, and colorful.

Penang's famous Asam Laksa - family recipe by SeasonWithSpice.com

Penang's famous Asam Laksa - family recipe by SeasonWithSpice.com

Penang Asam Laksa Recipe by Season with Spice
serves 7 - 8

1 kg pre-cooked laksa noodles (or thick round rice noodles)

Ground spice paste
15 fresh red chilies and 10 dried red chilies (or 3 tbsp freshly ground chili paste)
10 shallots
6 cloves garlic
1 inch of galangal (lengkuas)
2 cm knob of fresh turmeric
2 stalks lemongrass, minced (use the white part only)
1 1/2 tbsp belacan (dried shrimp paste), or if in block form, use 3/4 of a block

For cooking fish:
15 cups water
3 stalks lemongrass, lightly smashed (white part only)
1 torch ginger flower, quartered
3 inches of galangal, halved
1 1/2 kg (about 15 fish) fresh mackerel, horse mackerel, fresh sardine, or yellowtail kingfish - cleaned and gutted
1/3 cup tamarind juice (mix tamarind pulp in hot water for five minutes before squeezing it to obtain the juice)
5 pieces tamarind peel (asam keping or asam gelugor)
6 stalks Vietnamese mint (daun kesom)
3 tbsp sugar or to taste
Salt to taste

1 cucumber, thinly sliced into strips
Chinese lettuce, sliced
1/2 medium size fresh pineapple, sliced into small pieces
2 red onions, thinly sliced
Handful of mint leaves (daun pudina)
1 torch ginger bud (bunga kantan), finely sliced
3 red chilies, thinly sliced
2 green bird's eye chilies, thinly sliced

Calamansi lime
Sweetened prawn paste (heh ko sauce), diluted with laksa soup or water

1. Blend spice paste ingredients into a fine paste.
2. Heat a pot of water and add lemongrass, galangal, torch ginger flower. Bring to a boil and then add fish. Boil on medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until the fish is cooked.
3. Transfer cooked fish to a bowl and let cool. Strain broth to remove spices. Add to the broth the Vietnamese mint, tamarind juice and tamarind peel and continue to boil on low heat.
4. Break the fish meat into tiny pieces, but keep some in bigger chunks.
5. Add the fish flakes back into the pot, along with the spice paste.
6. When it reaches a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes to one hour. While simmering, add salt and sugar to balance the spiciness and sourness for your taste.
7. Rinse laksa noodles in cold water and strain. Place one serving of noodles into a bowl, and pour laksa soup with fish flakes over the top.
8. Top with garnishing, and serve with a spoonful of shrimp paste if you like.

Enjoy the five tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami – of Penang Asam Laksa!

1. If you prefer your asam laksa soup to be less sour, cut down on the tamarind peel or tamarind pulp. If you like it to be spicy, add more chili to your spice paste. For a more pungent flavour, use more shrimp paste (belacan and heh koh).
2. Hawker stalls tend to use low quality local mackerel (ikan kembong) in asam laksa. When making the dish at home, you can use a better quality fish like horse mackerel (ikan selar kuning), fresh sardine, or yellowtail kingfish (ikan pelata).

Penang's famous Asam Laksa - family recipe by SeasonWithSpice.com

Keep the leftover laksa soup for the next day, and fry up some crispy spring rolls (or buy them) and dip it into the soup to enjoy a Penang tradition!

Asam laksa soup with deep fried spring rolls


Rosa May said...
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Clare MacDonald said...

Would it be a waste of time to try and make this vegetarian? It looks excellent

Esef Ong said...

Hi Clara, you can try to replace fish with Kelp (can find them in Japanese/Korean marts) or find Su Tong Vegetarian Laksa paste ( Pes Asam Laksa-in Malay or Terasi Vegan in Indonesian) in well stocked Asian Supermarkets. If you have local organic shops maybe they have vegetarian belacan which is made from fermented soy beans aka tempe with sea salt either fresh or powder forms. Also there's a recipe by Amy Beh for Vegetarian Hae Ko /Shrimp paste but you need to have the Vegetarian Belacan as one of the main ingredients. I hope this helps.

seasonwithspice said...

Hi Clara - it wouldn't be a waste of time to make vegetarian asam laksa. I have tried one vegetarian laksa that tasted pretty close to the fish-based one. You can follow Esef's advice on using kelps as a replacement for fish. Throw in a bit more lemongrass to intensify the flavor.

Thanks so much Esef for sharing such good tips:)

seasonwithspice said...

Hi Clara - it wouldn't be a waste of time to make vegetarian asam laksa. I have tried one vegetarian laksa that tasted pretty close to the fish-based one. You can follow Esef's advice on using kelps as a replacement for fish. Throw in a bit more lemongrass to intensify the flavor.

Thanks so much Esef for sharing such good tips:)

Cookingtackle said...

duh, your picture had me slivering , picture it perfect for my lunch today lol. one day i should give it a try, because my husband said that i'm gonna love asam laksa which i never taste before

seasonwithspice said...

Hi Ira - Your husband is probably right. You're gonna love asam laksa:) Visit Penang if you get a chance, it's not too far away from Bali.

seasonwithspice said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yasmeen Wilde said...

I so miss Adam laksa...yummmmm thanks for sharing the recipe. Makes me miss home :)

seasonwithspice said...

Hope you get to try and make asam laksa wherever you are. It will cure homesickness:)

Lee Xin Chyr said...

Hi Reese and Mark,

Didn't realize you two have started a new blog! found the link through your sister's fb page. this is awesome, I've always wanted to try making Penang food at home since I don't get to eat them often.

Might head back during Chinese New Year, see you two then :)

seasonwithspice said...

Hello Xin Chyr - thanks for saying hi:) I'll be sharing more Penang or Mom's dishes after Christmas. If you get to try them, let us know how it turns out. We can exchange tips during CNY then.

KT said...

Hi Reese and Mark

A couple of questions please. The tbsp of sweetened heh ko sauce at the end, how sweet should it be? Should I use white or palm sugar?

I'll try the recipe and let you know how it goes.

Thanks very much.

seasonwithspice said...

Hi KT - All you need to do with heh ko paste is to dilute it with some laksa soup or water before serving. Sweetened prawn paste is just another name for heh ko. I usually just add tiny bits of the sauce, but it all depends on individual. As for the sugar, I like to use brown sugar. White sugar is fine too. Do feel free to make adjustments according to your taste.

Wish you luck! And yes, do let me know how it turns out. - Reese

Kam Chin said...

Absolutely to die for!!!! Thank you so much for the recipe. I will get to it...when my bunga kantan blooms!


Season with Spice said...

That's exciting, Kam Chin! I wish we can grow bunga kantan in the US!:)

KellyH said...

Wow, looks amazing!! Gotta try this recipe soon, I might have to go for some frozen or dried stuff here in Melbourne. Can you also explore making the Kedah version of nyonya/ Siamese/kedah Laksa? Thanks a million for sharing your recipe. Cheers, Kelly

Season with Spice said...

Hello Kelly - you can surely try out with what you can get in Melbourne. Oh, how I love Siam Laksa too! I do have my mom's recipe for Penang-style Siam Laksa, but not in organised written manner. You know, the aunties are taste-and-go kind of cooks. Unfortunately, I am now living in the US and it takes three hours drive to get to the largest Asian grocery store in the city. Hopefully when I move closer to the area next year, I will get to finalise the recipe and share on the site.

Chow Sinming said...

Delicious Penang Asam laksa reminds my young time in penang.Looks Amazing.

SeasonWithSpice said...

I've made this assam laksa dozens of times and it always blows my mind. The combination of flavours is just amazing! Too bad calamansi limes and torch ginger are nearly impossible to come by in Europe... I think our top chefs would be using calamansi lime all the time if they would know it.
Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

SeasonWithSpice said...

THANK YOU Laksa Lover! This is such a special compliment, my mom would be so thrilled to hear it. Now that we are in the US, we'd love to get access to calamansi lime and torch ginger too! But, I think they are only special because of the rarity. Good reasons for us Malaysians living in overseas to miss our home cuisine even more:)

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