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Assam Laksa (Nyonya Noodles with Fish Broth)

August 15th, 2009Recipes45 Comments
Nyonya Assam Laksa
Nyonya Assam Laksa pictures (1 of 10)

Assam laksa, also spelled as Asam laksa, the piquant, pungent, sour, and fiery hot noodle dish with fresh vegetables bathed in a fish broth is a Penang Nyonya creation. Known simply as Laksa in Penang, it’s found almost everywhere in Penang–kopitiam (coffee shops), roadside stalls, mobile push carts, and hawker centers. With perfect balance of tartness and spicy flavor, Assam laksa is uniquely Malaysian as there is nothing quite like it in the Southeast Asia region.

Assam laksa, arguably the staple street hawker food in Penang also puts Penang on the culinary map. Mention the words “Assam Laksa” to any Malaysians or foreigners who had tasted it would probably set their mouth watering. Assam laksa is one of the most–if not the most–successful, explosively delicious, addictive, and appetizing Nyonya concoctions…

Assam laksa is a much celebrated dish in my family due to my late grandmother. Grandma was a religious Buddhist. Raised by her Thai-Chinese mother (my great grandmother), grandma spoke Thai and Thai influences were evident in her religious rituals and day-to-day life. Grandma was devoted to Wat Chayamangkalaram, Thai reclining Buddha temple in Penang. Every month, grandma, father, mother, aunt and I would go to Wat Chayamangkalaram for prayers. Inside the wat (temple), there is a shrine for a Buddha by the name of “Laksa Ang Kong” or laksa Buddha. Don’t ask me why but tale has it that Laksa Buddha loved laksa, and hence the only offering for Him is laksa.

Every month on the morning of prayer, grandma, mother, and aunt would wake up very early to prepare a big pot of assam laksa, and I would help them in the kitchen cutting vegetables, picking fish meat off the bones, and prepare the spice paste. This ritual had rewarded me with the techniques and skills to make a mean pot of laksa, a gift that I will forever treasure.

This is my family’s recipe for assam laksa. It is delicious and holds a very dear place in my heart. It brings back memories when my family spent quality and precious times together, savoring and celebrating our religion and great home-cooked foods, a nostalgia that will continue to linger in my mind.

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45 comments... read them below or add one

  1. Angie says:

    Oh! My hubby’s favorite! Just wonder, can you get fresh “bunga kantan” in LA?

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Angie – no, no bunga kantan, I have found high and low but can’t find it. Can you get it in Vancouver? If so, you have to FEDEX it to me. :P

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      • Angie says:

        I can’t get fresh bunga kantan in Vancouver too. However, I bought some dried ones in Kl. (It’s Hup Loong brand from Penang)

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        • Nyonya Food says:

          Dried bunga kantan doesn’t smell anything. I had those too and threw them away. :P

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          • Evelyn says:

            Hi Gals,
            I can see bunga kantan at the asian supermarket around my area in San Gabriel, CA during summer time.

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          • Nyonya Food says:

            Hey Evelyn – in which store did you see the bungan kantan. Would love to know. Thanks for your tips. :)

  2. Victor says:

    Yum, looks fantastic. It is quite hard to replicate the exact texture and flavour as the one in Penang hawker stall. No fresh mackerel fish, bunga kantan, assam keping in Hobart. Daun kesom no problem. Grow in pots in my green house. Heard a lot about the most famous stall in Balik Pulau, which I have to try on my next trip home.

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Victor – I don’t have fresh mackerel fish in the US, too, and made do with the frozen ones. Assam keping is optional because you can just use tamarind.

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  3. We sampled this in Singapore, and it was delicious, but we soon had sweat pour out of the top of our heads – I didn’t think that was possible.

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      OysterCulture – Have you been to Malaysia? If you haven’t, you absolutely have to. You can only get great and authentic assam laksa in Penang. Those served outside of Penang somehow just tastes different, and I am not biased in this case because many people come far and away to Penang just to have their fix. ;)

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  4. Eric Lam says:

    Hi there, this is the first time I comment on Nonyafood.com.

    My query is, can we add the “Heh Koh” in the fish broth too as I think it will enhance the taste of the Laksa.

    I did cook laksa at home and everytime I just can’t get the right taste of Laksa until I have to put some “Heh Koh” in the broth to bring out the taste from the fish soup.

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Eric – I agree, you can add heh koh into the fish broth to enhance the taste. I also add some fish sauce to bring out the taste, or add a lot of heh koh when serving. :)

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  5. Mmmmmmm love love love! Laksa. Unfortunately all the ones I’ve had here have been pretty bad. I’ll have to try making it at home sometime.

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Marc – all Malaysian restaurants in the US are really not that great. The only good laksa I had tried which I liked was “PENANG” in Boston. It was close to the real deal but that was like more than 10 years ago…

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  6. YL says:

    I brought my Chinese friend (from Northeast China) to try Assam Laksa and she didn’t like it. She said the smell was too strong. She didn’t even like the first taste of the soup. I guess only we, the Malaysians, know how to enjoy it every bit.

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      YL – Yeah, I think mainland Chinese are not used to our foods. I noticed that European, even Americans love assam laksa but mainland Chinese thinks it’s repulsive!!!

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  7. kl_changs says:

    What a charming story, Bee : ) Laksa Ang Kong. *chuckle*

    I found frozen bunga kantan at the asian grocery store here. Haven’t used it yet though. Hope it gives a bit of the aroma…but doubt it lah….

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Yes, you have to check it out if you go back to Penang. It’s true, I am not joking. Frozen bunga kantan sounds great, I don’t even have the frozen ones. :(

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  8. Trissa says:

    I’m a big laksa fan and will have to try your recipe very soon. Thank you for sharing your family recipe.

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Trissa – great. The secret is to have lots of heh ko when you serve. That pretty much does the trick. ;)

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  9. Aleena Wee says:

    Oh I am having severe cravings for it now! My favorite Asam Laksa stalls in Penang are the one at the Ayer Itam market and Bee Hooi kopitiam at Pulau Tikus. Sadly to say, I dont think I have seen bunga kantan here in Seattle. Will keep a lookout for it though!

    Aleena

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Every laksa stall in Penang is my favorite, because they all taste different, but yet so delicious. ;)

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  10. npm says:

    Oh my goodness, Penang asam laksa is my FAVORITE! While living in KL, I used to snake my way through the sweaty, yelling crowd of Petaling Street to get to the best asam laksa in KL..a really shabby-looking roadside stall. For that, I guess you can call me Laksa Buddhist :D

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      NPM – I know the Petaling Street stall and when I studied in KL, I would go there to eat. Unfortunately, it’s really not good in my opinion. The biggest problem I have with it is that it uses canned sardine. Yikes. Anyway, I am a true blue Penangite, so I am very critical when it comes to our laksa!!!

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      • npm says:

        Didn’t know they were using canned sardines! Last I ate there was about 7 or 8 yrs ago with a friend from Chicago. Always the case, the more popular the stall gets, the less quality control there is. Have not tried authentic asam laksa in Penang so can’t tell the difference…yet. Must go to Penang soon.

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        • Nyonya Food says:

          NPM – you just have to go to Penang and try our laksa, and then Penang Nyonya food, too. It’s very different.

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  11. zenchef says:

    You have such a great food culture. It’s amazing and it’s so generous of you to share it with the world. I really enjoyed reading this story. Now i would enjoy it even more with a bowl of assam laksa in front of me. :)

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Zen – you are too kind. You would totally love Assam Laksa. It’s tastes like your French fish soup, but much much better and appetizing, and with loads of vegetables and noodles!!

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  12. catty says:

    wow how amazing does that look??? I grew up in Penang and would KILL for a great bowl of assam laksa. The best I can do is with flavouring out of the pack and even then I can’t always find the right noodles! I want some of yours. Please!

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Catty – yes, the right kind of noodles are hard to find. The Penang laksa noodles are so good, fatter and very QQ and slightly sticky, soooo good! I am lucky I found a very very close substitute. :)

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  13. cherie says:

    OMG! I am addicted to your new website. I won’t even need my cookbooks any more.

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Cherie – you are too funny! LOL, I hope to grow the site and have more recipes as time goes by, and yes, one day you may not need your cookbooks anymore!

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  14. hcpen says:

    omg…i LOVE PENANG LAKSA!!! Assam Laksa is like THE dish unique to penang and can only be found authentically in penang..l love it..thanks for introducing it to other ppl!

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      You are right. Laksa outside of Penang is simply not as good – the taste is always off and no one can cook better laksa than true blue Penang Nyonya’s and also hawkers!

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  15. ade says:

    this is my favourite favourite noodle soup dish that I always crave for now and then since moving overseas…as it’s quite laborious to prepare it, i rely on the instant laksa spice mix (the ones from Penang, forgot the brand name) bought over from my visiting relatives for immediate relief :)
    yummy yummy!

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    • Nyonya Food says:

      Yes, I know the instant Assam laksa mix by Hup Loong but I think they are out of business now. Still, everything from scratch is the best!

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  16. Candace says:

    Hi every Asam Laksa fans in US:
    I found both fresh mackerel & sardine fish in US. I live in Southern California, Orange County to be exact and I found both of these fishes in a chinese supermarket called 99 Ranch Market.

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  17. sibiera says:

    i’m the lazy one lah…, i use Thai Tom Yam paste, add lemon grass, ground onion, and canned sardine – boleh tahan :))

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  18. Tsu Lin says:

    This is THE ONLY dish that I miss (because I cannot replicate it) form M’sia. I really love the strong “piquant, pungent, sour, and fiery hot” taste… infact, yikes! I now crave for it SOOOO much! Can I attempt this here in London? *thinks not*.

    Great Nyonya Recipies, RM. I just finished watching Little Nyonya a month ago & absolutely in love with Nyonya culture (I always do, just that I never really “appreciated” how delicate & interesting it is!).

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  19. You have a very good eye. These are some of the best photos aesthetically and technically that I have seen of food on the web. Great job!

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  20. JudyC says:

    what is heh koh??

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  23. Paul Blazey says:

    Hey nice work! really like the blog and great post. I love a good laksa, I was hoping you might like to add to my guide.

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