Assam Laksa

January 24, 2011

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Ladies and gentleman, it’s time to hail the king of noodle soups. Forget ramen, udon and pho, this one rules above them all. Assam Laksa or Asam Laksa really ought to be Malaysia’s national dish; there is nothing quite like it in any other cuisine and it’s the perfect mascot to illustrate the uniqueness and diversity of Malaysian cuisine. It’s the one dish that I crave for most and the one that makes me cry like a baby because I can’t get to the good stuff without boarding a plane. Basically I see rainbows with every heavenly spoonful because it’s so damn good (or maybe that’s just me hallucinating from the spiciness!).

I can’t believe it took me this long to fall in love with this amazing dish. When it was assam laksa night for the family, it meant instant noodles for me. Then my tastebuds (thankfully) matured and suddenly, I was loving all sorts of food that I missed out on before. And then it wasn’t until I went to Malaysia in 2008 and tried the authentic assam laksas from the street hawkers that I was converted. I saw the light… and I was hooked.

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I don’t think I can properly articulate just why I love Assam Laksa so much without sounding like buffoon but I’ll certainly try. It’s aromatic, intense and a party of flavours. The soup is wonderfully fishy from mackerel, sour from tamarind and lemongrass, as well as salty, spicy and sweet. The scent of the spices hits your nose with every slurp of chewy noodles that has been lusciously coated from the thick murky soup. The onions adds an extra touch of heat while the pineapple is sweet and cuts through the tangy tamarind soup. Through it all, my favourite part is the crunchy coolness from the julienned cucumbers (no doubt the best combatant for the onslaught of chilli heat) and the final hit of fresh mint. Each spoonful is better than the last but each one is a delicious riot.

Can you tell this is true love?

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Malaysian restaurants are plentiful in Sydney but Assam Laksa sadly, remains elusive from their menus and even then, it is never as rich and flavoursome as back home. Luckily the ingredients are readily available at most good Asian grocers and markets in Sydney so there was no putting it off any longer. Even more so since I discovered that we actually grew polygonum and mint in the yard, right under my nose. So with a bit of encouragement from Mother Superior, I set about making it from scratch hoping that it’d bring a little bit of ‘home’ back.

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Don’t let the ingredient list put you off. It’s not as crazy as it looks and the actual process is not difficult at all (the key is simply to season it correctly for the perfect balance of sour, sweet and salty). The spice paste can be made in advance and the soup only needs just over an hour’s cooking time so it’s not really arduous (trust me, I made ramen from scratch and that was epic. This was child’s play!). For a beginner’s homemade laksa outside of Malaysia, I think it’s pretty awesome. Actually scratch that; I don’t want to blow smoke up my own you-know-what but it wasn’t too far off authentically. The verdict that mattered however, came from The Father who claimed it to be just like Malaysia’s (woohoo) and *gasp* better than Mother’s (double woohoo but don’t repeat it to her hehe).

Needless to say, I have a few batches simmering away now ready to be frozen and stored for a rainy day.

Assam Laksa

Assam Laksa
Serves 6
A classic and famous dish unique to Malaysia. A fragrant and flavoursome noodle soup that's sour, sweet, salty and spicy.
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Cook Time
1 hr 5 min
Cook Time
1 hr 5 min
Spice Paste
  1. 10-12 dried red chillis – soaked in warm water until softened, deseeded then roughly chopped
  2. 6 small fresh red chillis – deseeded and roughly chopped
  3. 8 French shallots (about 100g) – peeled and roughly chopped
  4. 8 cloves garlic (about 35g) – peeled and roughly chopped
  5. 2 lemongrass stalks – the white parts only, roughly sliced
  6. 5cm piece of galangal (40g)
  7. 1.5 tsps of belacan powder or 1 tsp of belacan paste
  8. 1 Tbl of canola or vegetable oil
Stock
  1. 2 whole mackerel fish (about 800g)
  2. 2.5 L of water
  3. A couple of extra fish heads or bones (optional but makes for a stronger fishy soup)
Soup
  1. 100g seedless tamarind pulp
  2. 125ml hot water
  3. 5 pieces of dried tamarind peel or dried tamarind skin (asam keping / asam gelugor)
  4. 5 large sprigs of polygonum odoratum(Laksa leaf / Vietnamese coriander / Vietnamese mint)
  5. 1 Tbl salt (adjust to taste)
  6. 3 Tbl of sugar (adjust to taste)
  7. 1 tsp of fish sauce
  8. 2-3 Tbl of prawn paste or hae ko (adjust to taste)
For the bowls
  1. 500 – 750g of Laifen or any thick laksa rice noodles, cooked (I used Zhongshan rice sticks but Bun Bo Hue round rice noodles also works brilliantly)
  2. 2 Lebanese cucumbers, julienned
  3. 1 large red onion, very thinly sliced
  4. Pineapple, finely chopped (or tinned pineapple pieces)
  5. Fresh red chillis, deseeded and sliced
  6. Mint leaves
  7. Polygonum leaves
  8. Prawn paste or hae ko, whisked with a little boiling water to a slightly runny consistency
For the paste
  1. With a stick blender, food processor or mortar and pestle, ground all the spice ingredients until it turns to a paste. If you’re making this in advance, store it in a clean jar in the fridge until ready to use.
For the soup
  1. Clean, gut and scale your mackerel and rinse off the blood (you can get your fish monger to do this for you but make sure you keep the heads). Bring the 2.5 litres of water to a boil, then carefully lower the fish and the extra fish heads/bones if you’re using.
  2. Cook for 10 minutes then remove the whole mackerel (leave the other bones in the pot). Set aside the mackerels to cool and reduce the heat of the stock to low.
  3. Add the warm water to the tamarind pulp and leave to stand for a few minutes. Squeeze the tamarind pulp to break it up and extract the juice. Keep squeezing until all the pulp has broken up. Strain and set aside. For a lazier option, use a stick blender to pulverise the water and pulp together before adding to the fish stock.
  4. Add the spice paste, tamarind juice, tamarind peel and polygonum leaves and simmer on low for 40 minutes. Season with salt, sugar, fish sauce and prawn paste to taste.
  5. Meanwhile, when the mackerel has cooled enough, use your hands to remove the flesh from the fish and set aside. Be sure to remove all the bones, brown bits and skin. Flake and set aside.
  6. Strain the stock and check your seasonings with salt and sugar (it should be balanced with salty, sour and sweet). Add about a third of the flaked mackerel to the soup and use the rest to garnish the bowls. For a thicker soup, add more fish flakes.
  7. Fill bowls with cooked noodles and ladle hot soup over it. Garnish with cucumber, onions, pineapple, chilli, mint leaves and serve immediately with prawn paste to the side.
Notes
  1. *Substitutes for mackerel: any fatty flaky white fish with a strong “fishy” flavour. Sardines are a common alternative but I don’t like using it because it has too many tiny bones.
  2. *Most of the tamarind pulp etc sold in Sydney are from Thailand. I prefer my tamarind products from Malaysia so if you can find it, I recommend it (it’s not a patriotic thing but I think the flavour is much better than products from anywhere else).
  3. *If you’re making the soup in advance, remove the tamarind peel and polygonum after it has simmered, bring to the boil then remove from heat and leave overnight (this will make for an even better flavoured soup). When ready, strain, add the flaked fish and heat before serving.
  4. *Some people prefer their assam soup less sour so if that’s the case, use less tamarind peel or tamarind pulp. Or similarly, add more sugar and prawn paste to sweeten. For those who like it tangy, a squeeze of lime in your individual bowls will do the trick.
  5. *If you’d like it less spicier, you can use less dried and/or fresh chilli in the paste.
  6. *For a more darker and flavoursome soup, you can add more hae ko to the soup base. But usually the individual will adjust it themselves to taste in their own bowls.
  7. *A traditional garnish is finely chopped wild ginger bud (also known as ginger flower, torch ginger or bunga kantan). However these are not readily available in Sydney but some Asian stores may sell packets of it in the freezer section therefore it's purely optional.
Citrus and Candy http://www.citrusandcandy.com/

 

Guide to Ingredients

 

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Chilli and Mint September 7, 2012 at 03:40

I stumbled across your site from Christina ‘The Hungry Australian’. This recipe looks divine and I would love to try cooking it. I was just wondering what Belacan powder/paste is exactly? Will have to search for it in London. Am sure it won’t be too tricky. Fingers crossed. Looking forward to exploring your recipes.

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Evy August 7, 2012 at 15:40

Hello,

Does anybody know where I can buy wild ginger bud or torch ginger in Sydney?

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Citrus and Candy August 15, 2012 at 15:08

Hi Evy, sadly I had absolutely no luck finding wild ginger bud yet in Sydney but I’ll definitely keep you posted if I strike gold :)

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Evy September 11, 2012 at 23:16

Hi Citrus and Candy,

Thanks for your reply. I do know that the Vietnamese shops out in Cabramatta stocks wild ginger bud but only on certain seasons and Cabramatta is totally out of the way for me.
By the way, I happened to be in Ayer Itam two weeks ago and took the opportunity to taste the best laksa in the world. I have to say, torch ginger really balance up the sourish taste!

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Miss Piggy February 3, 2012 at 19:41

Ok…so NOW I know what Assam Laksa is. I cannot wait to try it for myself as yours looks mouth-watering. Sadly I won’t be trying this at home kids…will look for the real deal when I visit Singapore next week.
Miss Piggy recently posted..Riverbend Restaurant, Wisemans Ferry

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Christina @ The Hungry Australian November 27, 2011 at 17:35

I also can’t quite explain why I love Asam laksa so much. I think it’s just the most incredible combination of flavours and textures. I find it endlessly fascinating and will always choose this dish above all other Malaysian hawker dishes.

I’m so happy I learned how to make my Popo’s Asam Laksa – it’s really very special for my family.
Christina @ The Hungry Australian recently posted..Beautiful Berry Pavlova

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Billy April 5, 2011 at 03:24

I made this on the weekend, and I have to say it turned out pretty good. I had a few Malaysian friends over to try it, and they gave it a pretty warm thumbs up, though apparently it needed to be more sour. I thought the flavour balanced pretty well, though I wish I'd put more mackerel in, as the flavour was right, but the soup wasn't as thick as the one I tried in Penang recently.

But thanks for the recipe!!

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celine tam March 16, 2011 at 08:15

I made this and it brought me back to Malaysia! Thankyou for the amazing recipe, hubby is extremely grateful too haaha!

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Gastronomy Gal January 31, 2011 at 22:56

Oh my. I have never had Assam Laksa. Oh the shame, Oh the humiliation. Sounds like a trip to Malaysia is in order to make sure I try the good stuff first up!

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Anna (M&M) January 30, 2011 at 07:30

this recipe has made me so happy. really. i am just so excited about making it.

assam laksa is my favourite laksa of all and this looks so beautiful.

just need to buy myself some ribbed chopsticks so those pesky, slippery noodles don't escape my eagerly awaiting gob.

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Lisalicious January 30, 2011 at 06:07

omg, this look so authentic.

My hubby loves assam laksa coz he is a penangite…

I must follow this recipe and prepare for him one day!

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@bellyrumbles January 30, 2011 at 04:32

Karen, thank you for the ingredient pictures. Even though I am learning quite a lot about Asian ingredients, I sometimes get a little lost. I will be giving this one a go for sure, sounds like a rainbow of tastes for the tongue.

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kampungboy January 29, 2011 at 06:06

I think my mum would be proud if I made this for her. Genius stuff!

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Sandy January 26, 2011 at 14:37

Yum Yum Yum – I am so hungry now…

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catty January 26, 2011 at 12:59

I FUCKING LOVE ASSAM LAKSA. and i hate that you can make it from scratch!!!! Ok, not really, I'm just super jealous. you're amazing!!

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J.S. January 25, 2011 at 14:10

Hands down the best damn looking assam laksa I've ever seen. Awesome photos and what looks like the most authentic recipe on the internet. Can't wait to try it!

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Sarah - For the Love of Food January 25, 2011 at 13:45

I've never had Assam Laksa before, only the coconut milk based kind. Your description and photos and your passion for this have really made me want to try it! I have heaps of Asian grocers near me so the ingredients should be easy enough to find. Assam Laksa here i come :) Thanks for the recipe (and it's relatively low fat too which means I can have it more often)!

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Vivienne S January 25, 2011 at 12:11

I just wanna let you know that I couldn’t wait and had to make this as soon as I saw your blog in the morning. I was thinking whether simmering for 40 minutes was needed but it really does make the soup flavorsome. The flavor was amazing especially the next night! I made it thick with fish chunks just like Malaysia and added heaps of cucumber and pineapple but I was so happy at how authentic the soup tasted.

My family and I haven’t had this in years so thank u thank u for the recipe! Your photos are beautiful!

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Little Lady H January 25, 2011 at 10:49

Now that looks like the best Assam Laksa I have ever seen! I will attempt to cook it one day.

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dishfolio team January 24, 2011 at 20:44

This looks fantastic! We'd love for you to post your recipe at dishfolio.com! Great photos.

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Simon@theheartoffood January 24, 2011 at 13:56

Oh baby! I so have to try this recipe out for myself.

Having had my first experience of Assam Laksa in Malaysia, though I've been forever spoiled, at least I'll have an idea of what to compare to when I make this for myself.

Thanks for the post. Feel so inspired!

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angie January 24, 2011 at 13:53

Can I pop over for dinner Karen? Please??? =)
I've never had Assam Laksa, I'd like yo try yours ;)

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breadetbutter January 24, 2011 at 13:29

I LOOOOOVE assam laksa! Yours look absolutely fab, I've only made it with sardines in the past – will have to try your recipe with mackerel!

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mlle délicieuse January 24, 2011 at 09:52

Oh wow, really the stuff of rainbows! So complex yet balanced. And what a compliment from your father =D But, ssshhh, I'll try not to say that too loudly…

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john@heneedsfood January 24, 2011 at 07:22

Can you hear the drool running down my chin? Gorgeous laksa!

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Rasa Malaysia January 24, 2011 at 06:27

OMG, looks so good. Haven't had it in a looooong time but luckily I am heading back to Penang for CNY…will get the real stuff soon.

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citrusandcandy January 25, 2011 at 12:13

Omg forget my laksa. I'm so jealous of all the beautiful CNY food and laksa you're going to eat! Have a wonderful holiday and gong xi fat choi!

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repaistre January 24, 2011 at 05:51

Looks great! Are you also able to source the wild ginger bulb in sydney by any chance?

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citrusandcandy January 24, 2011 at 07:26

No luck as yet :(

I keep my eyes peeled at Vietnamese and Thai grocers but no wild ginger bud has been spotted so far. Hehe that's why I put it under optional garnishes since they're so hard to come by in Australia *sad face*

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penny aka jeroxie January 24, 2011 at 05:01

I am a big fan of assam laksa and cannot find a decent one in Melbourne. No way they can make one like the one that i love in ipoh….

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Howard January 24, 2011 at 04:39

This is awesome. You are right about the lack of assam laksa available in Sydney. I still remember one the best bowls of this I had was at a franchise restaurant in KL, The Laksa Shack!

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Fiona January 24, 2011 at 04:03

LOVE Malay laksa.

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joey@FoodiePop January 24, 2011 at 03:56

Lovely recipe! Makes me so hungry!

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Phuoc'n Delicious January 24, 2011 at 03:27

Cool! So happy that it worked out for you. What a great guide at the end of the post.

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Soma January 24, 2011 at 03:18

Your photographs and description of the dish is making me drool.

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Helen | grabyourfork January 24, 2011 at 03:11

Be still my beating heart! I came home with an assam laksa sachet from Penang but gah, your homemade assam laksa looks amazing!

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chocolatesuze January 24, 2011 at 03:10

oh my goodness i can see rainbows in that bowl of awesomeness! rainbows and unicorns!

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Kaitlin January 24, 2011 at 03:01

What an interesting sounding dish! You've styled it beautifully. I'd love to try it based on the amazing way you've described it :)

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SimonFoodFavourites January 24, 2011 at 03:01

excellent looking assam laksa there. well done. i'll have to resort to Malay-Chinese for my assam laksa fix though :-)

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Steph January 24, 2011 at 01:06

Hi Karen, will you marry me? And then make this for dinner every night :D

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citrusandcandy January 24, 2011 at 03:57

If you get me a ring like yours… then yes! xx

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shaz January 24, 2011 at 00:35

Oh thank you, thank you! I have been craving assam laksa but never had the courage to make it. I bought daun kesom from the nursery and it is threatening to over-run it's pot so it's high time I made assam laksa eh ? Awesome work Karen!

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@minhg January 24, 2011 at 00:06

EPIC! I love this post Karen, the pictures are gorgeous and I'm getting hungry already! Can't wait to try this recipe out. Thanks for including the visual guide at the end, half the time I've no idea what I'm looking for lol

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Jen January 23, 2011 at 23:22

OMGosh, I love this dish and always order it at Temasek when they have it on the weekend merry-go-round menu! Can't wait to give this recipe a go! :)

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mycookinghut January 23, 2011 at 23:00

This is my all time favourite! I can have it a few times a day! ;)

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Three-Cookies January 23, 2011 at 17:41

Looks complex and sounds really delicous. Love the guide to ingredients, extremely helpful

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citrusandcandy January 23, 2011 at 17:50

Hi Three-Cookies,

It does look like a long recipe but it actually was much less intimidating than I first thought. Which is a great thing because now we can all make it regularly hehe :)

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Beverly January 23, 2011 at 17:33

One of my favorite dishes at a local restaurant is laksa. I am so excited to try your recipe! I was a little wary when I got to the part in your post where you warned against worrying about the ingredient list, but even though I have a kitchen stocked with mostly “western” ingredients, I only need to seek out four or five! PERFECT for the upcoming snow coming to my area!

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citrusandcandy January 23, 2011 at 17:48

I hope you enjoy it Beverly! The ingredients list does sound a little 'exotic' but they all should be readily available from Asian grocers. Best ones to look at are Malaysia, Thai or Vietnamese stores. Good luck :)

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