Assam Laksa Ohhhh Assam Laksa… where do I begin??? One dish I used to share a love-hate relationship with, which is now very much loved. Also one of J’s favourite dish in the whole world! So why did I hate Assam Laksa before??? Ermmm perhaps, ‘Hate’ is too strong a word, maybe ‘didn’t really like’ would be a better way to put it.
After several times of trying the Asam Laksa served outside, I discovered one big reason why I didn’t really like Assam Laksa, was because of the Black Prawn Paste (Petis) which it is being served with. A dish which is very popular in the Malaysian island of Penang, many prefer it with the black Prawn Paste as they say, that is what makes Assam Laksa, Assam Laksa! Well, to each, its own. As for me, take that out of the equation, it’s all good, when it is done right, minus the fish bones, and when done with the right fish of course!
Of course, apart from the ‘Petis’, some other key ingredients that give Assam Laksa that distinct flavour, would be Vietnamese Mint Leaves (also known as Polygonum Leaves on a more scientific term or Daun Kesum, as the Malays call it), Tamarind Peel (also known as Assam Keping in Malay) and ‘Bunga Kantan’ (also known as Torch Ginger or Ginger Flower). The Vietnamese Mint and ‘Bunga Kantan’ can be found in the frozen section of Asian Groceries, particularly for those who are not in Southeast Asia. These would be the two ingredients that give this dish that refreshing aroma, somewhat ‘killing’ that fishy smell which can get overpowering at times.
I still remember the first time my Maa-ji introduced this dish to me. I had no recollection of the black prawn paste being there. She must have removed the sauce beforehand! It was perfectly yummy! Since then, I always have my Assam Laksa or Penang Laksa, sans the Petis 🙂 On the contrary, J loves his with the ‘Petis’!
On the whole, I feel, Assam Laksa is a dish, one would either really love or just totally dislike altogether, but one thing for sure, no matter how you may not want to try it at all because of the sometimes overpowering smell, this is one dish you shouldn’t totally discount altogether as you never know. As the saying goes, “You’ll never fall in love with someone until you get to know the person”, same goes for this Asam Laksa dish, “You’ll never fall in love with it, till you actually taste it or give it that second chance,” I guess? As long as you are a fish lover, you’ll be safe with this dish as it is just full on fish broth!
- 3 large pieces approximately 700gms Mackerel Fillet
- 8 cups water
- Bunch of Polygonum Leaves Daun kesum
- 1/2 cup Tamarind juice
- 5 pieces Asam Keping Dried Tamarind Peel
- 2 stalks Ginger Flower Bunga Kantan
- Sugar & Salt to taste
- 1 packet thick rice Laksa Noodles (Jiang Xi brand is highly recommended)
For the spice paste
- 10 small Onions shallots
- 10 cm fresh Galangal
- 2 stalks Lemongrass
- 1 tsp Shrimp Paste Belacan
- 10 dried chillies soaked in water and de-seeded
For the Toppings / Garnish
- A handful Mint leaves
- A handful Polygonum Leaves
- 2 pineapple slices cut into small pieces
- 1 cucumber cut into spirals
- 2 medium Red Onions thinly sliced
- 3 fresh Red Chillies sliced
- A spoonful per serving Prawn Paste (Petis)
- Bring fish and water to boil in a large stock pot.
- Blend Ingredients for Spice paste.
- Remove fish and debone, taking only the flesh, broken into small pieces.
- Check stock in pot, if it looks fairly clear, there is no need to strain. If you prefer a clearer stock or if there is too much fish deposits in stock, strain and return to pot.
- Add in Tamarind juice, Polygonum leaves, Asam Keping and Ginger Flower.
- Add in spice paste to the fish stock.
- Leave to simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Add salt and sugar to taste.
- Boil noodles as per instructions on packet and set aside.
- Serve hot with the garnishing as above.
Some use canned tuna instead of Mackerel - this may be an option for those days where the fresh option is unavailable.