Somewhere in the streets of Penang, there is a small stall outside the Lye Lye Mamak center, surrounded by dozens of similar stalls all selling their specialties. Nasi Lemak, Loh Mee, Roast BBQ chickpeas, Char Koay Teow - the heady aromas intoxicating, yet not enough to sway us from our quest. This was the place we had heard where you could get an authentic Penang Asam Laksa.
Asam Laksa or Laksa Pulau Pinang is a sour (thanks to tamarind), hot (ooh and the chilli and lemongrass) laksa soup made with flaked mackerel, thick rice noodles, tomatoes, mint and a thick sweet shrimp paste. I'm a big fan of laksa I've had this version in Melbourne but always preferred the Laksa Lemak/Curry mee version only because I love the rich creamy taste of coconut and curry infused noodles.
Curious to try an authentic Penang laksa we wandered past the other stalls, declining invitations to sample fried offerings and made for the one stall that offered Asam Laksa. We placed our order and sat to wait for our bowls of steaming hot soup to arrive. Everyone else sitting in the open air was enthusiastically chowing down, heads buried, into their bowl of laksa.
The bowls of soup arrived, the lemongrass and mint redolent and masking the strong smell of fish and shrimp paste. Mixing the shrimp paste with the soup the taste was explosive. Slightly sweet and sour from the tamarind, salty from the fish, fresh and zingy from the cucumber and tomato and with a hint of heat from the chilli and galangal that built up as we devoured it. We contemplated getting another bowl but decided to try out something else, having satisfied the Laksa cravings momentarily. Looking back now, I should've gone back for seconds (!!!) as it was without a doubt the best Asam Laksa I've tasted in my life!
Wonder if there's anywhere in Melbourne or Sydney that might offer a comparable version!?