How to make Penang-Assam Laksa

Penang-Assam Laksa

Assam laksa is a sour fish-based soup. Asam is the Malay word for sour, but it is often used as an abbreviation for asam jawa or tamarind, which is commonly used to give the stock its sour flavor. It is also common to use “asam keping” also known as “asam gelugor”, dried slices of tamarind fruit, for added sourness.

Modern Malay spelling is asam, though the spelling assam is still frequently used.

The main ingredients for assam laksa include shredded fish, normally kembung fish or mackerel, and finely sliced vegetables including cucumber, onions, red chillis, pineapple, lettuce, common mint, “daun kesom” (Vietnamese mint or laksa mint) and pink bunga kantan (ginger buds). Assam laksa is normally served with either thick rice noodles or thin rice noodles (vermicelli). And topped off with “petis udang” or “hae ko”, a thick sweet prawn paste.

Recipe for Penang / Assam Laksa

Ingredients for Penang Laksa:

Makes 10 to 15 portions (“party sized”)

  • 1.5 kg of fish (Sardine / Kembong / or Mackerel)
  • 10 cups water
  • 12 dried chillies – scalded and left to stand
  • 6 fresh red chillies
  • Thumb-sized piece of mature turmeric
  • 3 stalks of serai
  • 300 gm shallots
  • 200 gm belachan
  • 2 stalks of bunga kantan
  • 8 stalks of daun kesom
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups assam water
  • 1 cucumber
  • Half a pineapple
  • 1 big onion
  • 1 bunch mint leaves
  • 1 stalk lettuce
  • 2 sweet pickled cucumber
  • Laksa noodles


  1. The items c) to g) are finely ground; using only 3 of the red chillies for grinding, as the other 3 chillies are sliced and are for the the garnishment, while the fish is deboned after cooking
  2. The “bunga kantan” and the “daum kesum” are thinly sliced; use only one of the “bunga kantan” for the gravy; the other is meant for the garnishment.

Penang Laksa gravy:

  1. Bring water to the boil and cook fish. Debone fish and return fish bones to the stock and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, then strain the stock. Add ground ingrediants to the stock and boil with one bunga kantan and the daum kesum. Simmer for 20 more minutes. Add the deboned and shredded fish and the assam water, and season to taste.

For the vegetable garnishment:

  1. Except for the mint leaves which are washed and destalked, slice or shred all the items from n) to s) plus 3 red chilles and the bungah kantan. Arrange the vegetables in separate containers at the table.

For the toppings:

  1. 1 bowl “haeko” (black prawn paste) mixed with water to flowing consistency

To Serve:

  1. Place the laksa noodles in a bowl. Top them with your choice of sliced or shredded vegetable garnishment, then ladle simmering gravy over the noodles. Add a spoonful of “haeko”.
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