Assam Penang laksa

I told you about going off to Penang on my last post. My last visit was more than 20 years apart ago. As a little kid then, I couldn't remember much - the memories were hazy. Only faint scene of my sister, brother and me playing by the beach building sand castles. The resort we stayed had a white facade with uniform large square windows. I can't remember who we took us there. Our mother I suppose but there were other people that went along. I don't recall who are they.
There was only one particular thing that I remembered very clearly. My first bowl of Penang laksa. It tasted bold and vibrant. It tasted exotic to my young palate. There were the sweet pineapple toppings delighting every child. The cooling mint balancing the spiciness. Beautiful slices of pink ginger flowers and sour note from the assam. A light tangy clear fish broth made from mackerel, sharpened with tamarind, chillies and lemongrass, served over spaghetti-sized rice vermicelli. I didn't know what it was then. It delighted me tremendously so much so, it's the only thing I remembered with that vacation. Now, over 2 decades later, I am back looking for a piece of memory; for my second bowl or maybe as much as I can eat with this trip. 
Our taxi zig-zagged through the city center. I was fascinated by the streets, the architectural relics, historical buildings, little make-shift stalls - all evidence of Penang once bustling with trade back in the old old days back in the colonial times until its revocation in 1969. I assumed nothing much had changed since then or maybe since my last visit 20 years ago. I assumed likewise with my bowl of Penang laska.

Our friendly taxi driver proudly announced that this is the tourist area as we enter the stretch of windy road swaying left and ride pointing out the resorts, hotels and restaurants to go. We pass a resort with white facade and square windows. I pointed out eagerly "This might be the resort we stayed long time ago."
We scouted around. Asking the concierge, consulting travel guides, made conversation with the locals and eavesdropping on fellow tourist. I did not want fancy restaurants nor a seafood feast. I only look forward to my bowl of Penang laksa. And authentic as it can be, it shouldn't be found in the touristy stretch. We called our friendly taxi guide and he magically appeared in the driveway taking us out back into the city. We told him to bring us to a laksa place. "Ok. Ok. I know a good one." he nodded gleefully and sped off zig-zagging about the city pointing out the buildings and monuments telling us a little bit of their history. He turn to a small lane and halted to a stop in front of a make-shift shophouse. He said this is very good and sometimes you got to wait awhile. Indeed, we waited and indeed he was right. The laksa taste better than I had remembered.
Cooking with assam > Assam Fish
Penang photo set via Flickr

I am glad that I figured out how to make Assam laksa. Mine is slightly different - I've added prawn shells to make the soup even more delicious.

proudly serves six
1.5 kg Mackerel, cleaned
1 kg fresh prawns, rinsed
Water to cover

Blended in a food processor:
150g blue ginger (galangal) 
1 stalk ginger flower
4 stalk lemon grass, use the white tender part
50g ginger
200g shallots
Full handful of dried chillies, about 20 pieces, more if you like spicier
Stock ingredients:
2 tablespoon tamarind paste (assam paste)
Handful laksa leave
4 dried tamarind skins
2 tablespoon dried shrimp paste (belachan), crumbed and toasted on a dry wok
2 heap tablespoon prawn paste (heh koi)
2 tablespoon sugar

cucumber (julienned)
pineapple (julienned)
red onions (sliced)
mint leaves
ginger flower (diced)
chilies (sliced)
prawn paste (heh koi), serve on the spoon if require more.

1 kg Rice Noodles

Boil the fish for 5 minutes in a large stock pot of boiling water. Once cook remove the fish and set aside to cool. In the same pot, add the prawns and poach for 2 minutes. Remove the prawns and set aside to cool.

Debone the fish and de-shell the prawns. Set aside the fish and prawn meat. Add all the bones and shell back to the pot of stock. Simmer for another an hour, adding more water if necessary. When is broth is ready, sieve and discard shell and bones.

Next, soak the dried chilies in warm water and blend along with the rest of the prepared ingredients into a smooth paste. Together with the paste, add the stock ingredients to the broth and simmer for 45 minutes. Adjust with sugar and salt, to taste.

When you are about to serve, blanched the noodles in boiling water for half a minute and add the deboned fish meat and prawns. Ladle the hot broth over and serve with garnish. 

- till next post, ss 

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