Penang tamarind fish laksa

Penang tamarind fish laksa

Assam laksa

Street Food Asia
Alan Benson

For Kuala Lumpur’s tastiest laksa you’ve got to head to Madras Lane, just off Petaling Street in the city’s Chinatown. Not only will you have amazing food here but you’ll also be transported back to 1960s Kuala Lumpur – it honestly looks like nothing has changed here in all that time. This place has the raw energy of a Chinese food market, with butchers hacking through bones, fish scales flying and feathers being plucked from birds by the pillowful. Right in that lane, among all the market action, you’ll see a lovely couple making laksa, both assam laksa and curry laksa. While I love both types, I have a thing for the intense and unique taste of assam laksa. It’s from Penang and has a sour/salty/fishy tamarind broth that contains no coconut milk at all, making it far less rich than curry laksa. The flavours are fresh and complex and some of the ingredients unusual; for example torch ginger flower and bud. You’ll find it frozen in large Asian supermarkets. Assam laksa uses thick, round rice noodles which are different to the thinner, flatter variety used in curry laksa. I hope you try making this because it really is sensational.


Quantity Ingredient
1 lemongrass stem, bruised
3cm piece of galangal, peeled and roughly sliced
1 torch ginger flower, quartered
1 x 500-600g whole mackerel, scaled and gutted
1 bunch vietnamese mint leaves
125ml Tamarind water
3 pieces tamarind peel, (optional)
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste

Laksa paste

Quantity Ingredient
1 tablespoon dried shrimp (see glossary), soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, then drained
5 dried red chillies, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, then drained
7 red chillies
2cm piece of galangal, peeled and chopped
2cm piece of turmeric, peeled
1 lemongrass stem, chopped, white part only
5 red asian shallots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped

To serve

Quantity Ingredient
400g thick round rice noodles, cooked according to packet instructions
50g shredded iceberg lettuce
1 lebanese cucumber, thinly sliced into small batons
1/2 pineapple, sliced into small pieces
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 torch ginger bud, finely sliced
1 bunch mint leaves
2 red bird’s eye chillies, thinly sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 tablespoon shrimp paste


  1. To make the laksa paste, pound the ingredients into a fine paste using a large pestle and mortar or in a food processor.
  2. Add 2 litres water to a stockpot or large saucepan together with the lemongrass, galangal and torch ginger flower and bring to a rapid boil. Add the fish, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, skimming off any impurities that rise to the surface.
  3. Carefully remove the fish from the broth, place in a large colander and leave to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, strain the broth into another stockpot or large saucepan. Add the Vietnamese mint, tamarind water and tamarind peel. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes before tasting and adding the sugar and fish sauce as necessary to balance the sourness of the tamarind. Stir the laksa paste into the broth and leave to simmer for 45 minutes.
  5. Remove the fish meat from the bones, discarding the skin and bones.
  6. To serve, divide the noodles among four soup bowls and top with the fish meat. Add the shredded lettuce, cucumber, pineapple, red onion and fish to the bowls, then ladle over enough broth to just cover the ingredients.
  7. Garnish with torch ginger bud, mint and chilli and serve with lime wedges and shrimp paste for an extra flavour boost.
South-East Asian
Street Food
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