Assam laksa, also spelled as Asam laksa, the piquant, pungent, sour, and fiery hot noodle dish with fresh vegetables bathed in a fish broth is a Penang Nyonya creation. Known simply as Laksa in Penang, it’s found almost everywhere in Penang–kopitiam (coffee shops), roadside stalls, mobile push carts, and hawker centers. With perfect balance of tartness and spicy flavor, Assam laksa is uniquely Malaysian as there is nothing quite like it in the Southeast Asia region.
Assam laksa, arguably the staple street hawker food in Penang also puts Penang on the culinary map. Mention the words “Assam Laksa” to any Malaysians or foreigners who had tasted it would probably set their mouth watering. Assam laksa is one of the most–if not the most–successful, explosively delicious, addictive, and appetizing Nyonya concoctions…
Assam laksa is a much celebrated dish in my family due to my late grandmother. Grandma was a religious Buddhist. Raised by her Thai-Chinese mother (my great grandmother), grandma spoke Thai and Thai influences were evident in her religious rituals and day-to-day life. Grandma was devoted to Wat Chayamangkalaram, Thai reclining Buddha temple in Penang. Every month, grandma, father, mother, aunt and I would go to Wat Chayamangkalaram for prayers. Inside the wat (temple), there is a shrine for a Buddha by the name of “Laksa Ang Kong” or laksa Buddha. Don’t ask me why but tale has it that Laksa Buddha loved laksa, and hence the only offering for Him is laksa.
Every month on the morning of prayer, grandma, mother, and aunt would wake up very early to prepare a big pot of assam laksa, and I would help them in the kitchen cutting vegetables, picking fish meat off the bones, and prepare the spice paste. This ritual had rewarded me with the techniques and skills to make a mean pot of laksa, a gift that I will forever treasure.
This is my family’s recipe for assam laksa. It is delicious and holds a very dear place in my heart. It brings back memories when my family spent quality and precious times together, savoring and celebrating our religion and great home-cooked foods, a nostalgia that will continue to linger in my mind.