Penang Assam Laksa Recipe (Nyonya Hot and Sour Noodles in Fish Soup)
February 01st, 2008 111 Comments

Penang Assam Laksa Recipe (Nyonya Hot and Sour Noodles in Fish Soup)

Penang Assam Laksa
Penang Assam Laksa pictures (5 of 10)

Before I start writing this post, I have a confession to make. I have an Asian (Chinese/Malaysian) mouth. In my gastronomic dictionary, it simply means that I can’t live without rice and noodles, soy sauce, sambal belacan, spicy and pungent food–the foods of my Chinese-Malaysian root.

Just this past week, I had a massive Asian mouth attack. Granted, I savored some of the best French foods–foie gras, cheese, mussels, seafood, duck, terrine, and the list goes on. However, three days into eating meals after meals of immaculate French food, I got bored of it…it’s too heavy and luxurious for my cheap taste. No offense to French cuisine connoisseur, I wanted something without cream or butter or sauces or excessive details; I wanted something simple and straightforward such as my Asian rice and noodle dishes–Hokkien mee, fried rice noodles, steamed rice rolls, char kway teow, chicken rice, and especially Penang Assam Laksa.

Penang Assam Laksa

On the flight back home, I knew that I had to make Penang Assam Laksa to cure my Asian mouth disease and fix my craving. So, I went to the market and assembled the long list of ingredients and made myself a small pot of Penang Assam Laksa, or Nyonya noodles in spicy and tangy fish broth/soup.

A staple–and arguably the most famous–hawker food in Penang, Penang Assam Laksa is very addictive due to the spicy and sour taste of the fish broth. Tamarind is used generously in the soup base and hence the word Assam (means tamarind in Malay). In addition to tamarind, assam keping or peeled tamarind is also commonly added to give it extra tartness. Another secret ingredient is Polygonum leaf (marketed as Vietnamese mint leaf in the United States) or daun kesom/daun laksa. While the best Assam Laksa broth is infused with the aromatic ginger flower (bunga kantan), I made without it because I couldn’t find this special ingredient in the market. Of course, no Assam Laksa is complete without belacan and dollops of heh ko/prawn paste (the dark paste on the spoon).

Polygonum Leaves/Vietnamese Mint Leaves (Daum Kesom/Daun Laksa)

Anyway, my Penang Assam Laksa was spot on–hot, spicy, sour, pungent, and full of flavors. It was very delicious and as good as the ones served by hawkers in Penang. At the first taste of this Penang Assam Laksa, I felt like being home. For now, I declare my my Asian mouth syndrome sorted.

Other “rice & noodles” recipes on Rasa Malaysia:

  1. Penang Char Hor Fun (炒河粉)
  2. Penang Hokkien Mee (Prawn Mee / Har Meen / Mee Yoke / 福建虾面)
  3. Claypot Chicken Rice (without Claypot)
  4. Penang Chee Cheong Fun/Steamed Rice Rolls
  5. Kerabu Bee Hoon
  6. Indian Mee Goreng/Indian Fried Noodles
  7. Fried Vermicelli Xiamen Style
  8. Malaysian-style Soto Ayam/Chicken Noodle Soup
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111 comments... read them below or add one

  1. Nancy says:

    hey.. i love penang asam laksa .. i am not malaysian .. but i used to live in KL and every single week i came to pasar malam just to get penang asam laksa … and when i went back to asia .. i spent my time in KL and ..guess what .. in 3 days i had penang asam laksa for my lunch .. i used to make penang asam laksa but now since i move to USA .. i dont know how to find bunga kantan … ullie, can u tell me, can i get something instead of bunga kantan ? what is bunga kantan in english ? .. i tried to make penang asam laksa without bunga kantan, taste was not good at all …. :( thx !

  2. kamil says:

    Assam Keping is called Asam Gelugur (scientific name is Garcinia atroviridis). It is not the same as tamarind (Asam Jawa in Malay or scientific name is Tamarindus indica ).

  3. Jay-P. says:

    I love European food too (mostly French, Spanish, Italian and Belgian) but I do understand that after a while it can be a bit too much. The great thing about Penang and its hawker food: a very wide offer and as the dishes come in not that large portions you can go out and eat almost all day! Just returned a few weeks ago from Pg and already looking forward to our next trip.
    (BTW also thanks for your steamed fish recipe – Am going to cook this with some local HK salt water fish.)
    Great blog,
    Cheers – JP

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  5. KiranKaur says:

    Hey, great recipe, just want to check one thing.
    For how many pax is this for?
    And how long approx will it take to prepare this dish.

    Please reply as soon as possible

    • It will take 2-3 hours to prepare this dish, it all depends how fast you are picking the fish from the bones.

      The serving size is about 4 people, about 2 servings. Again, it all depends how big a bowl you serve.

  6. alexchu says:

    thanks for the recipe. I love asian food. By the way, is there any way to make this taste richer? what should i do to make the taste richer? I made it last night, following all the steps, but it was missing something. It tasted diluted eventhough i added all the right amount of ingredients. By the way, does the taste change if i use ready made chilli paste?

    • The taste depends on the fish used, to make it taste richer, you can boil the soup longer so it thickens. Also add heh ko to the soup before serving.

      I never use ready made chili paste. I made my own.

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  8. JJ says:

    Erm.. yummy… I love Malay + Chinese cuisine.. Living abroad is not easy when it comes to our own authentic cuisine.. TQ for the wonderful site.. wah.. hungry!!

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  10. paleen says:

    Hi there,

    I think your website is brilliant! Cant wait for your book to be released.
    I’m getting married to a Penang-born and have no clue what they eat. I will definitely come back; probably everyday.

    The pictures sometimes make me feel like becoming a full-time cook or a full-time house-wife :D

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  12. Soo says:

    Hi. I love your website ! Anyway, can I cook the laksa without daun kesum? Any other alternatives that I can use to make a bowl of laksa that taste just as nice? I couldn’t find it around.

  13. pri says:

    What other fish can i use/ suitable for assam laksa besides mackerel?
    Im pregnant and i’ve been told not to take mackerel for it contains high level of mercury.

  14. Pingback:Penang Assam Laksa « Straight Out of Kampung

  15. mandy says:

    i love assam laksa, i try to makes assam laksa but didnt come with same test, i dont know how to makes hehehhe….

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  17. joey says:

    Hey RM, thank you so much for this recipe! Assam Laksa is possibly my most favourite Malaysian dish of all! :D

    I’ve got a rather… silly question about the fish. Is Spanish Mackerel the same as the mackerel fish you used? I can only find Spanish Mackerel in the market. (seems rather expensive as well)

    Thanks! :)

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  19. Shareen says:

    Thank you so much for this recipe. It was very authentic. I am in Cali as well and I just had to have my assam laksa fix, which could not be satisfied by Malaysian restaurants here!

  20. Ai Lin says:


    Can I know how much serves do you get from the above recipe? I am planning of having some Malaysian friends over (and some are Penang born!) and am planning for this.

    One more question which I don’t understand. You mentioned to add the peeled tamarind – you are referring to assam keping, right? Then later on, add the tamarind juice (the ones with seed) to the soup. Am I getting this right?


  21. RichBee says:

    I was just thinking of Penang Assam Laksa last night, one of
    my favoirite Malaysian dishes. Very hard to get ginger flower in Sydney
    too, flavor would be huge different without ginger flower! Thanks for the recipe :)

  22. portchester says:

    This is Thai food. Malaysians to get it done. Thais called kanomjeen

    • I have had kanomjee, it’s tastes very different as it’s coconut milk based while Penang assam laksa is sour and flavored with the unique Malaysian dark sticky heh ko, which is not available in Thai cuisine. Penang assam laksa is strictly and uniquely Malaysian, and you can’t find it anywhere in the world. A lot of Thai dishes are adaptation of Chinese food, for example: many noodle dishes such as Rad Na, Pad See Ew, do you call those Chinese food even though it’s very obviously Chinese-influenced? I think that’s why Asian food is so wonderful. The food is influenced by the neighboring countries but each has its own unique flavor and characteristic that make is unique only to that country.

  23. portchester says:

    Penang used to be in Thailand. Penang has a lot of Thai people. The youth division of the Thai people as well. Are important to people every time I feel the Penang Assam Laksa Recipe adapted from Thai food is kanomjeen

  24. Please be informed that I have added your Penang Asam Laksa recipe link to my blog post about the Torch Ginger Flower (Bunga Kantan). Thank you very much.

  25. Ellena says:

    Hi, I tried your penang assam laksa recipe recently and it was delicious!! Thanks :)

  26. WEIWAN says:

    hi where can i eat penang asam laksa in singapore
    tks u

  27. Serenity says:

    Hi, is tamarind peel (assam keping) different from the tamarind that you use to make the tamarind juice in the recipe?

  28. Ah Kek says:

    I have just tried this out and it turns out awesome!! I have also tried many of your other receipes and have been enjoying it! It gives me a lot of joy to enjoy Penang food while living in the cold Scandinavia country. Look forward to more good food and thanks for this website.

  29. Bunny says:

    Thanks for posting the recipe… Been in OZ for 3 years, sometimes have the urge for Malaysian cuisine…. Nothing like home food. You can only eat/take so much of barbies n bland food. Cheers.

  30. Riya Za says:

    Bunga kantan is only avalaible in Asia,,,we are Indonesian is commont to use it tp put in our dishes,,,,many food made from bunga kantan in our country,,,,But i missed Laksa Pinag Badly,,I never eat in any more since 1998,,,as I live in Hong Kong, where I can’t find it,,,and In indonesia we don’t have as well..

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  32. Chris Blair says:

    Dear Bee,
    I have registered and would like to get the recipes please?
    How do I do that? I click and click but just get more food images coming up without the recipe…Many thanks Chris

  33. Monica says:

    Hi Bee,

    May I know how many servings can the recipe above serve? Thanks!

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  35. Yuiny says:

    I am from Toronto,Canada, can’t seem to find assam keping and Heh-Ko over here. Is there any on line store you can recommend?

  36. I find this recipe interesting and i really love Penang asam laksa.

  37. Pingback:Torch Ginger Flower | Notes from a Novice Gardener's Journal

  38. Sun says:

    Will fresh sardine fishes do the job?

  39. Valla says:

    What kind of chiles do you use when you make Assam laksa? At the store there are so many different peppers with varying levels of spiciness.

  40. Xuan Ling says:

    Your pic looks exactly like another website from

    Which is the original recipe I should follow? Please advice. THank you

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