Assam Penang laksa
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 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."
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
Full handful of dried chillies, about 20 pieces, more if you like spicier
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
red onions (sliced)
ginger flower (diced)
prawn paste (heh koi), serve on the spoon if require more.
1 kg Thick 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.