In Penang of course! To sample the best Penang Laksa, you’ll have to make a pilgrimage back to the dish’s birthplace, Penang, Malaysia.
Penang Laksa, also known as Asam Laksa, is an aromatic fish broth, served with thick rice noodles. The broth is flavored with asam, which is Malay for tamarind, thus giving rise to the dish’s name. Other spices include lemongrass, galangal, chili, and he kou, or a thick, sweet prawn paste. The dish is served with flaked, poached mackerel, and is garnished with thinly-sliced onion, cucumber, ginger flower, pineapple and sprigs of mint. The sour tamarind, sweet prawn paste, and fish mackerel combine to give this Malaysian hawker stall favorite a unique flavor.
Ask any Penangite where to find the best asam laksa and you’re sure to get a spirited debate. However, most lists would include the following five:
Good food tends to cluster together, so it’s not surprising that Air Itam and Pulau Tikus are home to some of the best Penang Laksa on the island. The hawker stalls at the Air Itam market, and the Air Itam foodcourt get rave reviews, while on Pulau Tikus, the Sar Chew coffee shop on Cantonment Road and the Sin Hwa coffee shop opposite the Pulau Tikus police station are the best places to go. If you’re in Balik Pulau, the Lam Kong coffee shop opposite the Balik Pulau wet market offers great-tasting Asam Laksa.
If you’re not in Penang or don’t have the time or money to make a trip up there, Kuala Lumpur has some delicious Penang Laksa as well. Try the coffee shop in Paramount, next to the Esso petrol station. Others swear by the hawker stall in the SS2 night market, which usually has long lines to prove its authenticity and delicious flavor. If you want to go for a bit more class and air-conditioned comfort, try Penang Village in the Hartamas Shopping Center or Ah Cheng Laksa at e@Curve. However, comfort and class doesn’t come cheap, so be prepared to pay upwards of RM 9 per bowl.
If you’re firmly based in America and don’t plan to travel to Malaysia anytime soon, satisfy your Asam Laksa cravings at Penang, one of the more authentic Malaysian restaurants in the country. Penang is a chain of restaurants, with establishments in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Princeton among others. When in New York, Penang’s affiliate restaurant, Nyonya, also serves up great Penang Laksa.