Authentic Penang Asam Laksa

If there’s one dish that I am crazy about, it must be asam laksa. This noodle has all combination of flavours: sour, spicy, sweet, salty, and umami. The thick broth made from local spices, tamarind, and fish flakes is divine.

My love for asam laksa is beyond normal. When I was a kid, my father used to cook it during the weekend and I would have them for two days. In Penang, I always visit Kimberly Road to have asam laksa (It used to be a Joo Hooi Cafe. The asam laksa vendor moved to a new cafe on the same road). In KL, I get my asam laksa fix at Jusco’s foodcourt or Ancle Peoh at Klang.

I’ve always wanted to learn to make authentic Penang-style asam laksa properly and did on my last trip to Penang. Pearly Kee, a nyonya cook and author, showed me how. I was surprised to find that it is so much easier than what my Mom had taught me.

The below recipe is modified from Pearly’s book ‘A Nyonya Inheritance’ and the instructions that she gave me at her house. Penang home-cooked asam laksa is thick and flavoured with a lot of hae ko (shrimp paste). My family prefer the usual hawker-style laksa which is more soupy. So I added a little more water and top up the spices so that it won’t be diluted.


Firstly, asam laksa is not an easy dish to make. Because I want to be able to make it at home more often, I was tempted to simplify the recipe. Sometimes, my quest to make cooking easier goes overboard – canned food and bottled spices.

For this dish, I have half the mind to try to replace fresh turmeric with powder and use bottled seedless tamarind paste instead. I also thought torchginger flower is not necessary.

However, this time, I’ve decided against extreme simplification; I’ll like to make asam laksa for an enjoyable dining experience (not merely eating to keep my stomach full). So I’m not omitting any ingredients and use only fresh ingredients.

How is it easier? I optimized the steps, planned the timing so it can be done in less than an hour, buy prepared ingredients (e.g peeled pineapple and toasted belacan powder), and use a blender (I recommend using a three-in-one hand blender).

Don’t be overwhelmed with the long list of ingredients. All you need to do is:

  • Peel the spices (Do it in a bowl of water. Its easier and the shallots is less likely to sting your eyes)
  • Blend spices in a blender.
  • Squeeze tamarind in water
  • Boil the broth for about 25 minutes (Simply chuck everything in!)
  • While broth is boiling, cook noodles and chop vegetable toppings

This is the most optimized way of making asam laksa that tastes like the real thing.


  • Pot (for cooking stock)
  • Wok + sieve (for cooking noodles)
  • Chopping board + knives
  • Blender



  • 4 fresh red chili
  • 10 dried chili
  • 1 inch fresh turmeric
  • 3 stalks lemongrass
  • 2 slices (20 g) galangal
  • 120 g large shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 15 g (2 tbsp) belacan powder
  • 150 g fresh pineapple


  • 60 g tamarind soaked in 6 cups of water, squeezed and strained
  • 8 stalks (30 g) of laksa leaves (kesum)
  • 1/2 torch ginger flower
  • 5 sardine/ mackerel/ kembong


  • 1 – 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 – 3 tbsp prawn paste (hae koe)


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