I must say that making asam laksa from scratch, and I mean really from scratch, is tiring. The problem isn’t so much with the soup per se. After all, it’s just placing stuff in and letting it boil, boil, boil. The real deal comes from all the preparation prior to making the broth – the spices, the noodles (in my case), the hae ko sauce, the fish as well as the garnishing – and then there is after the broth is ready. Eeks.
But like they say, we take it all in stride. I tackled the noodles first with a piping bag and some really hot hot water – yes, every strand of noodle is piped out into hot water to cook before straining and putting aside for use. It takes about one hour to finish off the bag of flour, which makes enough noodles for about six large bowls of laksa. After that, there is chopping up the raw spices to be processed into a spice paste.
The base recipe is from the book Nyonya Recipes: A Guide To Penang Straits Cuisine, which calls for lemongrass, dried and fresh red chillis, shallots and naturally belacan. This is added to the fish stock together with dried tamarind peel, tamarind juice and of course, polygonum leaves. I left this to boil for several hours before straining and removing the “junk”, adding in some fish and liquidy hae ko to let it simmer for at least another hour or so.
Garnishings are prepared just before serving – thin slices of cucumber, pineapple and some fresh mint leaves. Some people add in slices of chilli, onions as well as lettuce in but I decided to leave those out because the broth itself was already spicy and I don’t quite fancy onions with my laksa. Thin slices of ginger flower, if you can find them, is a good addition. It gives it a subtle fragrance to the already fishy laksa. Don’t forget the hae ko. This sweet pungent paste comes in blocks and thus, needs to be melted away to form a thick/water (depends on how you like it) liquid. You can use hot water but I prefer to use the broth itself to retain the flavour.
The finishing result is a fragrant, tasty yet light broth – nothing too thick or deceptive – topped off with very lovely laksa noodles. And an effort that I’m quite proud of considering how difficult it is to get the spices and herbs here. We still have enough soup for about three bowls (after serving six) but ran out of fish, cucumber and laksa noodles, so I might just add in some fish ball, pineapples, lettuce and use beehoon (which is another option) instead.
So here’s to another meal (or two) with laksa on the menu! 8)