Updated: May 3
Someone needs to write a sonnet for the sensual, passionate laksa that so many adore.
Oh Laksa, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
And with Laksa Specialist (yes there is one!) Chef Nazlina, we are looking at nearly 15 different kinds of laksa recipes. And we bet right this minute she is concocting more new ones!
Laksa is a highly popular dish and one to die for, so if you are a true blue fan of laksa, you would want to get your hands on the one and only book you´ll ever need to be crowned Laksa King or Queen of your neighbourhood. And, as we know, a good recipe always has that special X-factor ingredient thrown in, sworn to secrecy through generations in the family.
Here at My Blue Tea, we share with you the most sought after ingredient to making a stunning bowl of laksa - the magnificent Torch Ginger or Bunga Kantan.
Penang Asam Laksa
Now, Laksa Enthusiasts would know exactly what we are talking about here.
The Penang Asam Laksa is one of the most popular dishes in Malaysia. Everybody knows this dish and would also fiercely defend the best place to get this delicacy. This is also one of the most popular recipes requested by Chef Nazlina's students. What makes Penang Asam Laksa so special is its must-have ingredient - the Torch Ginger.
Laksa, the Breakfast for the Gods
That is how some people see laksa. A dish fit for the gods, and the Penang Asam Laksa is actually on Anthony Bourdain's list of favourite foods. Imagine that. He saw it as "the breakfast of Gods" and if it was one thing he had to have on his travels to Malaysia, it was this dish. He raved about this dish in a 2012 episode of his travel show No Reservations. Bourdain had a habit of not speaking directly to the camera on his shows as it was "artificial and awkward" for him, but he made an exception at the Pasar Air Itam laksa stall on Jalan Pasar because he was so flooded with joy he simply had to share it.
Watch Anthony Bourdain sample laksa here.
Caution: Do not watch this on an empty stomach. It is recommended to have easy access to laksa while watching this video to prevent feeling weak or lightheaded.
Chef Nazlina's Laksa Recipe
Today, we have the (g)astronomical fortune to have Chef Nazlina share with us her knowledge about this dish. Get out your notepads!
1. Penang Asam Laksa uses thick, round rice noodles. You can get the noodles in dried form (which you have to soak in advance, then boil), or freshly made at the wet market.
2. Chef Nazlina uses "ikan kembung" (fusiliers) for the gravy. Other oily fish e.g. sardines are also good to use. As always, the fresher the fish, the better your laksa will taste.
3. A beautifully "smelly" ingredient used in laksa is belachan (shrimp paste). Each culture has its own indispensable smelly (and devastatingly delicious) ingredient. In Thailand and Vietnam, fish sauce is ubiquitous but here in Malaysia, any cook worth their salt would have belachan well-stocked in their kitchen.
4. As an added condiment, "otak udang" or liquid shrimp paste is also a favourite among the locals. Yes, it is another ingredient that stinks to high heavens, but it adds that necessary Oomph! to the dish.
Now with that bit of background knowledge covered, it is time to don that apron and get cooking.
For Chef Nazlina, making laksa is a community affair. She would cry if she were asked to cook laksa on her own. That is why she enjoys sharing her culinary experiences so much!
True to its name, laksa comes from the word "lakh", meaning "one hundred thousand" in Sanskrit. Let’s check out the one hundred thousand ingredients you need in order to make that stunning bowl of laksa.
This recipe serves five people (reduce that if you are generous enough to let someone have seconds).
Ingredients to be processed finely using pestle and mortar or a blender (using pulse function)
50g large fresh chilies
10g dried chilies (cut to remove seeds and soaked in hot water to soften the skin)
10 g inch toasted belachan (prawn paste block)
3g fresh turmeric
5g thin slices of galangal (lengkuas or pink ginger)
10g fresh ginger
60g big onion shallots
1 lemongrass (use up to 1.5” from the base ONLY) – not the whole stalk
1 handful of mint
1 handful of Vietnamese mint (daun kesum or laksa leaves)
1 torch ginger – bunga kantan (sliced thinly or chopped finely, use the flower only, remove the stalk) or if you can't get Torch Ginger/Bunga Kantan easily - My Blue Tea has the perfect solution -
@my.blue.tea - Bunga Kantan/Torch Ginger dried slices (soak 1 tspn of Torch Ginger dried slices into warm water for 5 mins, remove water and garnish your Assam Laksa
500g ikan kembung (fusiliers)
2 pieces tamarind apples ( "asam keping" in Malay)
1 tbs tamarind paste to get tamarind juice (soaked in 200ml of water for at least 15 minutes, squeeze out the juice and remove seeds and pulp)
Salt and sugar to taste
Prepare fish by scaling and gutting them. Then clean them properly. (You can cheat by using canned tuna or sardine but of course, the taste would just not quite be the same).
Cook the fish whole in 2 litres of water for about 20 minutes with tamarind apples. Then remove from the stock and separate the flesh from the bones. DO NOT discard the stock.
Mash the bones and heads with pestle and mortar. Add this into a pot with one litre of water. Let it simmer for about ten minutes, then sieve to get the second stock again.
Mash the flesh, keep aside.
Now put together, the flesh, first stock and second stock in a large pot. Add in ground spice and tamarind juice. Let simmer slowly.
Once it is bubbling gently, add in torch ginger, mint and Vietnamese mint. Season with salt and sugar to taste. You can also adjust the sourness by adding more tamarind juice if need be at this point.
If you use dried laksa noodles (thick rice noodles) – soak in cold water for at least one hour, then blanch for about 15 minutes in boiling water and then drain. Be careful not to overcook as the noodles would be too mushy.
Serve the laksa, with the soup, and the following garnish on top
Thinly sliced cucumber cut into matchsticks
Sliced bird’s eye chilies
Sliced fresh pineapple
Quartered boiled eggs
A wedge of lime
Bits of sliced onion
1 teaspoon of liquid prawn paste (otak udang)
Laksa Siam (or Thai Laksa) uses exactly the same ingredients with the addition of three more items:
2 tsp coriander powder
400 ml coconut milk AND
6 pieces of kaffir lime leaves, sliced thinly or use @my.blue.tea Kaffir Lime Leaf Powder
What is great here is, with the same base, you can get two kinds of laksa!
Carrying the Torch Ginger
You need the Torch Ginger or Bunga Kantan or Bunga Kecombrang to complement your different kinds of laksas.
Torch Ginger Salad or Kerabu | Seafood Laksa | Pahang Laksa and Sarawak Laksa
If all this has gotten your taste buds going into overdrive, get ready to learn and cook all these different laksas with Chef Nazlina here.
For a limited time, Chef Nazlina is offering a copy of the e-Book version of "The Fierce Aunty’s No-Nonsense Guide to the Perfect Laksa" at this wonderful introductory price: USD10.40 (payable via Paypal). This offer ends on 21st February 2021 at 10 P.M. MYT.
About Chef Nazlina, The Laksa Chef
The Fierce Aunty
Chef Nazlina´s accolades and accomplishments are like her types of laksa - she does not stop at one.
- Cooked for 100 guests as a guest chef at Terra Madre et Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy
- Trip Advisor Winner of Certificate of Excellence
2015, 2016 and 2017
- Nazlina Spice Station
Trip Advisor Winner of Certificate of Excellence
Five years running: 2015-2019
How did someone who has accomplished so much start?
Nazlina started her traditional Malay cooking class in Penang on 29th June 2009. At that time, she had only one student - a journalist from Australia. From such humble beginnings, she now has people from all around the world coming to her classes to learn authentic Malay cuisine.
She started the business because it was impossible to get an office job with two young children to care for at home. After resigning from an American based electronics company where she worked as an Electronics Engineer, she bought over a SCUBA diving company and ran it for several years while being a "work-at-home-mom".
She set up her website in 2007, initially just as a hobby. It was a 'space' where she could document and photograph her adventures in the kitchen as well as write about the ingredients, especially spices. It was a way for her to share her love for Malay food with readers.
We can guess what happened from there. Naturally, a cooking class was born because people started to write to her asking her to teach them how to cook. And to take them to the market! Cooking goes beyond just being in the kitchen. It is also the whole process of understanding where the ingredients come from and how to choose them. Chef Nazlina had to wait till her youngest child went to school full time before she could fully launch this business idea. She happily used the six hours when the children were at school to share her joy for cooking with her clients.
Today she runs a thriving cooking school right in the middle of George Town, Penang. You see her name mentioned in countless food blogs, and she has been featured in 36 hours in Penang by The New York Times, Weekend Telegraph, The Independent, in-flight magazines as well as travel magazines. She has been keeping busy running food workshops both in Italy and South Korea, under Slow Food.
As a member of Slow Food, Chef Nazlina advocates Good, Clean and Fair food. She believes food should be safe to be consumed and sourced locally. Farmers, fishermen and traders should also get fair compensation for all the effort they put in. Chef Nazlina really looks at the source of her food and when one has so much respect for the individual ingredients, that attention to care and detail comes out in one's cooking as well.
We are delighted that Chef Nazlina's passion for cooking traditional food, and following Slow Food philosophy is inspiring her students from all over the world.
So, are you inspired to savour your laksa very slowly and appreciate every burst of flavour each spice brings to your tongue?
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