In Malaysia the eating never seems to stop, so you've got the opportunity to get to know quite a few dishes. The noodle soup laksa is one of Malaysia's iconic dishes—but it takes many names and even more forms. The main ones are asam Laksa and curry laksa.
Asam means "tamarind," and asam laksa is a tart, sour fish soup made from that fruit as well as shrimp paste and various aromatics, producing a thin broth.
Curry laksa is a much richer one whose broth has a coconut milk base, and it's poured over noodles and garnished with tofu puffs, shrimp, and egg. If you hear someone describe a dish as just "laksa," this is usually (but not always) what they're talking about.
In Penang, in the north of the country, you'll find more version of asam laksa, and it's likely to be a little more tart and spicy, thanks to their proximity to Thailand and affinity for those flavors!
This recipe version is traditionally made with rice noodles, prawns, clams, tofu puffs and fish balls. It is not a dish of subtlety. It is a perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy elements, normally accompaniments with Vietnamese mint and fried Asian shallots.
60 ml (¼ cup) vegetable oil
1.5 litre of broth made with the prawns heads
2½ tsp grated palm sugar
450 g clams
12 large raw king prawns, shelled, cleaned, tails left intact
500 ml (2 cups) coconut milk
12 fish balls (see Note)
150 g tofu puffs (see note)
200 g (2½ cups) beansprouts
500 g fresh thin rice noodles
fried Asian shallots, ietnamese mint leave if you like, chilli sambal (optional) and lime wedges, to serve
8 small dried red chillies
2 tbsp dried shrimp
5 red Asian shallots, chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped galangal (see Note)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 large lemongrass slices
6 candlenuts chopped
1 tbsp belachan (dried shrimp paste)
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
How to prepare the recipe step by step
First prepare the laksa paste: put chillies and shrimp in two separate bowls and water enough to cover both with boiling water. You need to leave for 20 minutes or until softened. After that drain well, then process with remaining ingredients in a food processor to a smooth paste.
Second the dish: heat oil in a large saucepan. Add laksa paste and cook for at least 2 minutes or until fragrant.
The next step is to add stock and sugar. Leave the time to combine the ingredients, and then bring to a simmer. Add the clams, return to a simmer and cook for 4 minutes. After that add prawns and cook for 1 minute or until all the ingredients are well cooked.
At this point you can add coconut milk, fish balls, tofu puffs and beansprouts. Stir gently and bring almost to a simmer. Cook for other 2 minutes.
In the meanwhile, place noodles in a large bowl with enough boiling water to cover, then stand for 2 minutes or until heated through. After that you need to drain well. Divide noodles, then laksa mixture among bowls. Scatter over fried shallots and mint leaves. Spoon over chilli sambal, if desired, and serve with lime wedges.