Assam laksa

Assam laksa

Spicy and sour fish stock laksa

Have You Eaten
Billy Law

Laksas tend to be quite rich and heavy, so if you are looking for a lighter version then this noodle dish in a sour fish-based broth might be just what you’re looking for. The broth has a distinctive spicy piquant flavour, soured with tamarind pulp and tamarind peel, and the fishy aroma of mackerel is deliciously addictive. Assam laksa is also known as Penang laksa, and many people would agree that no visit to Penang is complete without eating this famous and much-loved local delicacy.


Quantity Ingredient
500g mackerel fillets, (see notes)
2 litres water
3-4 pieces dried tamarind peel, (see notes)
110g tamarind purée
3 sprigs vietnamese coriander, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons har go, plus extra to serve (see notes)
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
600g fresh lai fun noodles, microwaved in a bowl for 2 minutes to soften, (see notes)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
100g peeled fresh pineapple, finely diced
1 large green cucumber, halved and seeded, julienned into thin strips
1 red onion, thinly sliced
handful mint leaves, for garnish

Spice paste

Quantity Ingredient
200g french shallots, peeled
2 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped, white part only
5 large fresh red chillies
5g dried red chillies, seeded and then soaked in hot water for 30 minutes until softened, then drained
40g belachan


  1. Put the mackerel on a plate and place inside a steamer. Cover with the lid and place the steamer over a wok or saucepan of simmering water. Steam the fish for 10 minutes, or until cooked. Remove and set aside to cool, then flake the fish into tiny pieces, taking care to remove all the bones.
  2. Put all the spice paste ingredients into a food processor, and process into a fine paste.
  3. Pour the water into a large pot. Add the tamarind peel and purée, sprigs of Vietnamese coriander and the spice paste, and bring to the boil. Add two-thirds of the flaked fish to the stock, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Season with the har go, and the salt and sugar, to taste.
  4. Half fill another large pot with water and bring to the boil. Scald the softened noodles for 30 seconds, strain using a colander, then rinse under cold water. Drizzle with the oil and give the noodles a stir so they don’t stick in a clump.
  5. To serve, place a handful of noodles in a serving bowl, top with a small handful of flaked fish, some pineapple, cucumber and onion. Ladle hot laksa soup over the noodles and the toppings. Garnish with Vietnamese coriander and mint leaves, and serve with extra har go on the side.


  • If using whole mackerel fish, make sure to clean, gut and fillet the fish first before steaming, which will save you the hassle of trying to look for all the tiny little bones when flaking the fish. Mackerel can be substituted with any oily fish with a strong fishy flavour, such as wolf herring, sardines or maybe even sea mullet.

    Tamarind peel (called assam in Malay) is actually a small yellow fruit and not related to the tamarind pods that we are more familiar with. It is more sour than tamarind pulp with not much flavour, hence it is only used as a souring agent in cooking. Tamarind peel is available from Asian grocers, but if you can’t find it, just omit it from the recipe — no biggie.

    Prawn paste (or har go in Chinese) is a thick prawn sauce that is dark brown, almost black in colour (don’t confuse it with the pungent belachan dried shrimp paste). It is sweetened and can be eaten straight away, and is typically used as a dressing in a fruit salad called rojak. It is available from Asian grocers.

    Lai fun noodles, or laksa noodles, are thick round rice noodles found in Asian grocers. They can be substituted with dried Vietnamese bun bo Hue noodles. If using dried bun bo Hue noodles, simply cook the noodles in boiling water for 20 minutes, then rinse in cold water and drizzle with oil to prevent them sticking.
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