Like I said before in my Melaka post, Malaysia is a multicultural nation. Although the country has endured several conflicts between the different ethnicities that live there, the food’s complexity and many influences is what makes Malaysian cuisine so interesting. There are influences from the Chinese, Indians, Malays, and in Penang– the Thais.
I’m currently recovering from my food-filled weekend in Penang. Lots of sight-seeing, eating, laughing and quality family time. My uncle, who lives with his family in Penang, picked us up from the airport and we headed straight to have dinner. Let’s just say that I’m grateful that my family loves food just as much as I do! We came up with a plan for dishes that we had to try during our stay in Penang. Number 1 on my list: Laksa.
In Penang, Laksa means Assam Laksa which is different from the noodle dish served in other parts of the country. Penang Laksa is a Nonya dish, a combination of Chinese and Malay influences; it is a spicy hot and sour fish soup poured over rice noodles and is served with garnishes of lettuce, finely shredded cucumber, onions, pineapple, bunga kantan (bud of torch ginger), mint and chillies. There are also other kinds of Laksa, for example, Malay Laksa, the soup is clearer and less red, Laksa Lemak, which is not sour and is served with coconut milk.
Penang Laksa has a special taste because it uses shrimp paste, which is made out of shrimp shells and has an intense fishy flavor– I love it! The fish broth has fish meat in it and is similar to a Thai curry that I grew up loving. The noodles are a thick and soft rice noodle, which ties all the delicious and flavorful garnishes together. The broth is spicy, sweet, salty and fishy –because of the shrimp paste and the fish meat- but the mint, chili and cucumber adds a freshness that helps with the strong aftertaste.
We went to two places: Jalan Penang and Kek Lok Si. Both are good but I preferred the Laksa at Jalan Penang because it was less sweet. The line at Kek Lok Si is also never-ending and you’ll find yourself fighting for a seat among other tourists. At Jalan Penang, you’ll find yourself among more locals, but the line won’t be that much shorter than the one at Kek Lok Si! If I learned one thing, it’s that Penang people love their food. Keep posted for other local Penang dishes!