Every country, every city and sometimes even certain districts always have a particular dish that really should only be tried there. Especially for the first time. While it can be found elsewhere, it’s just the not the same. A different take on it, slightly different ingredients. As the miles grow so do the variations. It’s like a rumor. The further it travels from its beginning, the more it changes from each passing mouth. Found all over from southern Thailand to Indonesia, originating from the Peranakan Chinese, it is known as a Penang specialty where everyone here will say it is best. I don’t think they’re lying.
I sat down at the only place I could think of for my first bowl, Penang Road Famous Laksa. Beware of two things. It’s not actually on Penang Road anymore, so don’t give up looking. It has moved to Lebuh Keng Kwee. Secondly, there is a phoney restaurant with the same sign on the street although it shouldn’t be hard to pick out the right one. The restaurant is on a regular basis packed and a queue forming from time to time. Anyways, back to Laksa.
Placed in front of me, it was a colourful abstract tapestry. A deep red orange broth with fresh green mint, julienne of dull yellow pineapple and pastel purple slices of red onion. I wafted the mild scent of fish into my nostrils basking in it. The broth had a definite sour component from tamarind that was the highlight for. Slightly salty and spicy, a touch of sweetness from the pineapple, it was really all over the place, but together as one. The broth was made to seem thicker like that of a stew due to the large amount of fish flaked broken down from stewing. The noodles usually rice vermicelli I believe they were tapioca based here due to the somewhat glutinous chew to them (could be wrong). The mint on top added the perfect burst of freshness cleansing your palate with each bite. It was all an unusual, but perfect combination for me.
I sat staring at my empty bowl savouring the taste from my last spoonful, but instead of getting up to leave I ended up with another bowl in front me. Somehow it just happened. My subconscious must have taken over knowing what I actually wanted. This with a glass of their signature drink, honey lemon juice, I was able to extend this moment just a little longer. A moment well worth holding on to.
The Penang version is sour and the broth is less curry-like.
As you head south, it changes in character, until in Singapore it is curry-like sauce with a more spicy twang to it!
Good to know!!! I never had the chance to try it in Singapore, but I’ll have to next time around 🙂