After a much needed night to digest and ponder about life and such, we were on our way for an allegedly great Asam Laksa at Balik Pulau. Now, our good friend had been raving about this place for the longest time. We tend to shrug it off but finally we relented, and well here we are!
As usual, driving through Penang is an arduous affair. We were at the whim of Waze, which led us along bizarre and winding kampung roads in order to bypass the stagnant traffic. Unfortunately, we plugged in the wrong address and ended up in Air Itam (Ayer Hitam, or whatever permutation that the locals might prefer). Air Itam is home to another supposedly famous Asam Laksa. We were famished, and when in Rome I suppose.
I haven’t had a proper Asam Laksa for the longest time, so I was looking forward to this moment. For starters, it isn’t the prettiest looking dish. In fact, it resembles certain unmentionable post partying “effluent” that might appear after consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Well, moving on!
For the first bite, I was hit by an intense, unctuous fish flavour from the sour broth. Flavour was decent albeit with a lingering sweetness that was a little out of whack. My mate also commented that the fish was all too shredded and preferred it whole or in larger chunks. We were overwhelmed by an intense hunger and inhaled the dish quickly. But overall, a reasonable offering but not necessarily worth the journey, or the traffic for that matter.
Although all of us were reasonably satiated, we still had our eye on the prize. After another thirty odd minutes of driving, we made it to our destination at Kim Laksa, Balik Pulau. And as expected, it was packed with ravenous tourists.
After a very short wait, the Asam Laksa came to us. Visually, it was certainly better put together. And flavour wise, it was well balanced between the sour, spicy and sweetness, and indeed more flavourful than the Air Itam iteration.
We also attempted the Siam Laksa, which was redolent of a lighter version of Khao Soi found in Northern Thailand i.e. Chiang Mai. There was definitely more coconut milk in this, which felt a bit tad richer albeit not as intense as Khao Soi or some of the Curry Laksas back in Kuala Lumpur.
Personal verdict, I preferred the Asam Laksa at Balik Pulau. My friend certainly wasn’t exaggerating about it, and wouldn’t mind heading back for another bowl if I’m ever back in Penang. That said, I’m not quite looking forward to the drive.
I’m merely scratching the surface of Asam Laksa of course, and locals will always have their favourites and personal preferences. But you know what? Screw it, as that was pretty tasty. I’m sure there are better ones out there, but sometimes it isn’t such a bad thing to enjoy the moment especially among such an august company of friends.
Air Itam Laksa
Location: Jalan Pasar, Paya Terubong, 11500 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia. Google Map.
Kim Laksa (Nan Guang Restaurant)