I'm heading back to the States later this week.
While it will be great to see family and friends, smell that sharp San Francisco air (I'm hoping for fog), return to Manhattan (which Dave and I left 18 years ago - haven't been back since!), and eat fresh flour tortillas wrapped around New Mexican goat cheese and roasted green chilies while taking in the view from my parents' porch, there are a few things about this trip that I'm really dreading. Intra-US air travel, for one, driving on the wrong side of the road for the other, and - most of all - being without Malaysian food for 21 days. I've thought about trying to sneak in some sambal belacan to see me through, but I know I'd be sniffed out by an SFO security beagle in seconds.
So, I'm bulking up on Malaysian flavors before I leave. Saturday afternoon it was assam laksa which, for me, is more quintessentially Malaysian even than char koay teow and nasi lemak. There's something about assam laksa's sourness tempered by characteristically Malaysian sweetness, and the combination of intensely fish-flavored broth with the freshness of mint leaves, pineapple, and cucumber, that tell me I'm not in Thailand or Indonesia or Vietnam or the Philippines, but firmly on terra firma Malaysia. Assam laksa is also truly pedas (chili hot). I know the scuttlebutt is that Malaysian food is sooooo spicy, but I really don't find it so. Assam laksa is more the delicious exception to the rule than an accurate indicator of the overall spiciness of this country's cuisine.
This bowlful was had for lunch from a stall on Madras Lane, inside the Chinatown (Petaling Street) wet market. It's a good version, though I generally prefer my assam laksa soup to be thicker with fish flakes. The addition of chunks of canned sardine (yes, canned) is a nice touch and the sambal (you'll need to ask for it if you don't look like a Malaysian) is truly fiery. In two weeks I will so be pining for this lunch.
Assam laksa stall, Madras Lane, KL Chinatown. 830a-3pm, closed Monday. Note: it's the last stall in the row, directly across from the barley teh stall. Note also that vendors in this market are proprietary about seats - be sure to sit in the section of the vendor from whom you've ordered.