Madras Lane, the dark, dank walkway that cuts through the middle of Chinatown’s wet market, boasts two stalls selling asam laksa. I eat there regularly but have yet to sample the version dished up by the middle stall. Why? Because I can never nudge myself past the divine hot, sour, and fishy fugue rising from a furiously boiling pot at the end stall. Not for me, grass-is-always-greener promiscuity. I’ve found a good salve for my asam laksa cravings and I’m sticking to it.
Now, I know just what you’re wondering. No, this asam laksa isn’t as good as what you’ll find in Penang. But we’re not in Penang, are we? Let’s face it, every time we eat a KL version of a Penang hawker dish we know we’re settling for second- (or third- or fourth-) best. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do just to get through.
Arrive at this when they open at 8:30am and your request for an order will be met with a sharp rebuke: ‘Not ready!’ The second generation running this forty-plus-year-old business takes his asam soup seriously. Better to wait till late morning anyway; by then the fire-red potage has had time to reduce and thicken, its heat and tartness mellowing and melding in the process. A serving includes the usual garnishes (fresh mint leaves, shredded cucumber and pineapple, sliced shallot) as well as two meaty canned sardine fillets, added right before broth is poured over.
Blasphemy! some may cry, but the oily, profoundly piscine sardine marries wonderfully with the soup’s forceful spicy sourness. Adding sambal belacan and kalamansi (which, if you don’t look Malaysian, you’ll have to ask for) to this already heady brew may be gilding the lily, but I’ve never been one to run away from moreish more.
On Madras Lane seating is notoriously territorial, so don’t sit down at one of this stall’s tables unless at least one in your party orders from its menu. The stall also serves curry laksa and pork ball noodle soup. Both dishes look awfully tempting but, like I said, I just can’t get past that asam laksa. Robyn Eckhardt