Penang: Balik Pulau Laksa
I decided to make a food pilgrimage of sorts (with 5 local Penang Chowhounds as guides) to Balik Pulau, an old sleepy town on "the other side of the island" in Penang. It was my very first trip there, and the place was absolutely enchanting - sort of caught in a time-warp circa 1970s.
Balik Pulau is justly famous for their laksa - slippery white rice noodles, garnished with slivered cucumbers, mint leaves, pink torch-ginger flowers, thinly-sliced onions, lots & lots of fresh fish flakes, all slathered with either a deliciously addictive tamarind-flavoured soup ("assam laksa"), or a sweeter, richer, coconut-infused soup ("laksa lemak"). Both types of laksa come drizzled with Penang's famous prawn paste ("hae koh") for that extra zing! Both types of laksa were mind-blowingly delicious!!! You can even ask the vendor for a "mixed" gravy, i.e. half-assam, half-lemak.
Pity I live in Singapore, if I'm in Penang, I'd eat laksa every day! In fact, I think I'm going to take another 70-minute flight up to Penang again this Easter weekend for a second round of Balik Pulau Laksa!
Balik Pulau Laksa @ New Market
Jalan Tun Sardon, Jalan Balik Pulau, Penang, Balik Pulau, Pulau Pinang , MY
Flew into Penang again over the Easter weekend to continue my search for the best laksa in Penang. This time, accompanied by 2 Penang foodies, we lunched at 3 other well-known laksa shacks: Chuan Heong Cafe, Nan Gang Cafe and Pranom Junjai @ Ayer Itam (pics of places below).
Our conclusion of the best 5 laksa spots in Penang after 2 weekends of eating:
1. Laksa Balik Pulau at Nan Guang Coffeeshop, 67 Jalan Balik Pulau – absolutely the BEST by far: fragrant, tasty and has the typical Siamese laksa flavors. Run by brother-sister team, John & Anne Martin (they took over from original 70s cook, Ewe Chooi Guan & his late wife, Chew Ah Yoke, but the recipe’s EXACTLY the same);
2. Laksa Balik Pulau at Chuan Heong Café (corner of Jalan Balik Pulau & Jalan Tun Sardon), run by second-generation Tan Choon Teong (his father was the original cook in the 1970s)
3. Laksa Balik Pulau at the New Market (re-located from the Old Market, first started in the 1970s as well);
4. Laksa Ayer Itam, Pasar Road, on the wall outside the Ayer Itam market – probably the most well-known assam laksa stall, been operating since 1950s;
5. Laksa Ayer Itam at coffee-shop near junction of Jalan Pasar & Jalan Balik Pulau (Ayer Itam end) at the entrance towards Kek Lok Si Temple. The Thai cook for the last 13 years is Pranom Junjai. Has a distinctive Thai-influenced flavors in her Siamese laksa.
Laksa Balik Pulau @ Chuan Heong Cafe
Jalan Balik Pulau, Penang, Malaysia, Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang , MY
Laksa Balik Pulau @ Nan Guang
67, Jalan Balik Pulau, Penang, Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang , MY
Pranom Junjai Siamese Laksa
Pekan Ayer Itam, Penang
Those of us who're used to the rat race in Singapore/Hong Kong will be pleasantly surprised at the laidback lifestyle in Penang - there's really little need to queue for tables at all the above places, except maybe for Nan Guang coffeeshop which has only 5 or 6 tables & may be crowded at lunch-time. Try going there around 12 noon when it opens, or else after 2pm.
BTW, the laksa stall at Chuan Heong opens at 10am onwards on Sundays/public holidays. Note that all the laksa places in Balik Pulau closes on Wednesdays. I've updated the opening times in the respective address/placemarks in my earlier post.
My personal favourite is Nan Guang. Beats all the rivals hands down!! Somehow, their laksa is more "lemak" (i.e. rich in coconut milk taste) and more aroma from the spices used. Also got the right balance of salty, sweet & sour. The worst laksa on you rlist is a toss-up between Laksa Ayer Item (very strange tasting) and the New Market laksa. Both are quite bland.
In a sense there was no truth to Anne and John Martin taking over from our late father Mr. Ewe Chooi Guan (our mum is still in good health.). The stall was merely leased to John Martin with our parents teaching them the tools of the trade. The Martins have since moved on and the stall has now been leased to someone else who was coached by our mum. The Laksa is just as good as before.