Cooking up a well-loved dish through the generations

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 10 Dec 2017

Busy bees: Ang’s family members and workers preparing the famous Air Itam laksa (inset) at their stall.

GEORGE TOWN: The famous Air Itam laksa is prepared by the family business’ second and third generations, but that hasn’t stopped hordes of food lovers from besieging the stall at the foothill of Kek Lok Si temple.

This asam laksa stall along Jalan Pasar was started in 1955 by Lee Lay Hua, who then handed the business to her son Ang Kak Seong.

It is a “must-visit” for visitors and tourists heading to the hilltop Buddhist temple.

Today, Kak Seong’s son, daughters and grandchildren are helping out at the busy stall, serving customers with their bowls of sourish-spicy fish soup noodles, while Kak Seong, 68, is in charge of portioning out the chopped mackerel and soup for each bowl.

The tangy taste of the soup comes from tamarind or asam in Malay.

The famous Air Itam Laksa in Penang. Pic by: ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star/ 8 December 2017

A good dose of chilli takes the edge off the acetic flavour while a spoonful of black shrimp paste – sweet in the way seafood is – moulds the final flavour of asam laksa into something unique.

Kak Seong’s son Kar Foo, 43, said it might look easy to prepare a bowl of asam laksa, but all the ingredients – shredded vegetables, onions, mint leaves, cucumber, ginger flower (bunga kantan), pineapple, chilli, soup, shrimp paste – are prepared hours before the stall opens.

“Our business starts at about 10am. My father wakes at 4am to clean the fish and cook the soup.

“Our family members will also be up to get the ingredients ready.

“Our family is divided into two groups; one group is at home with the ingredients and the other helps out at the stall.

“There are up to 16 of us and all willingly help since this is a family business started by my grandmother,” he said, adding that he has been helping his father since he was nine.

He said many of their loyal customers are from Ipoh or Kuala Lumpur and they return regularly with family members and friends.

The Air Itam Laksa stall is open for business until 7pm daily and a regular bowl costs RM5.

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