Laksa, popiah and ais kacang with durian ice cream oh my! Just a warning, this is going to be a long post. Kek Seng Kopitiam (coffee shop) is an institution in Penang. It’s been around for years and years, and frankly the atmosphere is a little dingy (although all the tables, plates, bowls, etc. were clean). The food is a little more old fashioned too; unlike at someplace like New World, the food is pretty much how it was served 30+ years ago (found something online that says Kek Seng opened in 1906). When we were there it was quite busy but we managed to snag a table.
One thing I miss dearly about Malaysia was the easy access to laksa. And by laksa, I mean Penang assam laksa. I talked about curry mee (curry laksa) a little while ago. That one is a coconut-based curry broth. Penang-style assam laksa is a sour, mackerel-based soup that is flavoured with tamarind, lemongrass, galangal, chilli, ginger flower buds, mint, pineapple and onion. You also usually get a soup spoon filled with a thick, sweet prawn paste called Hae Ko, and the whole thing is served with rice noodles (either thick or vermicelli).
The assam laksa at Kek Seng was one of my favourites that I had throughout the trip. A strong fish broth with all those spices and a slight sourness; my mouth is watering as I type this. This first photo is of the hawker stall; those pink things are the ginger flowers. When I’ve shown that photo to other people, the reaction I’ve gotten has been “you mean they actually use flowers and not ginger root?!”
Hawker vendor assembles laksa take-out (in a bag).
My bowl of laksa, with the prawn paste dumped out of the spoon before I remembered to take a photo.
A second dish we ordered was popiah from another hawker stall at Kek Seng. Popiah is a lot like a giant fajita or spring roll, but with a much thinner crepe-like wrap. It is usually filled with various vegetables like jicama and bean sprouts, and can include meat like scrambled eggs, shredded pork, shrimp, or crab. Ours was a little soggy, but I loved the fresh taste of the vegetables, and between my grandmother and myself we polished off the plate. No one else wanted some. Their loss, my gain.
And for dessert, we ordered a dish of ais kacang (also known as ice kacang, pronounced “ice ka-chang”). Ais kacang is basically shaved ice with milk (condensed, coconut, or evaporated with added sugar), red beans, and other syrups and/or fruit added on top.
At Kek Seng, they serve a famous homemade durian ice cream so ours was served with that, along with creamed corn, an agar agar jelly, and I think what was a rose syrup but I can’t recall for sure. (Yes, corn for dessert again. Those crazy Asians and their love of corn!) I took a couple of bites just to try the dish, but it wasn’t something that I necessarily enjoyed due to personal preference. The ice cream tasted like durian. Bleh. Supposedly it was good. I would have preferred to just have red beans and maybe the jelly.
Kek Seng Kopitiam
382-384 Jalan Penang (Penang Road)
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Want to make your own Penang assam laksa? Check out this recipe from Rasa Malaysia. Don’t count on finding any ginger flowers in Canada or the U.S. though.
Edited to add: Found some dried ginger flowers!