South East Asia well deserves its fame as probably the best place in the world to travel for those who love spicy food.
One of the best uses of chili pepper I have ever been privileged to eat has to be an amazing Malaysian food called ‘Asam Pedas.’
This is a must eat food in Malaysia, and I recommend you to try it in Melaka – honestly, I think its worth a trip here just to eat this food.
“Asam Pedas” means ‘Sour Spicy’
Asam Pedas is a wonderfully simple name, the two words meaning just ‘sour,’ and ‘spicy.’
The sourness traditionally comes from sour tamarind (boiled until soft, and then squeezed to make juice), and spicy, of course, the from use of fresh chili peppers.
Two simple ingredients as a base for an entire world of flavor possibilities.
The version of Asam Pedas we had today, in English I would call something like a sour curry chili soup.
The most common way I notice locals like to have this food is a plate of white rice, the soup containing some type of saltwater fish, and a side dish of fresh herbs with a mash of chili dip (sambal belecan, similar to Thai nam prik kapi)
In Malaysia this recipe originates in villages along the South East coastal region (including Melaka), and one of the best restaurants to have Asam Pedas is right near Melaka’s downtown area.
The restaurant’s name is ‘Asam Pedas Pak Man.’
Watch the full video:
This video includes our full day ultimate Malaysian food tour of Melaka. You can watch it on YouTube here.
How to Order
Walk over to the large and colorful menu, and try to restrain yourself from ordering more than a few things (just for now, you can always order more).
The foods might take a few minutes to prepare, as this is not a pre-made meal. However, if you would like to eat both now and later, the fried roti section next to the sweets table is also quite famous from this restaurant as well (and those come immediately, but more on that later).
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Choose your fish, some of them need to be weighed first, and then tell the counter how many plates of rice you would like to have.
Many restaurants in Malaysia offer rice as a self-service item, but at Asam Pedas Pak Man they will serve rice to you at your table.
The rice usually comes like you see in the photo above, with a salted egg and a simple and crunchy sidekick (usually cucumber).
Try with Tuna (‘Ikan Tongol’)
The first fish to order here is a type of tuna (I think it is skipjack tuna), a fish commonly eaten in Malaysia and all over South East Asia.
You can order a few dozen different meat options to go with Asam Pedas, but as local Malay tend to have this curry with fish, we had to try it first with fish as well.
This tuna is one that will give you a great base of comparison of flavors as you begin the meal. It is a firm meat, one that you can easily hold with a few fingers, and also stable enough to sweep through a curry sauce like this (‘scoop‘), dipping up a maximum amount of flavor.
Grab a chunk from the spine area, and enjoy your first taste of that Asam Pedas sour and spicy, curry chili soup.
Baramundi (‘Ikan Siakap)
The exact origins of the Asam Pedas are unclear, but its obviously a dish that perfectly accepts whatever ingredients a locale has readily available.
Continue on your own explorations of the flavorful depths of Asam Pedas with one of the largest fish on the menu – a baramundi – a saltwater fish. You can see from the cross-section the huge size of the fish’s body.
By the way, the soup always cooks with vegetables, and the one in the photo is similar to those most commonly cooking all over Malaysia. Those are lady fingers, or ‘okra’ as its known in the West.
The okra is cooked for so long that it doesn’t really have any of its own flavor left, but it definitely adds its gooey sap into the soup, giving it much more body and depth of texture than if the soup was made using only a chili paste.
Amazing Plate of Sambal with Herbs
Before moving on to another bowl of Asam Pedas (yes, it is so delicious that even two bowls will not be enough), another food that you absolutely have to try here is this special sambal with herbs.
Most restaurants I visit in Malaysia have sambal ready on a side table, self-service and free with any meal.
At Asam Pedas Pakman though, they are really taking some initiative to spend much more time in preparing their sambal (you have to order this from the menu, but it is so worth the 3RM price).
I think I have yet to ever find a dipping sauce that was so earthy and bitter, so fruity yet barely sweet, and and overall just so well-received by every tastebud in my tongue.
It was mushy like a roast tomato, but I think the majority of its mass is pure chili pepper – no tomato at all. There is also a slightly sweet and ultra-sour peel texture, either a fleshy mash of a baby tamarind, or the peel of a water olive.
Describing the amount of flavor in this, I can only think about the mega umami-ness of SomTam in Thailand, maybe a fruit ‘salad’ in Central Laos, or the ultimate bursting sourness of an Achar pickle from South India.
This sambal is incredible, its definitely on my list of ‘foods so good you would risk smuggling them home.’
Asam Pedas with Stingray (‘Ikan Pari’)
For a totally different texture, but still very much a fish, try a final bowl of Asam Pedas with a section of meat from a stingray.
Melaka is well-known for using stingray in their cuisine, and it usually comes in beautiful layerings of some type of red curry sauce.
Whether they’re grilling stingray, wrapping it in a banana leaf, marinating it, or just frying first and then bathing it in curry later, stingray is another fish just perfectly matched, wonderfully cared for, by the spicy and sour flavors that dominate this amazing Malay cuisine.
Finally, after trying all the different meats, I am happy to be able to tell you – it is quite culturally acceptable to lick your fingers, and to drink the soup.
Its so delicious that of course, I was thinking of this already – trust me, it is safe to do what you want to do, go ahead and lick every last drop of curry from your fingers when your fish are finally gone.
Many Names, but its the Right Place
I’m not sure of the owners’ exact arrangement inside, but there are actually two sections of this restaurant.
This brown sign is what you will see when driving from downtown Melaka, this is the largest sign facing the street. This is not the food we came to eat however, but you can be sure that you’re still in the right place.
“Kuih” is a Hokkien word written in English, and its the name for all of the sweet and savory cakes made with coconut and flour which are selling on the left (as you walk in).
“Kampong” means ‘village’ in English, and so they are just naming this shop in a friendly, welcoming way. ‘Come eat in our tasty food village.’
Note: Online, you can see the restaurant hours begin at 8am. The restaurant was quite busy when we arrived at opening time (they’re quite famous for their dishes of roti canai as well, which sold out by 10am actually), but the Asam Pedas itself took another 90 minutes before it was ready. Melaka has plenty of other places we recommend for a first breakfast though, why not try Kedai Kopi Chung Wah?
Its a ‘World’s Best Food’ for a Reason
As any lover of spicy food will know, South East Asia is home to a huge variety of the world’s most well known foods including chili peppers.
The amount of brilliant things these beautiful cultures are doing with chilis astounds me to no end.
Learning more about Asam Pedas, and eating more than a few bowls of it, was a great experience for me – even worth the trip to Melaka, just to have this curry!
Specifically obvious in Malaysia’s cuisine, this single food includes entire chilies cooking in soup, a paste using chilies to flavor the food, and finally a third use of chilies in sauce you dip into when eating.
Now that’s a great way to honor the chili pepper.
Incredible that chilis are not even native to this part of the world, but Malaysia still works so wonderfully hard here to give the chili pepper a warm and continuing welcome.
Name: Asam Pedas Pak Man
Location: (Google Maps)
Hours: 8am to 7pm (open daily)
Prices: Our entire meal came to 73RM (US$17.75)