Burma, or Myanmar as it is known today, is one Asian country not often in the news apart from natural disasters like the devastating cyclone that rocked that country in 2008. That’s because the military dictatorship that controls the country is notoriously secretive and isolationist.
Therefore, the announcement of the release of human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, came as a huge surprise this week. In order to celebrate, I thought I’d make some Mohingar, a traditional Burmese fish noodle soup, which, in fact, is considered the national dish. It’s similar to Vietnamese Pho in that they are both noodle soups with a delicious broth that also use tons of different garnishes.
Though I’ve enjoyed this dish in restaurants, and had a Burmese girlfriend who used to make it, I’ve never tried to prepare it myself. Up for the challenge, however, as any gastronaut worth his salt, I conducted a lot of research online comparing different recipes and techniques. Serendipitously, I stumbled upon a great site called Hsa*ba (Burmese for “please eat”), which was put together by Tin Cho Chaw, who penned a fabulous Burmese cookbook by the same name. I ended up using her recipe as the basis for my first pot of Mohingar, and was not disappointed.
Please check out her amazing site at: http://www.hsaba.com/ and buy a copy of this amazing cookbook!
Prepare the fish:
3/4 lb. (300 g) fish – whole catfish or trout
1 lemon grass stalk, bruised
1/4 tsp. turmeric
2 cups (500 ml) water
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1-inch piece fresh ginger
2 lemon grass stalks (white part only), sliced
3 whole dried red chilies, soaked in hot water
1 tsp. shrimp paste
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
6 tbsp. peanut oil
for the soup:
6 cups (1.5 l) water or stock
1 cup (100 g) young banana stem, sliced (or bamboo shoots)
2 1/2 oz. (75 g) ground rice powder, roasted
3 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 lb. (500g) rice noodles, cooked
3 limes, halved
5 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
2 handfuls fresh coriander, chopped
extra fish sauce and chili flakes
1.) Put the fish in a large pan, add water, lemon grass, turmeric. Bring to a boil and simmer for 6-10 minutes until the fish is just cooked. Remove fish from pan when cool enough to handle, peel the skin and flake the flesh, discarding any bones. Drain the fish stock through a sieve and reserve for soup.
2.) Grind the onion, garlic, ginger, dried chilies, and lemon grass into a paste in the food processor.
3.) Heat oil in a saucepan and add onion paste. Cook over moderate heat for 15-20 minutes until the paste is soft and caramelized. Add the shrimp paste, mash with a wooden spoon until incorporated, then mix in the turmeric and paprika. Cook for a further minute until the spices are fragrant. Then add flaked fish. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, allowing all the flavors from the onion paste to infuse into the fish. [The soup paste may be stored for later use at this time by freezing]
4.) To make the soup, place soup paste, rice powder, water and the reserved fish stock in a large pan. Bring to a boil while stirring continuously to make sure the rice powder doesn’t clump. Add the banana stem or bamboo shoots and simmer for 20-30 minutes until tender. Add the fish sauce and taste for seasoning. Add the black pepper before serving
5.) To serve, place a handful of noodles in a bowl and ladle over the soup. Let everyone add their own garnishes. Soup should taste spicy, salty and tangy from the limes.
Cooking time: 50-70 minutes