When it comes to comfort food, mohingar is top of my list. It brings back fond memories of early morning visits to Shwedagon Pagoda which started with breakfast at a mohingar stall nearby. This noodle soup is considered the Burmese national dish and is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not surprisingly every family has their own variation and this is my family’s recipe. Nowadays I prefer to eat mohingar nearer lunchtime and invite a group of friends to join in this hearty Burmese brunch.
prepare the fish
300g catfish (or use whole trout)
1 lemon grass stalk, bruised
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
to make the onion paste
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1cm fresh ginger
2 lemon grass stalks, white part only
3 whole dried chillies, soaked in hot water
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
6 tablespoons peanut oil
to make the soup
1.5 litres water
100g young banana stem, sliced
(alternatively use 12 small shallots, peeled)
75g ground rice powder, roasted
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
500g fine rice noodles or
wheat noodles, cooked
3 limes, halved
5 hard-boiled eggs, peeled & quartered
2 handfuls of fresh coriander, chopped
gourd or onion crispy fritters (page 21)
extra fish sauce & chilli flakes
Put the fish in a large pan, add the water, lemon grass and turmeric. Bring to the boil and simmer for 6-10 minutes until the fish is just cooked. Remove the fish from the pan and 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 the soup.
Pound the onion, garlic, ginger, dried chillies and lemon grass into a paste in a pestle and mortar, otherwise just chop everything as finely as you can.
Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onion paste. Cook over moderate heat for 15-20 minutes until the paste is soft and caramelised. 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 before adding the flaked fish. Pop the lid on and cook for 10-15 minutes, allowing all the flavours from the onion paste to infuse into the fish.
The soup paste is done. If you are making this in advance, cool the mixture completely and pop in the freezer. It will keep for up to 1 month.
To make the soup: put the soup paste (completely defrosted if using from frozen), rice powder, water and the reserved fish stock (or 500ml of water if not using fish stock) in a large pan. Bring to a boil while stirring continuously to make sure the rice powder doesn’t clump. Add the shallots or banana stem and simmer for 20-30 minutes until they are tender. Add the fish sauce and taste for seasoning. Finally add lots of black pepper before serving.
To serve, put a handful of noodles in a bowl and ladle over the soup. Let everyone add the garnishes as they wish. It should taste spicy, salty and tangy from the limes.
cooking time: 50-70 mins