Dawei, until recently known as Tavoy, is an attractive town halfway down Burma’s tail-of-the-kite south coast. The fish in its markets gleam with freshness and are wonderfully varied. The women in Kana Market, Dawei’s main wet market, watched me taking photos and more photos, laughing when they saw how amazed I was by the beauty of the fish they were selling.
The fish dishes for which Dawei is famous may originally have been Mon dishes, since this stretch of the Tenasserim coast was part of a Mon kingdom long ago (see Burma over Time). It’s also been a crossroads kind of place for centuries. Chinese merchants, Burmese from other parts of the country, and Muslim descendants of traders from across the Bay of Bengal all still do business here.
I learned about this soup from a generous woman in Dawei known for her home cooking. The basic flavor paste features the distinctive local flavorings: along with ginger and shallots, there’s galangal, a resiny and distinctive cousin of ginger, as well as lemongrass in quantities you don’t see elsewhere in Burma.
You can serve it as a broth, or instead include bean threads and some chopped Napa cabbage for a more substantial soup. I like to pair it with Perfumed Coconut Rice and a simple vegetable curry.
Place the fish heads in a pot with
Meanwhile combine the lemongrass, ginger, and galangal in a mortar or small processor, add
Blend the paste into another cup of water, then add to the pot together with the remaining
Bring to a gentle boil. Add the bean threads or Napa cabbage or both, if using, and simmer briefly. If using squid, rinse off, then add to the soup and simmer until tender. Taste and adjust the seasonings if you wish. Add most of the coriander and stir, then remove from the heat, stir in the lime juice, and serve topped with a sprinkling of the remaining coriander.
Set the broth aside until about 10 minutes before you wish to serve it (refrigerate if the wait will be longer than 2 hours). Then bring the broth back to a gentle boil and proceed as above.
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