Rakhine State is known for its spicy cuisine. More chiles and chile powder are used in dishes and even more chile pastes are out on the table as condiments. This version of mohinga is a good example.

Here fish is poached to make a broth, then the flesh is lifted off the bones, flaked, lightly fried in turmeric-flavored oil, and served on top of the noodles. The mohinga can be served with all the suggested extras, or you can simplify and omit some.

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Ingredients

  • One 1¾- to 2-pound whole fish such as carp, trout, or snapper, or several smaller fish, cleaned and scaled

Broth

  • 5 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon shrimp paste (ngapi)
  • About 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped galangal
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic

Tamarind Liquid

  • 1 heaping tablespoon tamarind pulp, cut into chunks
  • ½ cup hot water

Red Chile Paste

  • Generous ¼ cup dried red chiles
  • ¼ cup hot water
  • teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • 5 inches banana stem, peeled, sliced, soaked in cold water for an hour, and drained (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2½ to 3 pounds fresh rice vermicelli or thin rice noodles (flat or round) or pounds dried rice vermicelli or narrow dried rice noodles

Other Accompaniments and Flavorings

Method

Rinse the fish thoroughly; set aside.

Pour the water into a wide pot or deep wide skillet and set over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp paste and stir to dissolve it, then add the galangal and garlic. If the fish is too long to fit comfortably in the pot, cut it crosswise in half (leave the head on; it will add flavor). Slide the fish into the water. Once the water comes to the boil, lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and poach for about 4 minutes. Turn the fish over and poach for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until just cooked through.

Use a spider or tongs to lift the fish out of the liquid and onto a platter. (Set the broth aside.) Let cool briefly, then lift the flesh off the bones, remove and discard the skin, and set the flesh aside to cool.

Return the bones to the broth. Raise the heat to medium-high and simmer vigorously for 10 minutes or so. Strain the broth; discard the solids. Add water to the broth if necessary to bring it up to 4 cups, and set aside.

Place the tamarind pulp in a small bowl, add the hot water, and stir and mash with a fork. Set aside to soak for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the Chile Paste

Break off and discard the chile stems; discard the seeds if you want less heat. Place the chiles in a small pan with the hot water, bring to a boil, and boil for a minute or two, until softened. Transfer to a mortar or a food processor, add the salt, and mash or process to a paste.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chile paste and cook until it sizzles, a minute or two. Transfer to a small condiment bowl; set aside.

Mash the soaking tamarind again with a fork or your fingers to get it to dissolve. Place a sieve over a medium bowl and pour in the tamarind mixture; press the mixture against the mesh of the sieve with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids and set the liquid aside.

Pull the fish apart into flakes, discarding any stray bones. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the fish and add it to the broth.

Place a heavy medium skillet or a wok over medium heat, add the 2 tablespoons oil, and stir in the turmeric. Add the fish and cook, using a spatula to stir it and separate it further into flakes, until it has dried out a little and has all been exposed to the hot oil. Turn out into a bowl and set aside.

About 10 minutes before serving, place the broth back over medium heat, add the soaked banana stem, if using, and the fish sauce, and bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, put out six large soup bowls. Pour about 8 cups of water into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add the noodles. If using fresh noodles (they’ll be heated and tender after 30 seconds or so), use a spider or tongs to lift them out of the hot water and distribute them among the bowls. If using dried noodles, bring the water back to the boil and cook until tender, 3 or 4 minutes. Drain and distribute among the bowls.

Add 1 teaspoon or so of the shallot or garlic oil to the noodles in each bowl and turn to coat them. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon toasted chickpea flour, ½ teaspoon fish sauce, 1 teaspoon tamarind liquid, a generous pinch of coriander, and teaspoon black pepper over the noodles in each bowl and toss to mix and blend. Sprinkle the flaked fish onto the noodles and toss again.

Pour the hot broth into individual small bowls and serve alongside the bowls of noodles. Put out the chile paste(s) and small bowls of the remaining tamarind liquid, chickpea flour, fish sauce, and coriander, so guests can adjust flavorings as they wish.

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