Rangoon Mohinga

Mohinga as it’s made and served on the street in Rangoon can be a multilayered, extraordinary dish. The trick is to find a cook who cares a lot—look for a busy stall—and then keep going back to her each day.

Here’s one welcoming take on Rangoon-style mohinga. I’ve included banana stem in case you have access to it, but you can make the soup without it. Do make at least one of the fried toppings.

Ingredients

  • One 2- to 2½-pound catfish or other freshwater fish such as tilapia or trout, or several smaller fish, cleaned and scaled

Broth

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste (ngapi)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 slices ginger
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and smashed
  • ½ cup minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
  • Salt
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ¼ cup oil
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon Red Chile Powder or cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste
  • ¼ cup Toasted Chickpea Flour or Toasted Rice Powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 inches banana stem, peeled, soaked in cold water for an hour, sliced, and drained (optional)
  • 10 small whole shallots, or 5 larger ones, cut in half
  • Finely ground black pepper
  • pounds fresh rice vermicelli or rice noodles or 1 pound dried rice noodles
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons Shallot Oil

Optional Toppings and Condiments (Choose any or all)

Method

Rinse the fish thoroughly; set aside.

Pour the water into a wide pot and add the shrimp paste, turmeric, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. Add the fish and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. Remove the fish and set aside to cool for a moment.

Strain the broth into a pot, discarding the solids, and set aside.

Pull the cooked fish off the bones, flake, and set aside. Add the bones and skin to the broth and boil for another 10 minutes, then strain and discard the bones and skin. Set the broth aside.

If you have a mortar, pound the minced shallots to a paste; set aside. Pound the lemongrass to a coarse paste with a pinch of salt; set aside. Pound the ginger and then the garlic and mix together with the lemongrass. Alternatively, combine the lemongrass, ginger, and garlic in a food processor, add a little salt, and process to a coarse paste.

Heat the oil in a wok or heavy skillet over medium heat, add the turmeric, chile powder, and pounded or minced shallots, and cook for several minutes, until the shallots are softened. Add the lemongrass-ginger paste and cook until aromatic, 3 minutes or so, stirring to prevent sticking. Add the reserved fish and the fish sauce and cook for several minutes more to blend flavors. Turn out and set aside.

Bring the broth to a boil. Stir the toasted chickpea flour or rice powder into the water, then stir into the broth. The broth will bubble and foam a little as it thickens. Add the fish mixture and the banana stem, if using, and cook at a low boil for about 10 minutes. Add the whole (or halved) shallots and black pepper and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, until the shallots are cooked. Taste and add fish sauce or salt if needed.

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and boil gently until softened, about 1 minute for fresh noodles, 5 minutes for dried. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle on the shallot oil and toss gently to prevent the noodles from sticking together.

To serve, put out a platter with the toppings and condiments of your choice. Set out a large bowl for each guest. Place a generous cup of noodles in each bowl, top with some fried shallots, and ladle the soup over, making sure that each serving has some fish and whole shallots in it. Top with the coriander, and invite your guests to add other toppings as they wish.

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