A soup just as central to Burmese cuisine as Tom Yum Goong and Tom Kha Gai (see page 4) are to Thai cuisine. This one-dish meal is considered by many to be the national dish of Burma. One of the ingredients, the heart of a banana tree, used to be available only to those who grow bananas, but now many Asian food stores sell sections of fresh banana heart.
To use, discard the outer layers and cut the tender inner portion into thin slices crossways. Soak the slices in a large bowl of salted water for several hours. The sticky juice forms hair-like threads which should be pulled away and discarded. If this is not practical for you, use thin slices of canned bamboo shoot as a substitute.
- 500 g (1 lb) fillets of strong-flavored fish or 2 cans herrings in tomato sauce
- 4 large onions, roughly chopped
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½-1 teaspoon chilli powder
- 2 fresh red chillies, seeded and chopped
- 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons peanut oil
- 2 · 400 ml (13 fl oz) cans coconut milk
- 250 g (8 oz) banana heart or bamboo shoots, sliced
- 1 teaspoon dried shrimp paste
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons chickpea flour
- lemon juice to taste
- salt to taste
- 500 g (1 lb) rice vermicelli
- accompaniments as desired
If using fresh fish fillets, simmer in lightly salted water for 5 minutes and reserve the fish stock for adding to the soup later. In a food processor or blender, pure the onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, chilli powder and chillies. Heat the sesame and peanut oils in a large saucepan and add the purŽe when it is very hot. Cover the pan, reduce the heat and fry the pure over very low heat for at least 20 minutes, stirring frequently. If it starts to stick, add a little water from time to time.
When the water content of the onions has evaporated the mixture should be a reddish brown and oil should separate around the edges. This is the important technique that results in the mellow flavor typical of Burmese food. Add 1 can coconut milk diluted with 2 cans of water, and the drained banana heart or bamboo shoots. Bring to the boil, turn the heat to low and simmer until the banana heart is tender. Dissolve the dried shrimp paste in the fish sauce and add to the pan. Mix the chickpea flour with a little cold water until smooth and stir into the soup. Keep stirring until it comes to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining can of coconut milk, stirring as it comes to a simmer. Add flaked fish fillets and fish stock or canned fish together with the sauce in the cans. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with lemon juice and salt.
Cook the rice vermicelli in lightly salted boiling water for 2 minutes or until just tender. Drain well and serve in a bowl alongside the soup. To eat, place the noodles in bowls and ladle over the piping hot soup. Diners can add accompaniments of their choice, which may be any or all of the following: finely sliced spring onions chopped fresh coriander finely sliced white onion roasted chickpeas, finely ground in a blender fried onion flakes crisp-fried garlic lime or lemon wedges dried chillies, fried in oil for 3Ð4 seconds chilli powder
Note: Roasted chickpeas may be purchased from Greek delicatessens.