If I were to put on the death sentence and have to choose my last meal on earth, I would choose Mohinga without any slight bit of hesitation. It is not because of the sentimental crap that I grew up eating this dish (well, partly it is). This dish is just goose-bumpingly delicious. Admittedly, making Mohinga requires time and some competency in planning ahead, but it is one of those experiences that kind of makes me face the reality that I suck at organization.
Excuse me for being so off tangent. I should describe a little bit about Mohinga. In Burmese, Mo means snack, and hinga can be translated into “broth”, so it literally means broth eaten as a snack (typically for breakfast).
So what’s inside the broth? It is basically lemongrass flavored fish broth, thickened with rice flour. If you are fish-phobiac like some of my friends, do not worry about the broth having a fishy taste. The pungent and almost-lemony lemongrass really mellows down the fishy taste, and gives a layer of complexity. The broth itself is a black hole of concentrated umami flavor developed from several easy but fourth-dimension-demanding steps, such as simmering and frying so that the flavors really bond with each other well. I am also a fan of any dish that produces a thick soup without requiring much flour. In Mohinga, the use of toasted rice flour, despite requiring an extra step, really adds textural and aromatic complexity to this already-enticing dish. This dish, I feel, really represents that patience is the best ingredient you can possibly put in your dish. I admit I struggle with delayed-gratification, but sometimes, there are times I face heads-on with my weakness, and making Mohinga is one of them.
The Mohinga broth is the ultimate canvas – you can serve it anyway you like. Traditionally, it is served over thin rice vermicelli rice strands, and subsequently topped with sliced boiled eggs, ample amount of green cilantro foliage, crunchy bits of fried garlic and chili oil. But, it is also common for some voracious and adventurous eaters to just mix with rice and apply to their faces. Either way, the outcome will be delicious nonetheless.
My personal favorite? Just the broth by itself with generous piling of cilantro leaves and a squeeze of lime.
1 medium-sized tilapia (cleaned, gutted and scaled)
3 medium-sized yellow onion (chop one and thickly sliced the other 2)
1 cup of toasted rice flour
5 stalks of lemon grass
5 slices of ginger (about 1/8” thick)
5 big cloves of garlic (minced)
2 teaspoons of paprika
2 teaspoons of turmeric
¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
5 quarts of water
½ cup of vegetable oil
¼ cup of fish sauce
Eggs, cilantro (Coriander) and garlic oil for garnish
- Thin rice vermicelli sticks (cooked according to the package instruction). I prefer the Vietnamese kind.
- Cilantro or coriander (very essential garnish)
- Garlic oil
- Crispy shallots and chili powder (optional)
- Boiled sliced eggs
- Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil.
- Cut lemon grass stalks into 6” strips, and whack to breakdown the stalks so aroma can be released.
- Drop in pungent lemon grass stalks and ginger into the boiling water. Drop in the fish whole (yes, head included).
- Add one teaspoon of turmeric powder.
- Let the fish cook, and flavor the broth by simmering at medium heat for about 45 minutes.
- Take out the fish and let it cool down so you don’t burn yourself while pulling the meat apart. (I know this dish requires many steps, but it is slow cooking with a lot of waiting. I like that). SAVE THE BROTH!
- While the fish cook, make the rice flour. Toast white rice grains under medium-high heat with constant stirring, until the grains turn golden brown. It is ok if some pieces turn dark. Nothing is perfect in life anyway.
|White rice grains toasted to golden hue|
|Ground rice flour with the help of modern technology|
- With the help of modern technology, aka a food processor, these grains can turn into flour in mere of 1-min blitz.
- Pull the fish meat apart from the bone.
- Heat up the oil; drop in chopped onion (1 onion), and minced garlic. Cook under medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until fragrant. Then, add paprika, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Stir and add in the fish flesh. Cook until the fish starts to get dry with occasional stirring (about 20 minutes under medium heat).
- Drop in the spice-speckled fish into the broth. Bring the broth to a boil. Put in the toasted rice flour while stirring. Also strew around the thickly sliced onions.
- Let the flavors come together by simmering for at least an hour. Stir occasionally.
- Serve over rice vermicelli, and top with lots of cilantro, crispy shallots and sliced eggs. Drizzle with a touch of garlic oil and a touch of chili powder for extra luxury and unexpected danger.