Monday, 9 December 2013

Mohinga Recipe - Burmese Catfish Chowder - Burma's National Dish

Mohinga, Burma's Breakfast of Choice

Bursting with contrasting textures, fragrances, and flavours, mohinga is a Burmese catfish chowder served over rice vermicelli. It's the breakfast of choice wherever you go in Burma, and considered our national dish.

As soon as we're back in Yangon, my family and I will devour bowl after bowl of mohinga, brought home in huge metal tiffin carriers from the nearest street vendor, or eaten in situ at our favourite stall.

Heaped with crispy split-peas, slices of soft duck egg, bouncy fishcake, and fresh feathery coriander leaves, with extra fish sauce and lime to squeeze on the side, it's hard to know when to stop, and for many, their love for mohinga borders on obsession.

Mohinga is usually made with small river catfish known in Burmese as nga gyi, nga ku or nga yunt which I believe are related to the Pangas catfish.

While you can't get the same fish in the West, I've found that a combination of tinned mackerel and sardines can successfully replicate the flavour of authentic mohinga. My father said, in slightly offensive astonishment, that this tastes "just like the real deal".

Photo by Feast To The World

Burmese Catfish Chowder - Mohinga Recipe

Serves 6-8

For the broth:

  • 5 tbsp gram flour 
  • 2 tbsp rice flour 
  • 2 tins of mackerel in brine (~200g) 
  • 1 tin of sardines in oil (~100g) 
  • 500ml vegetable or fish stock 
  • 2 large onions, quartered 
  • Handful of shredded banana blossom (see NOTE below)
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (known in Burmese as ngan-bya-yay

For the spice paste:

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled 
  • 3cm knob of fresh root ginger, peeled 
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed of woody bits 
  • 1 small bunch of fresh coriander, stems only 
  • 6 tbsp groundnut or other neutral oil 
  • 1 tbsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp ground turmeric 
  • 1 tsp hot paprika 
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper 

To serve:

  • 600g dried rice vermicelli noodles 
  • 200g ready-made fishcake, sliced (available from Oriental/Asian supermarkets) 
  • Wedges of hard-boiled eggs 
  • 1 small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped 
  • Fried shallots
  • Lime wedges 
  • Fish sauce
  • Chilli oil
  • Yellow split pea crackers (be-gyun kyaw) (recipe to follow)
  • Crispy garlic oil (recipe to follow)

Toast the gram flour and rice flour by tossing in a dry frying-pan on a medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes till fragrant. Watch like a hawk and keep moving the pan, since it can catch and turn black in seconds. Leave to cool and then sieve the toasted flours.

Whisk the sieved flours with 500ml water in a bowl or jug till smooth. Set this flour solution to one side.

Toast the flours

Now make the spice paste - blitz the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and coriander stems in a blender or food processor until it forms a purée.

Heat the oil in a stockpot on medium-high and add the purée and the rest of the spices. Fry for 3-4 minutes till fragrant.

Fry the spice paste

Now add the fish as well as the oil and brine from the tins to the stockpot and mash them with a masher or a fork till smooth.

Stir to combine with the spice paste and then add the flour solution you made earlier as well as the stock.

Mash the tinned fish

Bring to the boil, turn the heat down to medium and simmer vigorously for 30 minutes.

Now add the quartered onions, the banana blossom if using and 2 litres of water, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 2 more hours, stirring from time to time.

Simmering onions

Meanwhile, put the noodles into a heatproof bowl, generously cover with just-boiled water, untangle with a fork and then leave to soak for 15 minutes. Drain the noodles into a colander and rinse them thoroughly with cold running water.

Leave the colander in the sink to allow any residual water to keep draining. The Burmese don't like mushy or starchy noodles and this process gives the best result.

Rice vermicelli draining on the top left

Just before you're ready to serve, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a frying-pan on medium, add the fishcake and fry for 5 minutes till golden. Set to one side.

When you're ready to serve, stir the fish sauce into the stockpot of broth.

Now divide the noodles amongst pasta plates (should be about a handful in each), and ladle the hot soup on top (which will reheat the noodles).

Garnish each dish with fishcake, chunks of split pea cracker, egg and coriander leaves and serve with lime wedges, fish sauce and chilli and garlic oil on the side.

As for utensils, ideally you should use metal Chinese spoons as you can see in all the photos and the video. We actually call them mohinga zun which means "mohinga spoons" in Burmese.

Failing that, use tablespoons, but never ever ever eat mohinga with chopsticks - it's the heinous equivalent of heating gazpacho ...

All for me ...

NOTE: Mohinga should be made with the stem of the banana plant, but this isn't available in the West as far as I know. A good substitute is fresh shredded banana blossom - you can buy whole flowers/buds and prepare it yourself (just the white part) or buy ready-sliced in packets in Vietnamese supermarkets where it's known as  Bắp Chuối.

Here's a good review of where to eat mohinga in Yangon, by the London Review of Breakfasts.


  1. Looks FLIPPINNNNNNNN' AH MAY ZING. I think a while ago I came across a photo of mohinga with a pair of chopsticks in the photo. Food styling fail.

    1. Ha, yeah. Food styling fails are sort of understandable - what jars me is when restaurants and stalls overseas serve it with chopsticks ...

  2. Beautiful wholesome food that looks mouthwatering!

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for the recipe. It was interesting to see what's in it since I just got back from Myanmar where I enjoyed many a bowl of this luscious stuff, each place serving it a little differently. I'll give this recipe a try if I can't find it ready made in the cosmoglot that is the SF Bay Area - Burma Superstar serves it, so I'll try that first.

    1. SF has a few Burmese places that are meant to be pretty good - you're lucky :)

  4. Thank you for posting this recipe. I have tried it and loved it. I couldn't find banana plant or banana blossom so I omitted completely. I guess I didn't try to find it hard enough because my first time trying this at a friend's house and he didn't use any banana plant either. But I loved the flavor. Would it be okay to post the recipe on my blog ? I will credit you and put a link to your blog as well. Thanks.

    1. Hi Lulu! So glad you loved it. Yes, okay to post if you credit me, link to my blog and also please mention my book Noodle! which is coming out soon. Thanks! MiMi x

  5. This is called "mohinga" you stupid bitch !
    It is not 'catfish chowder' !!
    You think you have become "american" all of a sudden ... you ngapi girl ???? !!!

    1. I *know* it's called mohinga - hence the name of the recipe. And my repeated use of the word mohinga throughout the entire article.

      "Chowder" is a term which implies a thickened fish or seafood stew eaten with crackers. It's a perfectly adequate way of explaining mohinga to people who aren't familiar with it. And if I used the word "casserole", I suppose you'd accuse me of wanting to be French.

      Why on earth are you so rude? And I'm very proud of being a ngapi girl - I'm Burmese so ngapi runs through my veins.

      (incidentally, to the rest of my readers, "Anonymous" went to the trouble of emailing me a MUCH more abusive version of this comment using a programme that hides the identity of the sender. Nice person.).

    2. Wow, Anon. All you did there? Make yourself look really, really stupid. Not to mention unobservant. Oh and cowardly too. Well done you on ticking all the Trolling for Dummies boxes. Huzzah!

    3. You're a charming little soul, aren't you, Anonymous? Maybe try some tarragon doughnuts to sweeten you up a little? BTW MiMi, I have learnt so much about Burma and Burmese cookery from this blog. Please don't let comments like this slow the flow of great information and recipes x

  6. Your recipes are wonderful, thank you for taking the time to share this with the world. I hope to learn more about the unique flavors of Burmese food and cooking through you. You are a beautiful person.

  7. Hello! Looking forward to trying this version, haven't made mohinga for years so this will help remind me!
    One question - any chance you would publish the recipe for the be-gyun kyaw? The recipe says 'coming soon' but couldn't find it in your index of recipes.
    Thanks again :)

  8. My anglo-burmese mum used to make this for us but we'd have Burmese food on a Sunday instead of traditional roast dinner. She made it with pilchards, noodles and all the trimmings incl. fried onions, coriander, chopped eggs and fish sauce but...we never with fishcakes. Not one of my Burmese relatives does with fishcakes either so where does that come from?

    1. Comes from Burma - some stalls serve it with fishcake, some don't :)


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