Spicy Fish Soup (Moh Hin Gha)

(Photo by avlxyz/Flickr)

A meal in a bowl, in the city of Rangoon it is mostly bought from itinerant vendors who call their wares through the streets, carrying their portable kitchen on a bamboo pole slung over one shoulder, ingredients at one end, fire and cooking pot at the other. If banana heart proves unobtainable, slices of canned bamboo shoot may be substituted.

Serves 6-8.


about 30 cm/12 in banana heart
500 g/1 lb fillets of strong flavoured fish or 2 cans of herrings in tomato sauce
3 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder or 2 fresh red chillies, seeded
4 tablespoons peanut oil
3 tablespoons oriental sesame oil
250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup thin coconut milk
1 teaspoon dried shrimp paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 tablespoons chick pea flour (besan)
500 ml/1 pint/2 cups thick coconut milk
2 or 3 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
salt to taste
500 g packet of rice vermicelli

Accompaniments for Moh Hin Gha
Finely sliced spring onions (scallions)
Roughly chopped fresh coriander herb
Finely sliced white onion
Roasted chick peas, finely grounded, for adding thickness
Chilli powder for extra heat
Lime or Lemon wedges for adding piquancy
Fish sauce for extra saltiness
Sliced fresh chillies for pungency
Dried chillies, fried in oil
Fried onion flakes
Fried garlic slices
Crisp fried noodles, broken small


Discard one or two of the outer layers of banana heart. Slice the tender inner portion in crosswise slices about 1 cm (1/2 in) thick. Soak the slices in a large basin of salted water for about 2 hours. The sticky juice forms strands which should be pulled away and discarded.

If using fresh fish, make sure there are no bones or scales on the fillets. Put into a pan with just enough water to cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside.

In electric blender pur&eacutee the onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric and chilli. Heat both kinds of oil in a large saucepan until smoking hot, turn in the pur&eacuteedmixture and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes or until it smells cooked and the oil separates from the onion mixture. It should be a rich golden brown before going on to the next stage.

Add fish stock (reserve fillets), thin coconut milk and sliced banana heart and bring to the boil, stirring. Reduce heat and simmer until banana heart slices are tender but still crunchy. Dissolve dried shrimp paste in a little boiling water, add fish sauce and stir into the soup. Mix chick pea flour smoothly with a little cold water and add to the pan. Stir as it comes to the boil to prevent lumping. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the fish fillets broken into bite-sized pieces. If using canned fish add it now, together with liquid from the cans.

Add thick coconut milk, salt and lime or lemon juice, stirring. Immerse rice vermicelli. in boiling water for about 90 seconds. Drain.

Put noodles into individual bowls and ladle the fish soup over. Guests choose accompaniments from the array suggested below which can be prepared ahead of time and set out on the table, leaving only the noodles and piping hot soup to be brought to the table just before serving.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)