Although pancakes, cereal and eggs are the favorite breakfast in the United States, many Asian cuisines opt for soup instead. Whether it’s pho in Vietnam or the thin, flavorful Khao tom porridge in Thailand, there’s an undeniable appeal to a liquid, spicy start to the day.
In Myanmar, the most common breakfast is also soup, a dish known as mohinga. Made from catfish, the food has a complex taste, including sweet, sour, salty and spicy elements. The preparation derives from a wide range of aromatics such as root vegetables, peppers and spices, bound together with rice flour. Served at street food stalls across the country, it’s often topped with eggs and donuts for a satiated start to the day.
A quality is reliable – there’s a spicy note to finish – but otherwise, chefs craft regional interpretations, reflecting generational techniques and local ingredients. Over the years, mohinga has become one of Myanmar’s most famous culinary creations. Let’s dive into the context.
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A long-time comfort food staple
Aromatic mohinga is one of Myanmar’s most popular foods, eaten for centuries. The first printed reference dates back to a poem from the Alaungpaya dynasty. This latter kingdom of Myanmar lasted for 133 years until British control in 1885. However, it is likely that the food was already widely valued as a staple for the working class before this date, with some citing origins dating back to the first century. Over the past hundred years in particular, the dish has withstood changing political climates. It remained a staple under British imperial rule and after 20th century military leadership. Today, it continues to be a popular street food, with its price often used as an economic indicator.
Mohinga is enjoyed throughout Myanmar, with various regional differentiations. In coastal areas, such as Rakhine province, the dish includes more seafood and is called Mont Di. In northern Shan State, the broth is made from a fermented bean paste called pèhbal. There are also other differentiations between rural and urban renderings. The soup changes components, encompassing the cultural and ecological diversity of Myanmar.
How is Mohinga made?
Although mohinga changes ingredients and preparation techniques, there is a general preparation procedure. The dish begins with toasting flour made from pulverized rice granules, accompanied by the occasional inclusion of chickpea flour. Next, a spice paste for the broth is prepared in a mortar and pestle, involving a varying mixture of ginger, garlic, onion, chili peppers and lemongrass. Some throw the aromatics into simmering water with salt and white pepper to create a broth. Others saute vegetables first, also incorporating turmeric and chili powder. The fish, traditionally catfish, is introduced into the pot and mixed with ingredients such as shrimp paste and fish sauce. Water is added to form the broth. Immediately or after cooking, flour is added to thicken the soup. The soup cooks for between fifteen minutes and an hour.
At the same time, the rice vermicelli is boiled separately. They are then divided into different bowls into which the broth is poured. Frequent toppings include lime, chili oil, hard-boiled eggs, cilantro, various fried fritters, and additional fish sauce to taste.