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Mohinga – Burma(Myanmar) National Dish – Day 48/Dish 26

February 24, 2010

Being in Burkina Faso gave us some great insight into the aftermath of former European Colonies.  It is sad to see such hunger in the eyes of the children of Africa and other poverty stricken places.  It is difficult to enjoy visiting, but I think it is important for the world to know and understand how others live.

Our next country suffers similar economic and political challenges and like Burkina Faso has been controlled by a strict central government.  Burma is located on the Malay Peninsula south of China and north of Thailand.  To get there we sail south from Burkina Faso and around the Cape of Good Hope.  We travel onward across the Indian Ocean and back into the Bay of Bengal and into the area known as the Andaman Sea.  We land at Yangon or Rangoon, as in Crab Rangoon, the delicious cream cheese and crab meat filled fried dumpling.

Burma or The Union of Myanmar as it has been renamed is our next destination. The name is important to the recent history of this place as it speaks to the core of the social consciousness. Wikipedia describes this nicely, “The name “Burma” is derived from the Burmese word “Bamar” (), which in turn is the colloquial form of Myanmar () (or Mranma in old Burmese), both of which historically referred to the majority Burmans (or the Bamar). Depending on the register used the pronunciation would be “Bama” or “Myanmah”. The name “Burma” has been in use in English since the time of British colonial rule.” When the sitting government of U Nu was overthrown by military leaders in 1962, the Junta changed the name of both the country to The Union of Myanmar as well as many of the towns as a way to dismiss the influence of its former colonial rulers.  To this day the name is contested by many Western nations including the United States, UK, Australia and Canada who do not recognize the legitimacy of the military Junta as well as many of the local ethnic groups other than Burmans who feel the term refers to the majority ethnicity and not the country.  But many other nations do recognize Myanmar including the United Nations and ASEAN as well as Russia, Japan and Germany.

Myanmar Long Form - A beautiful script!!

The recent history of the nation is dominated by a plunge into dictatorship and political suppression.  The first decades post coup d’état, were an experiment in Socialism led by the government.  The policies of the central government under their leader General Ne Win sunk Myanmar into destitution, becoming one of the poorest places on Earth.  Severe repression mixed with a distrust of outsiders led to riots and the forced evacuation of many thousands of Indians who had settled here as workers during colonial times.  Student protests were broken up and the Army was responsible for many deaths.  To this day, the infamous Insein Prison is home to thousands of political prisoners including the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma is the location of the incredibly destructive Cyclone Nargis that struck the Irrawaddy Delta in 2008 killing upwards of 200,000 people. The slow reaction of the Junta to allow aid workers into the country has been blamed for thousands of deaths that might have otherwise been prevented.

Despite its challenges, Myanmar or Burma is a beautiful country steeped in Buddhist philosophy at its core.  Fantastic temples and pagodas speckle the landscape and the sounds of unique and rhythmic local music is as enchanting here as anywhere on the planet.  Vast lush agricultural lands are surrounded by incredible natural bounty.  The limited development throughout the country of Burma has meant limited impact on the natural splendor of the land.  Rare exotic animals and plants are still alive and well in Burma while the rest of the planet is losing these treasures.

One of the challenges we face in visiting any place is the balance we must strike in observing the local culture, noting its strengths and weaknesses and remembering that we too come from a place with challenges.  This is certainly hard for an American or westerner who is taught to believe that our ways are the most successful.  However, the cultures of SE Asia have been several thousand years in the making and we can only observe the part that is happening now.  This applies to everyone.  Certainly, looking at anyone’s culture from a different perspective, it would be easy to build a list of “Sins” similar to if not identical to the ones mentioned above.  So we take this journey for the food and to try to learn what we can about the other people we share this planet with.  It may cause us to appreciate our own culture even more, or it might cause us to see things through a different lens and recognize the rich diversity of our planet and the many wonderful things that even the most challenged places offer the world.

The local produce of Burma is typical of the region with emphasis on rice based dishes of seafood and local vegetation.  Burma’s National Dish is called Mohinga and is a soup, similar to Pho from Vietnam that is made from fish stock and spices blended with fresh fish chunks.  It is natural, healthy and full of flavor.  The use of Fish sauce is also typical of SE Asian countries and introduces a pungent and salty base to the soup.  When cooking this dish, as with any dish involving Fish Sauce, it may help to open a window to vent the kitchen.

I give this dish a 2 for difficulty.  Use a food processor to chop and blend the Onion, Lemongrass, ginger and garlic to a paste.  The rest is simple and does not take long to make.



Appearance: 3 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor 3 out of 5

Total: 10 out of 15         


3 tablespoons cooking oil

1 onion (grated)

4 garlic cloves (crushed)

1 inch fresh ginger (peeled and grated)

1 teaspoon lemongrass (1 stalk fresh with outer tough leaves removed before chopping)

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

50 ounces water

3 ounces fish sauce

2 small onions (quartered)

4 tablespoons rice flour (mixed with a little cold water)

1 lb catfish skinned and filleted and cut into chunks

1 lb rice noodles thick or thin

For Garnish:

3 hard boiled Eggs peeled and halved

Chopped Coriander (Cilantro) leaves

Lime sliced to wedges

Sriracha Sauce or Chili Peppers diced for heat


Blend the Onion, Garlic, Lemongrass and Ginger into a paste in a food processor or mortar and pestle.

Heat the Oil in a saucepan.

Add the onion, the garlic, the ginger, the fresh lemon grass (finely chopped or 1 tsp of ground lemon grass), the chili powder, and the turmeric to the oil.  Cook on medium until fragrant.

Add water, fish sauce, small onions, and rice flour. Mix well, bring to a boil, and stir thoroughly to remove lumps. Once thickened, reduce to a simmer for ~20 minutes.

Cut fish or fillet (for less work with bones), into chunks, add to the soup, mix, and cook for another 10 minutes.

On the side, boil water and add rice noodles for 5 minutes, until tender, and drain.

Serve soup on the noodles with garnishes on the side.  Original Recipe

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