Why try Myanmar (Burmese) food: “My mother made us do chores and follow her rules. She was very strict and had all these rules. If we were good we would get a birthday party. We were good most of the time (with a laugh). I was around 14 or 15. I could invite friends, but I had to have my mother’s approval because some friends she didn’t approve of. In the morning we would offer some of the food to the monks because we are Buddhist. In the evening all my siblings and mother and father would sit at the same table and my friends would be at a different one. The whole living room would be filled with people and sometimes they would invite the neighbors and we would all get together and eat. Then they all sang me a birthday song.” – Kyi Kyi Whiting, arrived in the United States in 1991
1/2 cup uncooked jasmine rice
3 stalks lemongrass, cut into 3-inch pieces
1 2-ounce piece ginger (unpeeled), thickly sliced crosswise into slabs
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 stalk lemongrass, minced
3 tablespoons minced ginger
2 red onions, diced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 1/2 cups)
10 ounces fine round rice noodles
6 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
12 yellow split pea crackers, broken into pieces
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (we used parsley)
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the rice across a rimmed baking pan and bake, giving the pan an occasional stir, until the rice is an even golden color and aromatic, 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then pulverize in a clean coffee grinder.
2. To make the broth, select a large wide pot that will fit the catfish comfortably with room to spare (An 8-quart pot works well). Add the water, lemongrass, ginger, bay leaves, black and white pepper and salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Place the fish fillets into the pot. Bring the pot to a brisk simmer, lower the heat, and cook gently for 15 minutes.
4. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer. You will have about 10 cups. Give the pot a quick rinse (when it’s cool enough to handle), and return the broth to the pot.
5. In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered rice and a ladleful of the broth until no lumps remain. Stir into the broth. Bring the broth to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until it starts to barely thicken, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and cook the broth at a gentle simmer while preparing the soup.
6. To make the soup, in a wok or large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the lemongrass, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the cooked fish, paprika and turmeric, mashing the fish gently with a spoon to turn it into a coarse paste, and cook for about 1 minute.
7. Pour the contents of the wok into the broth and bring to a brisk simmer. Add the red onions and fish sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes more or until the flavors start to come together. Taste the broth: it should be on the salty side because the noodles will not have any salt.
8. To cook the noodles, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook, stirring often with tongs or chopsticks to prevent sticking, for 5 to 6 minutes or until softened. Turn off the heat and let the noodles sit in the water for 3 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cool running water, and give the colander a shake to remove excess water. If not serving right away, mix some canola oil into the noodles with your hands to keep them from sticking together. (You can also cook the noodles in advance and soak them in warm water before serving.)
To serve, divide the noodles among the bowls. Ladle the soup over the noodles and serve the hard-boiled eggs, crackers, cilantro and lime wedges alongside.
Takeaway: Let’s get this out of the way first. Fish sauce has a strong aroma; consider opening up a window when cooking with it. Now, the noodles and eggs are refreshing and a squeeze of lime juice gives the food a little zest. The ginger and lemongrass really come through and the onions give the dish some texture while absorbing some of the surrounding juices. Turning the fish into a paste embeds itself deep within, making the noodles the main attraction. The rice gives the dish mostly a soupy broth with some girth. Each bite offers a different combination of ingredients, unlocking a myriad of flavors.
Times-News Chief Photographer Drew Nash has been photographing Magic Valley residents from other countries since 2009. Nash will attempt to cook some of their cultural dishes during this period of self-isolation. Follow the Times-News Instagram account @magicvalleytn and the hashtag #Localmatters for more insightful stories and photography.
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