Breakfast with Hsan Myint Aung: mohinga (Burmese soup with lemongrass and fish) – recipe | Food
IIt is obvious that Hsan Myint Aung builds his life around food. He’s been running Sun’s Burmese Kitchen with his wife Erlinda in Blacktown for almost 10 years, but even on his days off he visits markets and grocery stores, “always looking at all the ingredients.”
“Even when I’m not working… That’s why I know all the stores,” he says, making a list of suburbs where he knows the geography of grocery stores.
He enjoys all cuisines, but has fond memories of Hainan Chicken Rice in Singapore. “I spent about 10 years in Singapore when I was young,” he says. “I worked on ships; that was about 40 years ago. I can tell you that I loved eating chicken rice.
And when I send him a photo of the rice vermicelli I bought to make mohinga, he texted me a photo of the brand he recommends, Golden Swallow; he tells me that the one I bought, Wai Wai, is better for frying.
Mohinga, a lemongrass and fish soup, is about as robust as breakfast. It’s thickened with grilled ground rice, contains 300ml of fish sauce, and is served with rice vermicelli, crispy fried shallots, eggs, lime, chili, cilantro and, at Sun’s Burmese Kitchen, a cracker with yellow split peas.
Traditionally, the soup would also include a thinly sliced banana stem, used as a vegetable in parts of South and Southeast Asia; no one sells it here, but Hsan grows his at home.
Have You Eaten, a map of Sydney in kitchens, lists Sun’s Burmese Kitchen as Sydney’s only Burmese restaurant. The Burman Kitchen in Surry Hills would once have been the second, but it closed permanently in February 2020.
“In fact, it was very difficult to open the restaurant,” Hsan Myint Aung tells me.
“Thirty years ago, when I arrived, there was nothing, no [Burmese] stores – but I cooked in church, for the community, for family friends and things like that. After that they [said], you better open a restaurant!
“Burmese food is… not everyone knew it. That was the main real thing – [it was] a very big challenge. I had to really struggle back then.
And now? He’s laughing. “A lot of people know that now! “
Considering the scarcity of Burmese food in Australia, he takes particular pride in his restaurant’s loyalty to the cuisine; Dishes like danbauk, which he says resembles a Burmese biryani, and kyay-o, a noodle soup with pork offal, are iconic dishes on the menu.
“It’s really authentic, you know; I never changed it.
These days, Sun’s has a dedicated audience. Located in what was a worrying LGA during the Sydney lockdown, the restaurant stopped even offering take out at the end of July. When their Facebook page announced their reopening in early October, the comments were filled with delighted customers eager to satisfy their cravings again.
After nearly 10 years, what awaits the restaurant?
“I’m already tired! He laughs. “I’m going over 70 – I’m not a kid!”
All kidding aside, however, he says his son and wife want to continue running the store – insurance that will no doubt delight his regulars.
The mohinga of Hsan Myint Aung
Preperation 30 minutes
to cook 1h20
For the fish
300g of catfish (available frozen in Vietnamese grocery stores; you can also use amberjack)
300 ml of fish sauce
200 ml of water
1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1 lemongrass stalk, finely chopped
For the soup
85g of rice
¼ cup vegetable oil
5 brown onions, thinly sliced
2 stems of lemongrass, finely chopped
2 cm of ginger, grated or finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoon of paprika
1 ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 liter + 500 ml of water
400g of rice vermicelli
2 hard-boiled eggs
Crispy fried shallots or garlic
Chili flakes or powder
1 bunch of fresh coriander
1 lime, cut into quarters
Combine the fish sauce, 200 ml of water, a teaspoon of turmeric and a finely chopped lemongrass stalk in a small saucepan with the catfish. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cook for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, take the catfish out of its cooking juices and let it cool. Do not throw away the cooking liquid; it will later be used to season the soup.
Once the catfish is cool enough to handle, remove the skin, then gently remove the flesh from the bones. Be thorough with this step; the catfish will almost completely decompose when cooked in the soup, so be sure not to leave any small bones in it.
Toast the rice in a dry skillet over low heat, keeping it moving to ensure the rice toasts evenly. Once it’s lightly browned, about 10 minutes, transfer it from the hot pan to a bowl. When cool enough to handle, grind the rice into powder in a clean coffee or spice grinder, or in a powerful blender. You should end up with about 75g of ground rice (roasting removes a few grams of moisture).
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add two of the thinly sliced brown onions, two finely chopped lemongrass stems, ginger, garlic, paprika and turmeric. Sauté for two to three minutes until fragrant, then add the cooked fish and lower the heat. Continue to cook the mixture over low heat, breaking up the pieces of catfish with a spatula as you go. After about 15 minutes, the mixture should have darkened slightly as the onions and garlic caramelize.
Bring a liter of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Mix the ground rice with the remaining 500 ml of cold water, then, while stirring, slowly pour the ground rice porridge into the boiling water; this will ensure that there are no lumps.
Add the cooked catfish mixture, then add the remaining chopped onion and bring the pot to a boil; once done, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes (or longer – Hsan Myint Aung says the longer the cooking, the sweeter the onion will be). Season the soup with four to five tablespoons of the remaining fish sauce used to cook the catfish; adjust to taste.
To serve, cook the rice vermicelli in boiling water according to directions; Divide the noodles among four bowls, then pour the soup over them. Serve garnished with fried shallots or garlic, hard-boiled eggs cut in half, chili flakes or powder, cilantro and a lime wedge.