Burmese Fish Curry

Oh curry, how you make me happy. Bubbling away with your spicy hell broth that only leaves pleasure and clothing stains in its wake. A concoction so dastardly its smell permeates everything within its grasp and its flavor has foodies pilgrimaging all over the world to endure a spicy, sweet, complex flavor experience that is hard to find in any other dish.

I have been eating curry since I was a child, especially of the Indian and Thai variety and it is something that I have grown to love. My definition of ethnic cuisine in my mind comes from my times spent at Taj Mahal and India Palace in Albuquerque, being simply stuffed to the brim and dazzled by the fantastic Indian curries that are omnipresent on the lunch buffet.

My grandmother even recalls a story where she asked me for a bite of my chicken Mahkani and I flat out said NO to her face. I was five years old at the time, and while I have become a much more sharing oriented person, my love affair with curry certainly hasn’t ceased.

While I always enjoyed curry, I truly never attempted to make it at home. Something about the mystique of the ingredients, the lack of an Asian mother or grandmother, no teacher or curry training 101, simply seemed to much to overcome. It wasn’t until my trip to Myanmar that my curry filled cooking dreams became a reality.

While in Inle Lake, a small picturesque lake village tucked away in the Shan State mountains in northern Burma, I attended a family run cooking class that came highly recommended by anybody that had anything to say about it. The class took place in an outdoor bamboo house with a small staff orchestrating the class for myself and about 15 other people. The cooking school is owned an operated by a husband and wife team who have been doing it for about five years.


There love of Myanmar and Burmese kitchen became something they wanted to share with  the foreigners that made the trek out to Inle Lake and was instrumental in pulling them out of the crippling poverty that one finds themselves in in the developing world. Their story was a testament to the power of sharing ones history, origins, cuisine and culture for the betterment of the foreigner and local populations. It was hard to find anything in Burma that the locals weren’t proud of and didn’t want to share, which made learning how to make this dish that much more satisfying.

As the sun set on our miserably rainy Inle Lake day, the cooking group had hungry bellies and people were getting antsy after our long and cold Tuk Tuk ride. No time was wasted with small talk and we immediately got to cooking once we arrived. Chicken Curry with Coconut, Spicy Fish Curry, Pumpkin Curry and Potato and Eggplant Curry rounded out the main courses and were accompanied by traditional Myanmar salads such as Pickled Tea Leaf, Avocado, Snow Pea Leaf and Cucumber respectively. All the cooking was done in small tin woks over a charcoal hot pot in traditional Myanmar style.  We learned everything about the dishes from start to finish, watching and cooking with the masters themselves. When everything was said and done, nobody left hungry, only the cold Inle Lake breeze as the incentive to not fall asleep at the table in a full-bellied slump.

The curry I chose to cook during this class was the Spicy Burmese Fish Curry, made with butter fish, a local firm fleshed white fish that was able to absorb all the flavors of the spices without becoming lost in the mix. The only thing I wished they did do at the class was give me the recipes after we had all finished. Having a semi-photographic memory helps, but still a real recipe would be nice.

I recently tried to recreated the dish I became so fond of for my grandmothers birthday dinner. I substituted the butter fish for cod, but it more or less turned out the same and was an absolute hit. A bit spicy on the back of the palate and a well rounded curry flavor. Not too rich and something that is even better the next day. You are going to love it!

img_7400Burmese Fish Curry Recipe

  • 3 Tsp Turmeric
  • 4 Tsp Chili Powder
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Head of Chopped Cilantro
  • 1 1/2 Chicken or Fish Broth
  • 2 Large Onions, Finely Chopped
  • 2 Inch nobs of Ginger, Finely Chopped
  • 6 Cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped
  • 2-3 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 2 Cans of Diced Tomatoes, Juice Strained
  • 2 Tbsp Peanut Oil
  • 3 Pounds Firm White Fleshed Fish (Cod, Halibut or Snapper)
  1. In a large pan or wok heat up oil and add onions, garlic, ginger.
  2. Cook ingredients down until they turn a golden brown, about 6 minutes.
  3. Once vegetable mix is browned, add in your turmeric, salt and chili powder spice blend and toast for another 2 minutes in the pan.
  4. Once the mixture is well combined add in fish and stir until fish is well incorporated. Deglaze the pan with the chicken broth and bring contents to a boil, add more broth if needed.
  5. Stir in the tomatoes and fish sauce and let simmer for about 10 minutes with the cover on, stir occasionally.
  6. After 10 minutes, take cover off and add cilantro and simmer for another 5-8 minutes or until fish begins to flake apart.
  7. Serve with rice, slices of limes and enjoy!






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