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Learn how to make Burmese mohinga, your new favorite breakfast.

Face it: you’re woefully undereducated when it comes to the food of Myanmar — and so were we until we picked up a copy of Burma Superstar. Packed with vibrant flavors both familiar and entirely new, this book based on recipes from the beloved San Francisco restaurant of the same name is a fantastic primer on Burmese cuisine. Learn how to make classic mohinga and discover a favorite noodle soup you never knew you needed in your life. 

Unless you’ve been to Myanmar or have a Burmese friend, you’ve probably never heard of mohinga, which is too bad: it’s essentially the national dish, made in nearly every corner of the country. When sister restaurant Burma Love was newly opened, Desmond noticed the mohinga served there wasn’t quite hitting the mark. To troubleshoot, he asked Ma Htay, one of the restaurant’s cooks who had been working on the salad station, to show the other cooks where they were going wrong. She nailed it.

Ma Htay grew up in Thanlyin, a city across the river from Yangon. She worked at a factory there until she and her husband and daughter secured a diversity visa to come to the United States. Ma Htay started cooking when she was ten years old, beginning with rice and working her way up to fried eggs until she finally learned how to make mohinga. The trick to this classic dish is achieving the right balance of ingredients, from the toasted rice powder to the freshness of the fish. And classic mohinga should contain lemongrass to counteract the fishy aroma. In Myanmar, Ma Htay says, lines form at the mohinga stalls that get the ratio of ingredients correct. Each mohinga is built to order: the noodles (cooked sepa­rately) go into the bowl first, followed by a ladleful of soup and a handful of top­pings that you can choose from. At home, mohinga is made in a big pot on special occasions. The richer you are (so the logic goes), the more fish you add to the pot.

The mild lemongrass-infused broth is thickened with toasted rice that is ground to a powder. A clean coffee grinder works well for grinding the rice. This recipe uses whole catfish, the bones of which add flavor and body to the broth. Fitting a whole catfish in a pot can be tough, though, so ask the fishmonger to cut it into thirds, retaining all the bones and the head, or be prepared to bend the fish to get it to fit in the pot. The fish flesh is later removed from the bones and mashed into a paste with aromatics, losing its shape. (Customers ordering mohinga for the first time often ask where the fish is.)

Reprinted with permission from Burma Superstar