burmese fish curry : hsa*ba, myanmar cookbook

burmese fish curry

We were served this Burmese fish curry at a local roadside restaurant on the way to the Shan state. I love it when we stumble upon such a find. The tomato sauce with tender pieces of fish and fresh coriander made the lengthy car journey worthwhile. When we came back to Rangoon, I asked my cousin if she knew how to cook the fish curry. We spent a wonderful morning cooking, eating and photographing the dish.


½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 firm white fish fillets
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves
3 whole dried chillies, soaked in hot water
6 tablespoons peanut oil
½ teaspoon paprika
5 ripe tomatoes, blanched in hot water, peeled and chopped
handful of fresh coriander, chopped


Mix the turmeric and fish sauce in a bowl. Coat the fish with the marinade, cover and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Using a pestle and mortar, pound the onion, garlic and chillies to form a coarse paste or chop everything finely. Heat the oil in a saucepan and caramelise the onion paste over a moderate heat for 10-15 minutes. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn as this will make the sauce bitter.

Mix in the paprika and stir until fragrant before adding the tomatoes. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes until it has reduced to a thick sauce. Drop in the fish including any marinade and continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Carefully turn the fish and cook a further 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked through (cooking time will vary according to the thickness of the fish).

Before serving, taste and add a splash more fish sauce if necessary. Sprinkle chopped coriander and serve with plenty of basmati rice.

serves: 2
cooking time: 55-60 mins


  1. Fieke on February 1, 2009 at 3:12 am

    I had the honour, together with Chris & Chris, of a private cooking class at Cho’s house in Sydney. We choose to make a this beautiful fish curry with a roasted eggplant salad on the side and some quick crisp stir fried broccoli with chinese mushrooms.

    I was astounded by the simplicity of the ingredients. It was all about ‘how’ to cook the dish, instead of the ‘number’ of ingredients. Some patience was required which was a good test for me as I am not particularly renown for the amount of patience I have. While slowly cooking the curry, the smell increased in its intensity, making us all very hungry! We prepared the roasted eggplant salad as the curry was smothering away.

    It was a lot of fun to cook together, it felt like we were one big family preparing our beautiful meal with lots of love in it. Cho is an excellent teacher, she showed us all the secrets of making a good curry.

    Once the curry was ready, we put in the fish and our dish was almost ready to be served.

    We sat down for a delicious meal. Both the eggplant salad and the fish curry where very saddle though rich in its taste, a beautiful blend of pure ingredients with a few spices added. It was as if Cho managed to get the best out of every ingredient, eliminating all the extras that people usually put in to create a certain flavor. The eggplant salad was interesting, it felt like it released its flavors one by one in my mouth. I think by making the dish so consciousness, it increased the awareness of the different flavors in the meal.

    We have had a great night and I can’t wait to try out more recipes!

    Thanks so much!


    • Cho on February 2, 2009 at 11:55 pm

      Hi Fieke
      Really pleased to hear you enjoyed it. I love having lots of people in the kitchen, it’s more fun!
      – Cho

  2. Barbara on November 23, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Hi Cho!
    I really love your blog!!! And have been enjoying your recipes since I was living in Chile (my native country). Now, that I’m in Sydney, I was planning to do this curry but I’m not yet used to the names of the fish in english and don’t know what to buy!!! Which one is ideal for this dish? Can I found it in the Flemington Mkt?

    Thank you very much!

    • Cho on November 23, 2009 at 10:52 pm

      Hi Barbara
      Any white fish works well. I’ve used whiting, even baramandi here in Sydney. If the fish is very flaky and soft, take care not to stir too much as it will fall apart. Hope you’ll enjoy the recipe.
      – Cho

  3. prem on December 14, 2009 at 3:43 am

    Love Burmese food. Been hooked to it for over 7 yrs now and my first attempt to make Burmese food was a success. Thanks!!!