This Burmese Seafood Curry is a very easy recipe to put together using easy to find ingredients. Traditionally, this is a fish curry, made with just fish as the filling, full of tomatoes and flavoured with turmeric. Burmese food can be a bit of a surprise for those expecting Thai like flavours. If you’d like to discover a little more about Burmese cuisine, you’ll find a short intro on the post on Mohinga, Burmese Noodles Soup.
The first time I had the traditional Burmese Tomato Fish Curry was just after leaving the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon some years ago. Tired and hungry after a few hours of awe inspiring sightseeing, we settled for the first place we came across, a basic eatery with not much going for it apart from rice and some dishes. One of those dishes was the fish version of today’s Burmese Seafood Curry, fish in a tomato and turmeric based sauce – simple, but oh, so tasteful.
Luckily for me, I was travelling with a local, an old schoolmate from Singapore whose family lived not too far away from Yangon. Not only was she able to interpret and work out lunch for us, but she also informed us that her mum made a very good version of the curry. And guess what? We were due to visit her family and stay for the weekend. Did I say lucky me? It was a wonderful weekend, her mum was ecstatic to have us stay but more so to have us fill her kitchen as she gave impromptu cooking and tasting classes throughout the weekend, with her daughter as interpreter – it was awesome!
Maya’s mum’s tomato fish curry is the one I’ve always cooked although during that same trip, and since then, I’ve tasted a few other versions, some with ginger and some with shrimp paste, some dry and some very soupy. While I even make a couple of the other versions, namely the one with shrimp paste (because I’m a big fan), I still love the simplicity of this.
Cooking our Burmese Seafood Curry
A combination of seafood is so much more exciting than just fish. You can always opt for the fish only option, use any firm, white fish like cod, bass, haddock or, what they would use in Myanmar, catfish. I love a collection of seafood in my recipe, so have got some fish, prawns, scallops, squid and mussels.
I’ve also simplified the process a little further by using a can of chopped tomatoes. In this instance, besides saving time, it actually lends depth to the curry, both in flavour as well as colour. The only curry spice in this curry is turmeric, it is very heavy on the tomatoes, hence the colour.
This can be a spicy curry or not, I’ve had and cooked both, you control the heat level by the type of chillies and chilli powder/flakes/paste you use and the quantity.
Chilli paste – if you have access to chilli paste, whether homemade as in my recipe, or shop bought, use it in place of the chilli flakes. It’ll lend depth to your recipe. Any generic chilli paste without added spices or smoked chillies will do. Don’t use chipotle sauce or harissa, it’ll change the curry’s flavour profile and you don’t want that. Something like sambal oelek will work perfectly.
- 500g/just over 1lb mixed seafood - fish, squid, prawns, etc
- 15-20 live mussels
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 large onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 fresh red chillies
- 2 tbsp veg oil
- half tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp chilli flakes (or 1 tsp chilli paste)
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1 x 400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes
- 200ml/4 fifths cup water
- freshly ground black pepper
- small handful fresh coriander (cilantro)
- Marinade the seafood (apart from the mussels) with the fish sauce and turmeric and leave aside while you get all the other ingredients ready.
- Scrub the mussels, pull the beard off and set aside. Wash your hands.
- Cut the onion into quarters
- Cut the chillies up into 2-3 parts, depending on size.
- In a chopper, chop the onion, garlic and chillies to form a paste. You shouldn't need any water as the onion contains enough moisture.
- Using a knife, chop up the fresh coriander and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large wok on medium high heat.
- Sauté the onion paste for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
- Add the chilli powder, chilli flakes and sugar and cook for another minute.
- Add the tomatoes and three quarters of the water and bring to boil.
- Lower the heat right down and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
- Increase the heat, add all the seafood in, including any marinade juice, stir and bring back to boil.
- Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, until your seafood is cooked right through and the mussels have all popped open. I like to cover the wok in this step to ensure that the mussels get steamed.
- Check seasoning, adding a little salt if necessary, turn the heat off and stir in a touch of freshly ground black pepper.
- Scatter the fresh coriander all over and serve immediately, perfect with some plain rice. But also great with French baguette!