Hello Everyone! February is flying by so fast and I can’t believe that we’re already on our second last Cambodian recipe for the month! Tonight I will be sharing a Cambodian breakfast staple known as Num Banh Chok, or in English, Fish Noodle Soup. It’s a traditional breakfast dish that consists of rice noodles served with a fish gravy and freshly foraged wild grown Cambodian vegetables (some of which does not have an English name), and eaten with a few chilli peppers on the side.
In rural Cambodia, the rice vermicelli noodles used in this dish are all done and made by hand with a stone mill. They are then sold at the local markets where vendors would come early in the morning to purchase it, and then sold to the local residents. Rice is first boiled until soft and then grounded into a wet dough with a heavy stone mill. Once all the rice is ground, the wet dough is placed into a large cloth bag. Heavy mill parts are placed on top to squeeze out excess water. This is the beginning of the fermentation process. Once done, the result is a firm, dry but still sticky flour. To see just how labour intensive the noodle making process is, read this article here. Of course, ain’t nobody got time for that, so I just used store-bought rice vermicelli noodles from my local grocer.
Like many other Cambodian food recipes, Num Banh Chok’s main ingredient, besides mudfish, is the yellow kroeung paste. I covered this in my blog two weeks ago when I made Amok Trei (Steamed Fish Curry). Instead of mudfish though, again I used tilapia fish because that is what I am familiar with. The other main ingredient that is definitely not optional and irreplaceable – rhizome or finger-roots in English, khchiey in Cambodia. Unlike ginger, turmeric, and galangal which are commonly used throughout the world, khchiey is relatively obscure and is mostly used for medical purposes in some Asian countries. When fresh, khchiey has an earthy, peppery, and much milder flavour than ginger and galangal. However, since I could not source any here in the Philippines, I used ginger instead for this my ‘not so authentic’ version of Num Banh Chok.
Before we dive into tonight’s recipe, please take the time to check out the original where I drew my inspiration from over on A Wandering Foodie.
PREP TIME 25 MINS | COOKING TIME 45 MINS | SERVES 4-6
For the soup base
- 4L water
- Heads and bones from the reserved tilapia fish filets
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2-3 large dried bay leaves
- 1 small red onion, quartered
- 1 small thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
- 1 stalk lemongrass, white ends crushed
- 1 tbsp shrimp paste
- 2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 tsp salt
For the kroeung paste mixture
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 cup kroeung paste
- 2 tbsp peanuts, roasted
- 1 & 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 2 red bird’s eye chillies, chopped
- 2 small turmeric, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 small thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
- 6 tilapia filets, or any other firm white fish
- 1 pack rice vermicelli noodles
- Assortment of greens (I used mustard leaves, water spinach, and mint leaves)
- Banana blossoms
- Soup Base: In a large stockpot, bring the 4 litres of water to a boil, over high heat, together with all the other ingredients for the soup base, except for the shrimp paste. Once the stock comes to a rapid boil, turn the heat down to bring it to a slow simmer. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Kroeung Mixture: Meanwhile, prepare the kroeung mixture. In a mortar and pestle, pound the kroeung paste together with the roasted peanuts, birds eye chillies, ginger, turmeric, and garlic. If you have a small-sized mortar, you can pound the mixture in batches and then combine them into a bowl.
- Add the fish sauce, sugar, and coconut milk into the bowl with the kroeung paste mixture, and mix thoroughly. Let it stand for at least 10 minutes to let all the flavour infuse together.
- Rice Vermicelli Noodles: Bring water to a boil in a separate pot. Add in the pack of rice vermicelli noodles and let it cook for about 4-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- While the noodles are cooking, prepare a large bowl filled with ice-cold water.
- Once the noodles are cooked and the texture is to your liking, strain and place the cooked noodles into the cold bowl of water to stop its cooking process. Start taking out equal handfuls of noodle and portion them into individual serving bowls and set aside.
- Num Bahn Chok: Once the soup base is done, strain and return the broth to the stockpot. Add the shrimp paste to the broth and let it come back to a boil over medium-high heat. It is important to add the paste first before any other flavouring ingredients in order to lessen its strong scent. Adjust the broth to taste with salt and sugar to your liking, if needed.
- Once boiled, turn the heat down and add the fish filets into the broth and cook for about 10 minutes. Once cooked through, remove from the broth and set aside.
- Cook the vegetables (mustard greens, water spinach, and banana blossoms) in the broth for a few minutes, then remove and set aside.
- Turn the heat back up and add the kroeung mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5-8 minutes.
- Carefully ladle the hot soup into the prepared bowls with noodles. Top with the cooked fish filets, vegetables, mint leaves, and more sliced chillies if you wish.
- Serve immediately while hot and enjoy!
– Ally xx