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Tom Chaeow Pha (Fish Soup with Smokey Eggplant)

Jeremy Davie from Ireland

Serves
4
Preparation
1 hour 30 minutes
Cooks in
15 minutes
Country of origin
Laos

My fiancée and I have had a crazy life. We met through work while she was in Ireland and I in Canada. It was love at first sight. We’ve spent 6 years living from visa to visa. We planned on staying in Canada, but her father unexpectedly passed away so we decided to move back to Ireland to be closer to her family. We left everything, quit our jobs, and moved countries for the 6th time in six years.

We’d always talked about our honeymoon – explore SE Asia for as long as possible. We decided it was time; and even though we’re not married yet, we took our honeymoon! 9 and a 1/2 weeks backpacking SE Asia, starting with Kuala Lumpur, up through southern Thailand and into Bangkok, then worked our way north. This is where we crossed over into Laos and took an extraordinary two day trip down the Mekong, stopping in at Pak Beng and being introduced to our first Laos meal. Amazing goat curry and larp – a succulent combination of minced pork and various herbs and vegetables. How can you not fall in love with a cuisine that has a MEAT SALAD?

We then landed in Luang Prabang. It’s impossible to use words to describe the gorgeous, tranquil and spiritual nature of one of the oldest cities in Laos. Nestled in a remote valley where the Mekong meets the Nam Khan, it’s kept its traditions throughout the centuries. While exploring we saw signs for the Tamnak Lao cooking classes and signed up! Our teacher Phia Ya, who owned this restaurant for over a decade, took us through four dishes, including Tom Chaeow Pha which was the standout! He detailed all of the ingredients, while teaching us all about Lao people, their culture, traditions and how almost all of their celebrations and gatherings centre around food. The wild combinations of taste in Tom Chaeow Pha is unique and sings everything that is Luang Prabang. It truly represents the people of Laos, and their love of food. We finished our trip by seeing Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Dreams can be real, and great memories!

Ingredients

  • 1 small eggplant (salted, pressed and washed to remove bitterness)
  • 2-4 peeled shallots
  • 2 peeled cloves of garlic
  • 375 ml of water
  • 1 litre of fish stock (or chicken)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt or (more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of fish sauce (or more to taste)
  • 2.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and shredded
  • 200 g of roughly chopped mushrooms (preferably oyster or shiitake, or a combination thereof)
  • 200 g of fresh firm white fish from the local market, boneless and cut into small chunks
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 bunch of coriander, chopped
  • 3 spring onions cut into roughly 4 cm pieces
  • 1 lime

Method

  • 1. Slice the eggplant, heavily salt and place on a cutting board with another cutting board on top. Place a good amount of weight on it and press for 30 – 45 minutes. Once all the juice has been squeezed out, wash thoroughly in cold water.
  • 2. Cut the shallots in 1/2, and place on a baking tray with the eggplants and garlic. Roast in an oven under the grill for about 1 hour. You want them to get some charcoal/burnt edges as this is where the smokey flavour comes from. Set aside to cool.
  • 3. Once cooled, pulse in a food processor until blended into a paste, but do not liquefy. Set aside.
  • 4. Put the water, stock, fish sauce, salt, ginger and mushrooms in a sauce pot (or wok) and bring to a boil.
  • 5. Lower temperature and simmer, add fish, tomatoes, and the eggplant paste. Simmer until fish cooked (about 4-5 minutes).
  • 6. Add coriander, spring onion and juice from the lime. Cook until the onion is soft. Taste, and adjust with more fish sauce or lime juice as needed. Serve hot.

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