Far upriver from the Burmese coast of Rakhine State lies Mrauk U, a sleepy tourist destination of villages and Buddhist ruins. On my last night there, the main dish for supper at the guesthouse where I was staying was a whole fish cooked this way. It’s a remarkable expression of the Rakhine palate, with chillies, galangal as well as ginger, and a little bitterness from cooked coriander. You’ll need a pan that is large enough to hold the whole fish (snapper or trout is a good choice), one with a tight-fitting lid to seal the steam in. Serve with rice or boiled new potatoes. Start with a light soup, and serve a mild vegetable dish alongside.






Skill level

Average: 5 (1 vote)


  • 550–680 g (1 ¼ to 1 ½ lb) cleaned whole firm-fleshed fish, such as snapper or trout, rinsed and dried 
  • 3 tbsp peanut oil 
  • ½ cup thinly sliced shallots 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 2 red cayenne chillies, minced, or 4 dried red chillies, broken in half 
  • 8–10 coriander stalks 
  • about (¼ cup) 60 ml hot water 


Aromatic rub

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 medium shallot, minced 
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger 
  • 1 tbsp minced galangal 
  • ½ lime, including skin, minced 
  • ½ tsp salt 
  • ¼ tsp turmeric

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Marinating time 15 minutes

Combine all the rub ingredients in a mortar or mini processor, and pound or process to a coarse paste. Rub the fish all over with the paste and set aside for 15 minutes.

Place a wide shallow wok or a heavy frying pan (skillet) that is big enough to hold the fish over high heat. Add the oil, heat for a minute, then lower the heat to medium. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Toss in the chillies and raise the heat to high. Add half the coriander, place the fish in the pan, cover tightly, and lower the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 4 minutes, then add the hot water. Bring to a boil, turn the fish over, add the remaining coriander, cover, and cook for another 3 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through (the flesh should be opaque and should flake when pulled with a fork).

Serve from the pan or transfer to a platter and serve.

Recipe from Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid, with photographs by Richard Jung . Published by Artisan Books (copyright 2012).