Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fish In Tamarind Soup (Hoo Khong Asam)

Towards year ends, I always feeling nostalgic about my childhood (A Mother's Heart by William Joseph playing in the background :-P.) Since the passing of my parents in 2001, the memories of mom's cooking became more evident. She cooked with no written down recipes but from her memories of what she saw on TV, magazines or someone told her how to cook certain dish by word of mouth at the local fresh market. She was able to recreate dishes she liked when I took her out to dine at local eateries whenever I'm free from work. I'm proud of her abilities to cook just from such methods (or should I said from scratch?) because she only managed to study until 11 - 12 years old. Being the only child in her family and both her parents passed away in her early adulthood must have lead her to harness such skill to survive independently. Sad to say, until today I never seen pictures of my grandparents but my priority was to make my mom happy throughout her living years... :-)

Voila! All that aside... one of the dishes I missed from my mom is fish cooked in tamarind based soup. I would attacked 2 plates of plain rice soaked up to the brim with the soup! It's like drinking Assam Laksa soup with whole fish instead of deboned fish meat. The way to cook Assam Laksa is similar too but with lots of fish instead.

Actually, I don't know the origin of this dish we called 'Hoo Khong Assam' (Hokkien dialect.) It's been in my family as far as I could remember. It's quite confused because Southeast Asia is Cauldron of Cuisine that links with each other in some ways or another. As for me, I think this dish is similar to Thai's Gaeng Som as my mom is half-Thai. There are other versions using tamarind as the main ingredient like Nyonya/Peranakan cuisine's Gerang Asam which used candlenuts and Filipino's Sinigang. Since her version was not written down, I started from scratch as much I could recalled but this time with measurement and not estimates as most traditional Asian mothers would do :-D This recipe is all about taste and love of my mother that made it so special in my heart.

Fish In Tamarind Soup (Hoo Khong Asam)
Serves 4 -6

300 g -500 g Spanish Mackerel fish - cleaned and gutted

For the Soup:
3 - 6 pcs Tamarind slices
4 cm Fresh Tumeric - washed & roughly sliced or bruised
10 g -15 g Fresh Vietnamese Mint Leaves/Laksa Leaves-washed & trim leaves.
4 - 6 pcs Fresh Red Chillies or Bird's Eye Chillies
2-3 nos Tomatoes - quartered
5 - 10 nos Shallots - cleaned and roughly crushed
1 stalk Ginger Flower - remove stem & cut the flower bud into half or quarters
4 - 8 pcs Ladies Fingers (Okra) - washed and cut into halves
2 stalks Lemongrass - use only the white parts & lightly bruised
10 g Galangal - washed, remove dirt and bruised skin, sliced thinly
10 g Shrimp Paste (Belacan)
1 liter of Water
Salt and Sugar OR Fish Sauce to taste

1. Prepare all the vegetables and set aside.
2. Trim off the fins and tails. If the fish is large, cut into halves. Set aside.
3. In a pot, heat the water until it boils. Put in all the vegetables except Ladies Fingers/Okra and tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium and let it boils until the liquid changes color.
4. Add in the Ladies Fingers/Okra and Tomatoes.
5. Let the soup boils for few seconds and add in the fish.
6. Add in salt and sugar or Thai fish sauce to taste.
7. Continue to boil the soup until fish is cooked.
8. Serve hot with rice.

Notes: If you can find Belimbing Buluh or Belimbing Masam (Averrhoa Bilimbi) is even better to add sourness into the soup as Tamarind slices or Asam Gelugor (Garcinia atroviridis) considered by locals to be too strong for the stomach. Please use sparingly, if you're prone to gastric problems. I preferred to use seafood like fish or prawns for this recipe instead of meat. If you can't find Shrimp Paste or Belacan, you can omit it and adjust the taste with more Fish Sauce. Always remember to taste your cooking several times and adjust accordingly.

Happy Cooking!


  1. That was a lovely tribute to your mother and a lovely recipe. Thanks for your comment and concern. We are all well.

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your mom. This soup looks so delicious. Tamarind must add nicely to the flavor.

  3. this must be delicious! I love it for sure! lol! :)

  4. Your blog is lovely, so many nice recipes!

  5. Hi Ivy,
    Glad you and family are well :-) Keep me posted.

  6. Hello Farida,

    I love tamarind... I think it's a women thing? I knew some men who loves sourish food. I bet it's the way to keep them awake when their gfs or wives nagged them :-D

    Tamarind adds tang to this dish and also sort of 'cuts' the oily fish like pomfret, mackerels and sardines. Just like lemons or limes.

    The fruit is also used as a health supplement in Traditional Medicine to counter the effects of influenza. More recently researchers have identified and isolated chemical properties which could be useful for the development of antihypertensive medicine.

    Do you use tamarind in Azerbaijan cooking?

  7. Hi Big Boys Oven!!!

    If you like extra kick, don't forget to add cili padi and extra Tamarind Slices! Tamarind is great for cleansing the body so that I can eat more after baking your recipes and gawking at your macaron picts ;-D

  8. Hello Bits of Life 'n' Taste,

    Thank you for visiting :-) I must tell you that your blog is simply fantastic with wonderful homey recipes gorgeous picts. Have to take up holidays to try out your recipes!

  9. Your soup resembles the one made by my mom (although diff ingredients). It is one of my favourite! Must ask her to make one since I am back for holidays now. Hehehe! Excellent shot!

  10. Very interesting recipe. I liked your tribute to your mom.

    There is an award waiting for you in my blog! Take care.

  11. What a touching story and wonderful recipe to pay tribute to your mom!

  12. I am not kidding when I say that I am drooling over that bowl of soup.

  13. A lovely post. Thanks for sharing this very special recipe.

  14. Hi, Mediterranean Turkish Cook ~ Thank you so much for the wonderful award. It's great after a series of sore throats,coughings and sneezings competition between my son, hubby and me. What a coincidence the award share a common family in my next recipe of my mom that I wanted to share later on!

    Çok teşekkürler!

  15. Hi Kim, thank you for visiting :-) I still missed my mom even as I typed this message. Each time I cooked her recipes, I felt her presence with me. I still hear her instructions, showing me how to cook the dishes our family loved. Maybe, that's how she wanted her children to remember her.

  16. Cynthia!!!! How are you??? :-) I say you must try this dish. I usually used lots of tamarind pulps and slices hahahhaa! Can't help it :-P I think it must be the Thai influence in me.

  17. Hey Syrie! Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you will try this dish and let me know how you like it ;-)

  18. Never tried fish in tamarin soup but I bet it must be delicious especially for people who love sour taste like me :)

  19. Very sweet tribute to your mother and a beautiful way to preserve a family recipe.

  20. Added you to my blogroll! This recipe looks amazing and is a wonderful tribute to your mom.

  21. I am so moved by your tribute to your mom. I enjoy reading your blog, you wrote with so much depth from your heart and displayed such immense love and passion in your cooking.

  22. This post brought me back to the time when my mom and I were in the kitchen cooking. Just like you, I have learned a lot from her. She never used any measuring spoons nor measuring cups. She just calculated how much ingredients to use when she cooks.

    We have a version of this dish called the "Sinigang". You can use fish or any meat to cook this dish seasoned with a sour seasoning like "sampalok", the pilipino name for tamarind.

    I will try your version soon as it looks so good, I'm actually craving right now.

    Thanks for posting your recipe.


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