Fish in Tamarind and Miso Soup (Sinigang)

After dinner in a culinary school the other night, I got into an interesting conversation with Malaysian Chef Mario, one of the chefs who cooked for us that night. We discussed about the similarity of Malaysian and Philippine cuisines and some dishes that are actually almost identical. I had been to Kuala Lumpur years ago and I still remember how much I loved the lunch I had at the hotel's restaurant. I remember that it was chicken and the flavors exploded in my mouth paired with an equally flavorful dish of fried rice. It was close to home, I thought. After a 3-week stay in Africa, an Asian dish reshuffled my palate to familiarity. I was almost home! The taste is almost there.

He surprised me by saying that he just made sinigang and even adobo (but white, without soy sauce) a few days before for himself and his other chef colleagues at the school. In Malaysia, they call it singgang and it's also made with tamarind soup. I was genuinely surprised because I have always thought that sinigang is uniquely Filipino. 

I love sinigang whether it's pork, fish, shrimp or beef ever since I was a kid. It is something that I can't make my kids like because it's sour and slightly salty at the same time, enhanced with an even stronger salty-sour flavor of fish sauce-calamansi lemon dipping sauce. And I like mine strong, the kind that makes me pucker my lips and half close my eyes. That strong! But that only happens when I am eating the sinigang alone, out of consideration of others who don't like it that sour. 

Sinigang is a soup dish characterized by its sourness and slight saltiness. The traditional souring agent is tamarind but in some regions, other fruits are used like guavas, unripe mangoes, calamansi lemons or bilimbi. The soup can have either pork (the most popular one), fish, shrimp, beef or chicken (but it's called another way, not sinigang). Vegetables vary too, depending on the region but I grew up in Manila and I am used to having daikon, taro, water spinach, eggplant, yardlong beans and some finger peppers to add a light trace of spice.

Sinigang can also have miso to give a richer flavor and this is the recipe that I am sharing with you today. I don't want this post to be too long but since we are in the topic of miso, I think I should just say that there are three kinds of them with their degrees of saltiness varying per kind. White miso (shiromiso) is the mildest, beige or mixed miso (awasemiso) is medium salty and red miso (akamiso) is the saltiest and has the strongest flavor because it is aged until one year. I used the red one in this sinigang and gave the amount for it. If you are using the lighter ones, just adjust the amount of miso that you are putting.

Fish in Tamarind and Miso Soup (Sinigang)
Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons red miso paste (amount depends on the kind of miso you are using - white and beige are less salty than red)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil  
  • 1 medium onion, sliced 
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, quartered 
  • 6 - 7 cups water
  • 1 (1.4-ounce) tamarind soup mix
  • 1 eggplant, sliced
  • 1/2 cup daikon, peeled and sliced 
  • 1 kilo fish, cleaned and scaled
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • Salt
  • 1 bunch mustard greens (or spinach)
  1. In a small bowl, dilute the miso paste with some water, about 1/4 cup. Set aside.
  2. Over medium heat, in a big pot with the olive oil, sautè the onions for a couple of minutes then add the tomatoes, cooking for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add the miso. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add the water then bring to a boil. Lower the heat.
  5. Stir in the tamarind mix.
  6. Add the eggplants, daikon and fish. 
  7. Over low heat, simmer for about 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.
  8. Add the fish sauce and salt if still needed.
  9. Add the mustard greens or spinach then turn off the fire.
  10. Serve hot with steamed white rice and a dipping sauce mixture of fish sauce and calamansi lemons (regular lemons or lime are good substitutes).
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