These fish soup recipes will soothe your soul and lift your spirits, not only because they’re recipes for old broths that are rich in history and rooted in old cultural traditions, but fish is also very good for you. Fatty fish such as salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids which can improve your mental health and boost your mood.
Just a quick post today to share three fish soup recipes to soothe your soul and lift your spirits. Because if you’re like me you’re no doubt feeling down about events in the world right now, from Putin’s war on Ukraine, which is destroying lives, families, cities, histories, and cultures to the climate catastrophe in Australia that’s also resulted in death and destruction.
I’m going to leave it there for today, as I need to cook soup – not fish soup, but a new soup recipe I’m developing that’s rooted in the past and my own family’s heritage in the lands we now know as Ukraine and Russia. I’ll share that with you shortly. In the meantime, take care of eachother, sisters and brothers, friends and strangers.
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Fish Soup Recipes to Soothe Your Soul and Lift Your Spirits from Riblja Corba and Ukha to Nom Banh Chok
Riblja Čorba, a Fish Soup Recipe from Kotor, Montenegro
This recipe for riblja corba, a fish soup from the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. is one of my favourite fish soup recipes. Riblja corba was created as a way for fishermen to use the small fish that nobody bought.
Fishermen’s soups have a long tradition in Montenegro, so it was fitting that we learnt to make this fish soup recipe from a chef cum boat captain with a seafaring heritage when we were last in Kotor.
Ribla Corba, or more correctly Riblja Čorba, is a wonderful fish soup that you’ll see on many menus in the historic city of Kotor. Not surprisingly, as Kotor is intrinsically linked to the sea, as are its people.
As you’ll see when you hike up to Kotor’s Castle of San Giovanni, the steep slopes of the majestic fjord-like mountains guide the deep green waters to the sea, where many of Kotor’s men throughout history have earned their keep.
Whether it was the Venetian maritime influence or just an affinity the locals feel to the sea, the men of Kotor have built a reputation for being able sea captains as well as canny fishermen. They also know how to cook a delicious fish soup.
While we tasted some wonderful fish soups in Kotor that were made with the addition of tomatoes, the best were the clearer versions of the soup where the fish flavours took centre stage.
One of our favourite fish soups was at an atmospheric little restaurant called Cesarica, where chef, fisherman and sea captain, Rino Janovic, offered to show us just how simple his riblja corba recipe was to make. It quickly became one of my favourite fish soup recipes.
Rino’s seafaring traditions go back several generations. In his restaurant in the Old Town or Stari Grad of Kotor, he pointed to a black and white photograph of his grandfather’s sister working at a fish canning factory that was at Muo, where we rented an apartment. Rino’s father was a director of a shipping company and his uncle a sea captain.
“Everyone has some kind of an association with the sea here and they all know how to fish,” Rino told us. “We always eat seafood. My grandfather would not have a meal without it; there was always seafood on the table, and he ate riblja corba every day. He lived until he was 101, and he was riding a bicycle and kayaks until he was 92, and he fished until he died.”
Russian Fish Soup Recipe for Ukha – A Traditional Fish Soup Made with Salmon
My grandparents identified as Russian though were born and raised in the land we now know as Ukraine, well before it existed as a nation, when it was part of the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union.
As a child I listened intently to my baboushka and papa’s stories of childhoods spent foraging for mushrooms, summers spent on the Crimea and Black Sea, and memories of their cities, the cities they came of age in, Odessa and Kiev, so my heart is breaking right now. The war on the Ukraine is Putin’s war, not Russia’s war.
That’s to explain why I’m digging out my fish soup recipes and about to make a bit pot of broth at 11pm, as there are few things more comforting than a big bowl of warming soup with just-out-of-the-oven sourdough. This Russian fish soup recipe for ukha is based on a centuries-old traditional Russian soup said to be a favourite of emperors and peasants alike.
My family recipe makes an easy fish soup, made with salmon that’s fragrant with fresh dill, although historically this fisherman’s soup was made with several types of fish and a fish head stock.
With its roots in an ancient Sanskrit word for broth, ‘ukha’ wasn’t always a fish soup. It was thought to be a clear soup made with chicken and vegetables, and a seasoning of salt, pepper, and spices such as paprika, saffron, cloves and cinnamon, until the 17th century when it became known as a fishermen’s soup.
Like other Slavic fish soups, such as riblja corba from Montenegro, above, ukha was a broth that fishermen made at the end of their day with whatever they had left of the catch, and historically was made with several types of fish – usually perch, pike, trout, and/or salmon – and was traditionally made with a fish head stock or even a stock made from a whole fish, with filleted fish pieces added later.
Russians and Ukrainians, like other Slavs, love their soups, especially their fish soups, and perhaps it’s due to my genes that I was drawn to another soup-loving culinary culture, that of Cambodia, and the region of Southeast Asia more largely.
I grew up slurping soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in summer and winter, spring and autumn, and along with borscht and shchi, this fragrant fish broth was one of my favourites and remains one of my favourite fish soup recipes to this day. This recipe is based on a Russian family recipe though I’ve tweaked it. Serve it with plenty of sour cream and dark rye bread.
Authentic Nom Banh Chok Recipe for Cambodia’s Beloved Khmer Noodles
This authentic nom banh chok recipe for Cambodia’s beloved Khmer Noodles makes nom banh chok samlor proher, a popular breakfast dish of freshly-made rice noodles doused in a yellow-green coconut-based fish curry that at its best is richer and creamier than other iterations of this dish.
It’s garnished with fragrant herbs, seasonal vegetables, edible flowers, and wild herbs and it’s another of my all-time favourite fish soup recipes.
Nom banh chok refers to both the fresh ever-so-lightly-fermented rice noodles that are still made daily by hand by artisanal noodle makers all over Cambodia, just as they’ve always been made, as well as the delicious breakfast noodle dish, comprised of the rice noodles doused in a (predominantly) fish based soup or gravy or curry, served with local vegetables, and garnished with aromatic herbs, foraged flowers and wild leaves.
Cambodia’s most beloved dish, Cambodia’s most quintessential dish, and Cambodia’s national dish for so many Cambodians – indicative by the fact that locals translate the dish to foreigners as ‘Khmer noodles’ – nom banh chok has long been ‘Cambodia in a bowl’ for me and is perhaps my most favourite Cambodian food and one of my favourite Southeast Asian noodle dishes and definitely one of my favourite fish soup recipes.
Centred around Cambodia’s indigenous noodles, nom banh chok showcases Cambodia’s much-loved ingredients – rice, fresh fish, prahok (fermented fish), coconut milk, palm sugar, seasonal vegetables, and kroeung, the spice paste distinguished by aromatics such as lemongrass and kaffir lime that are so intrinsic to Cambodian cuisine.
And it’s garnished with those wonderful foraged wild leaves, aromatic herbs and edible flowers so important to Cambodians for their fragrance and flavour, as much as their sense of aesthetics.
If you’ve visited Siem Reap’s majestic Angkor Wat and the Angkor temples, admired their sublime sculptures and carvings, witnessed its ancient traditions of dance, music and martial arts, stepped inside a traditional wooden house, and wrapped a Cambodian silk scarf around your shoulders, then you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make any of these fish soup recipes as we’d love to know how they turn out for you.