Friday, 5 March 2010

Fishball Noodle Soup

I'm not sure I can get away with calling this a recipe as I'm merely heating stuff up. Mind you, what I'm doing isn't too far removed from what many Chinatown caffs do when they serve up fishball noodle soup or yu dan tang mein as it's called in Cantonese.

I know us bloggers are a precious bunch as we bang on about how you can't get a decent burger/pizza/burrito in London. But you really can't get fishball noodles in London that compare to those found in cities like Hong Kong and Singapore. I could spend an entire post on why that is but suffice to say fishballs are one of those Chinese staples that don't quite cut it in blighty. In fact, the only time I've given a place a really bad write-up was over a bowl of fishball noodles at HK Diner.  

So anyway, you might as well make this at home but before you do, you need to visit your local Chinese supermarket to get some pre-cooked fishballs (£3.60/450g pkt) and some fresh egg noodles (£1.35/400g pkt). These fresh egg noodles are called san mein in Cantonese and they are usually labelled as wonton noodles in English. It will come as no surprise that they are most commonly used in wonton noodle soup!

If you can't get hold of fresh noodles then rice vermicelli or dried egg noodles can be used instead. You'll also need some pak choi (or other leafy veg), spring onion, coriander, ginger, star anise, and a stock cube.

Fishball Noodle Soup (serves one)
This recipe serves one but by using the power of multiplication, you can make multiple portions. There are some tips in italics.

1) Dissolve a fish stock cube in 500ml of boiling water (you can use chicken stock instead or if you’re a pro, you may have your own stock).

2) Add ginger, star anise, coriander, spring onion to the fish stock and simmer for about 25-30 minutes.

3) Add fish balls then wait a couple of minutes before adding pak choi to soup, cook for a further 3 minutes. (between 8 and 10 fish balls per person is ample, you can also add sliced Chinese fish cake too).

4) In a separate saucepan, cook one nest of noodles for 30 seconds, drain then rinse under cold tap, and shake off excess water (always rinse fresh egg noodles otherwise they'll have a 'soapy' aftertaste).

5) Remove ginger, coriander, spring onion, and star anise from soup and discard.

6) Put noodles in soup and give them a quick shake to reheat.

7) Place noodles, fish balls, and pak choi in a bowl then pour the soup over these.

8) Garnish with fresh coriander and/or chopped spring onion (chives are an option too).

9) Add sesame oil or chilli oil (optional depending on personal preference).

If you want to make this dish with a South East Asian twist then add galangal and lemongrass instead of ginger and at the end, add some lime juice, chopped chillies, and fish sauce.

I was pretty chuffed with this bowl of noodles but any tips and tricks from proper cooks are most welcome.


  1. This looks great - would you recommend any particular brand of fish balls? This does have the look of a great simple supper, and i like the SE Asian variation at the end.

  2. My only tip is that cuttlefish balls are even *more* nommy and puff up a truly surprising amount.

  3. Mmm... love fish balls. By default, I'd serve them with kway teow in soup. Just something I grew up with.

  4. Grubworm - I don't have a recommendation on any particular brand. The thing is, I wouldn't bother making this at home if there were decent fishballs available when eating out in London. The sad thing is that few, if any places make their own fishballs anymore.

    Anon - good shout with the cuttlefish ball, which have a springier texture.

    Su-Lin - fair call. Rice noodles like kway teow are arguably a better complement to fishballs.

  5. Simple and delicious recipe, the sort of dish I would just love to eat after a day's work. I have to say, I never really considered cooking a soup made primarily of fish balls before, I thought they were mostly for added texture against other ingredients, but I see that working really well.

  6. Three suggestions:

    1. Add a little "dong choi" when you are preparing the stock - 冬菜)or Tianjin preserved cabbage, the type that comes in little squat earthenware jars)- not too much as it ca be quite salty. I usually add it just before adding the fishballs. They seem to go well together.

    2. Serve "glass noodles" or mung bean vermicelli in place of egg noodles, that is a popular dish back in Singapore.

    3. If you have time, peel and slice about 2-3 Asian shallots (smaller than European shallots), then fry the slices in a little cooking oil until crisp. Add both the shallot slices and the oil they were fried in to the bowl of noodles just before serving. It adds a real aroma to the dish.

  7. LF - this is indeed a quick and easy weekday supper.

    LC - thanks for the tips. I particularly like the idea of using fensi or glass noodle.

  8. I've never had a fishball and now I know that my first ever fish ball will be a sub standard version. Dammit! I loved 'you might as well make this'

  9. Helen - you've got to remember, I'm ultra-fussy when it comes to stuff like fishballs so you may be pleasantly surprised. The thing is, my parents used to make them when I was little and their fishballs were miles better than the factory produced stuff that Chinese restaurants tend to use.

  10. I love fish balls - especially skewered and bbq'd. I like to add a dollop of oyster sauce to serve.

  11. If on a skewer, there's only one way to eat fishballs, and that's with curry sauce!!

  12. Oh I must do a homemade fish ball post soon! I prefer to have my fish balls with the silky soft rice noodles and plenty of cut chilies on the side :)

  13. 3HT - I look forward to your fishball ideas. I think rice noodles go just as well although chillies can arguably overwhelm this dish.

  14. this is a really good recipe, i've been looking for a Fish Ball Noodle recipe for a really long time.