The name is not flattering. At once it suggests the fish’s mother, maybe from Tennessee, and the gaping jaws of a hungry beast from the depths. But actually the fish maw is an air bladder (another appetizing word) that a fish uses to rise or sink in the water.
This handy little ballast device is also an ingredient in a famed Chinese soup known as krapo pla in Thai. The Chinese use the puffed up fish maw for texture much as they use the sea cucumber (an appetizing word for an unappetizing looking creature!). Fish maw draws a high price and is believed to have health benefits.
Chinese culture has a great influence in Thailand, and nowhere is that more apparent than in… Chinatown. Who’d have guessed? But fish maw soup goes far beyond those streets of Yaowarat. My Thai mother-in-law even insisted we have a special fish maw soup cart at my wedding. Insert forehead slap and Doh! here. But I happily ate my words along with a bowl of it. It was the first dish to run out and it went fast.
Fish maw must be deep-fried so it puffs up like pork rinds, and it can be purchased that way or you can go through the trouble yourself. The soup has a brownish color to it but is made with chicken stock, perhaps some duck’s blood cubes and bamboo shoots, seasoned with soy sauce and white pepper, and thickened with corn starch in that way that just says Chinese soup. The pieces of fish maw shouldn’t be “fishy” tasting thanks to the frying and cleaning, but will soak up all the flavors of the concoction.
Fish maw soup is pretty common in Bangkok and any number of street vendors serve it. You can find it year round but it is traditionally served in Chinese households during their New Year. Try a bowl or get it to go in a plastic bag deftly tied shut in a blink with a rubber band.
Or Tor Kor Market has a vendor on the weekends who comes highly recommended.
You can even find this big batch of fish maw soup in the food court in the lower level of Siam Paragon, the fancy shopping mall in downtown Bangkok.