Threadfin Fish Head Soup (咸菜豆腐午鱼汤)

The ultimate comfort food in my family is the fish soup. In Singapore, fish soups are accorded the same reverence as fish stews and broths in Southern France, Spain, and the Mediterranean countries. Only a few fish varieties can make the hallowed fish soup, and it’s usually the head that is the prized portion of the fish that makes the best fish soups.

Unlike the Europeans, Malaysia fish soup – or more precise, Teochew-style fish soup – uses very few herbs and spices, and doesn’t add any other type of seafood or shellfish to flavor the stock.

The fish soup I made on father’s day uses the 1.7kg head of an FourFinger Threadfin (Ngor Herr). This is a lovely fish whose succulent, sweet, and firm white flesh is highly sought after by mothers and grandmothers who want to cook fish soups and porridge for their little ones.

This recipe is a winner – and virtually anyone can cook it. So do try it out!


  • 1.5-2kg Ikan Tenggiri/ Threadfin head, cut into pieces
  • 1 Ikan Tenggiri Fillet, about 300 grams, cut into thick chunks
  • 300 g lean pork (pork loin works well), sliced
  • 500g salted vegetables, soaked in fresh water for 20 mins, three changes of water
  • 6 preserved plums, soaked in fresh water for 20 mins, three changes of water
  • 1 stalk of corriander (roots, stems, leaves), chopped – for flavoring
  • 2 stalks of corriander (just the leaves), chopped – for garnishing
  • 4 medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 1 shallow, chopped
  • 1 thumb young ginger, sliced thinly
  • 1 thumb old ginger, sliced thinly
  • 1 tbspn black pepper corns
  • 1 tbspn sesame oil
  • Sea salt
  • 3 fish cakes, sliced thinly
  • 1 box silken tofu, cubed
  • 2.5 liters of water
  1. In a large pot, heat up the sesame oil. Add the ginger, garlic, shallot and onion, and fry until fragrant and soft. Add in the fish head pieces, and fry for 5 minutes, coating the fish head pieces with the fragrant vegetables.
  2. Add 2.5 litres of water, bring to a simmer (never a rolling boil). Add 1-2 tbspn of sea salt, the black pepper corns, the tomatoes, salted vegetables, preserved plums, and corriander. Simmer for 30 minutes. I don’t usually simmer my fish stocks for longer than 30 minutes; 45 minutes tops if there’s a large quantity of fish. The aim is not to cook out the gelatin in the bones, and turn the soup into a murky muck.
  3. Add the pork slices, and simmer for another 10 minutes, before adding the fish cake, fish slices, and the silken tofu. Simmer for a further 7-10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the garnishing corriander, and serve the soup.
  5. Optional: You can add a few tbspn of condensed milk, some dried seaweed, and chopped fried shallots or powdered dried baby soles into the soup. The grandmothers will swear that adding a dollop of cognac into the soup does wonders… I agree too!

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