Curry leaves Salted Fish Pasta with Umami

By Stefanie Chao - Thursday, Sep 26, 2013

We all know the four basic tastes: salty, sweet, bitter and sour. But what about the fifth taste, umami?


Umami was first scientifically discovered by a professor in Tokyo, who identified that the taste of Kombu (kelp) broth did not fall under the category of a salty, sweet, bitter nor sour taste. The chemical quality that made Kombu broth so irresistible was, in fact, glutamate, which the professor termed as the fifth taste – umami. This distinct flavour induces the production of saliva and hence stimulates the appetite. However, it works best when utilised in low amount, so that it does not artificially induce thirst, like how MSG does to the palate.


Surprisingly, besides foods that are preserved with salt, MSG is naturally present in food like fish, shellfish and mushrooms. It is natural that an appetisers that include anchovies, some good quality pieces of salted fish, will create an umami sensation that is guaranteed to whet your palate. It is not just the salt from the fish, but when it is sauteed in some hot oil, the fish is transformed. It develops a sweet, rich, almost smoky flavour that brings this pasta dish (below) together. Along with crispy garlic, chilli padi for some heat, and plenty of fresh herbs for texture and fragrance, expect an explosion of flavour in your mouth like no other!


Salted Fish Pasta (serves 5 as an appetiser)


The pasta that is all about umami.



150g spaghetti or angel hair pasta
1 fillet of good quality salted fish (about 50g), preferably the sort preserved in oil, chopped finely
1 tbsp ready-fried crispy minced garlic or 3 cloves garlic, minced and fried till golden brown
Sprinkle of sugar
2 Chilli Padi, sliced thinly
1 handful of curry leaves
1 handful of laksa leaves



1) Fill a large pot at least half full with water and bring to boil. Add a tablespoon of salt, slowly add the pasta, and continue to stir to prevent clumping. Allow the water to come to boil again. Cook the pasta until al dente (cooked but still a little firm).

2) Remove the pot from the heat, drain the water from the pasta, run cold water to stop cooking process through a colander, and place it in a serving bowl.

3) Heat up 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. Saute the salted fish till deep golden brown. Stir in the chilli padi and a pinch sugar.


Stir fry salted fish until golden brown and herbs until crisp.


4) Add in the fresh herbs, it will take about 20 seconds at least, for the herbs to crisp up in the hot oil.

5) In a mixing bowl, toss the pasta with the salted fish mixture and garlic. It should not need any other seasoning.

6) Serve immediately, garnished with more curry and laksa leaves as you preferred.