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Oct 29, 2012 09:28 AM

Burning for Burmese

With the release of Naomi Duguid's latest book, Burma, and the subsequent hype and interest it has generated, I figured now might be the time to start a thread on Burmese cooking. I for one have become intrigued and delighted by the recipes I've tried out of her book, and am now thirsty for more! I've been looking around for tidbits of information on ingredients, dishes, preparation methods, etc, and there isn't much out there in chow-world, and what little there is of it is scattered thoughout the boards.

Here we could discuss and review recipes, offer other Burmese cookbooks of note, tips, etc. related to cooking this cuisine.

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  1. Ooh, nice idea for a thread. There is a Burmese restaurant near to my home that I have been meaning to try, but I hate going to a place where I have no clue how to approach the food. This thread will help me take the plunge and go.

    Not to lead this thread too far off track, but oddly, I have eaten Burmese food in Pakistan, as there is a community of Pakistanis in Karachi who have roots as settlers from India in Raj-era Burma who ended up in PK after Partition, and somehow a couple of their dishes have made it into urban Pakistani popular food culture. The two dishes that I have tried are Pakistani style khao suey (surely adapted to PK palate just like the Chinese foods and pizzas are adapted), and something called "burmi dish" which is a beef or mutton stew filled with channa daal, potatoes, eggplant, perhaps some other veg., and a ton of fresh fenugreek leaves, and cooked down until it is a mushy amalgamation. I have always wondered what Burmese dish this "burmi dish" is based on, and if this is a dish of ethnic Burmese or perhaps a dish of some community of Indians living in Burma. Khao suey is pretty much a standard menu item in many Pakistani restaurants in major cities, and there are even restaurants named Khao Suey Express and Khao Suey Palace. I have also seen a dish called "khawk suey" and "khao sa" or "khaosa" and wasn't sure if it is the same or different than khao suey. I know there are lots of Indian nationals with roots in Burma, as well, but I am not sure how widely popular Burmese foods are in Indian popular food culture. I was able to find some hits from googling, but it seems to be much more widely popular in metropolitan Pakistani cities.

    I was able to dig up this old article from a PK English language newspaper on khawk-swe (spelling in the article), some interesting info for foodies: http://archives.dawn.com/weekly/dmag/...

    Here is a home recipe for an adapted Pakistani khao-suey. I have had it served like this before at a friend's house, but at a restaurant in Karachi what I had was more of a stir fry: http://miansari66.blogspot.com/2011/0...

    2 Replies
    1. re: luckyfatima

      Digression or no, I really enjoyed your post and the links. When Mr. QN gets home I'll have to show him your post, especially the part about the "burmi dish", it sounds suspiciously, to my ears anyway, like a dish from his childhood that he has told me about. If you ever see a recipe, I'd love to know more. I'll also ask him if he remembers whether it is a Burmese Muslim dish (somehow that's what I remember him calling it, but my memory ain't what it used to be...) or one from the one of the raj-era Indian communities in Burma.

      1. re: luckyfatima

        My dad and his family left India for Burma during WWII. He lived there for 30odd years, until he gt married and came to the US. My mom cooks a couple of Burmese dishes, like the khao sway (noodles in a chicken coconute curry broth) and salad. My aunts cook more dishes since they grew up there and learned the cooking. The food is a cross between Indian, Thai and Malaysia IMO. Very flavorful.

      2. Hi Allegra... I hope you'll add this thread to the Non-COTM cookbook reporting links so we can have updates in a timely fashion.

        Burma by Naomi Guguid holds great interest for me but I haven't done much about it yet since I'm waiting for the Elephant Walk Cookbook, Cambodian cuisine, to be delivered. There are a couple Burmese recipes in Charmaine Soloman's book, The Complete Asian Cookbook, that I've made and that we liked very much so I'm looking forward to reports to this thread. Thanks for starting it.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Gio

          Funny, I just ordered the Elephant Walk Cookbook a few days ago!

          I have Soloman's "Asian Collection" which also has quite a few Burmese recipes, though they are very difficult to locate within the poor index and so must be found by flipping through the pages.

          1. re: Allegra_K

            A few years ago I cooked the Pleah Trey (fish salad with lime and crunchy vegetables) out of the Elephant Walk Cookbook as part of a "ceviche around the world" dinner. It was absolutely delicious. Lots of intense flavors and funk from the fish sauce, which I loved.

            I've always meant to cook more from that cookbook, thanks for the reminder!

            I also just purchased Burma so I will be following this thread with interest. I love burmese food and enjoyed Duguid's other book (Hot Sour Salty Sweet).

            1. re: greymalkin

              I just got my copy of Elephant Walk Cookbook so I am so glad to see all the enthusiasm this book is generating. Maybe one day soon we will have a Cambodian thread? In the meantime, I am enjoying learning about Burmese food and am trying to decide if I need a book on Burma too.

              1. re: dkennedy

                Of course you need a book on Burma, dkennedy!
                Heh, heh....

        2. A question for the wise out there regarding tua nao....as a substitute, Duguid suggests miso paste in "Burma", though I looked through "Hot Sour Salty Sweet" and the same author(s) recommend dao jiao in its place. Is one more favourable than the other?

          4 Replies
          1. re: Allegra_K

            Hmmm, you are probably fine with either, so why not go with the one you like better. For me that would be miso, but I'd watch the salt content. Dao jiao, along with natto, is just one of those fermented bean flavors I can't excited about. But if you like those flavors, it would probably work.

            1. re: qianning

              Great, thank you! I did a side-by-side taste comparison this morning (not so great with coffee, btw) and think I also prefer the miso; the dao jiao seemed saltier and more pungent, though I did like its chunky texture.

              1. re: Allegra_K

                I haven't had a chance to cook out of Duguid's Burma book yet, but I, too, had wondered why she didn't say anything about dao jiao as a substitute for tua nao. Realistically, I'm not going to get around to making tua nao for...oh, probably years. Was your side by side comparison of miso and dao jiao in the context of a certain dish, or just straight up?

                1. re: mary shaposhnik

                  I have the best intentions to make the tua nao, but like you, it will probably remain on my 'to do' list for an embarrassingly long period of time, eventually all but forgotten.

                  The taste-test was indeed straight up. Silly me, should have done it in a dish. That makes much more sense!

          2. I used to go to Cafe Mingala in NY a fair amount, and it led me to try to recreate their wonderful Ginger Salad. This is close: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Ginger+...

            1. So this evening after much procrastinating, I realized that I was very behind on the dinner front and needed to make something fast. Flipped through "Burma" and selected the Shrimp Curry on p.136, and its suggested counterpoint, Smoky Napa Stir-Fry on page 115.

              The shrimp curry started out in the apparently usual Burmese way of adding turmeric to hot oil, and then stir-frying a small pile of shallots with a touch of garlic to soften. Chopped tomatoes are tossed in and simmered to break down, then water, fish sauce, and some shrimp go next. Once cooked, minced chiles are stirred in w/salt, poured to a bowl and topped with cilantro and optional lime wedges.
              This was incredibly easy and quick, especially because I used frozen, peeled shrimp (always kept on hand for days like this) and a large handful of frozen mixed cherry tomatoes. It was an agreeable dish, though the flavours are fairly similar to some other recipes in this book; perhaps it's time for me to select some different taste profiles for next time. It didn't knock my socks off, but I would turn to this again for another quick tasty weeknight meal.

              On to the smoky napa cabbage dish..... this recipe was a huge winner! And the simplicity of it makes it all the more appealing. It consists of shallots, dried chiles and ginger stir-fried in (what else) turmeric-laced oil, tossed with shredded napa cabbage and stir fried to wilt. A touch of diluted oyster sauce is stirred in, and that is all, folks.
              This is probably one of my favourite discoveries from the book, one of those better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts classics. The cabbage was beautifully fried, just a tinge of dark around the edges, giving it a fantastic wok-hay flavour, with a tiny bite of ginger in the background. The chiles offered not too much heat which can easily be changed, though I suspect it would be a nice side to have next to spicier dishes. Just fantastic (apparently so good I'm fresh out of synonyms). We all lapped this up instantly, and I regret not buying a larger head of cabbage for more the next day. It was just marvelous.

              From start to finish, dinner took 30 minutes to complete (with a side of jasmine rice) and offered lovely contrasts in texture, visual appeal and best of all, taste. I would call it a resounding success.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Allegra_K

                Foolishly, I'm posting without the book in front of me, but on the shrimp curry, it seems like Duguid's recipe is missing something, namely the paste made from the slowly cooked shrimp bodies. This really is a main flavor component in Burmese Shrimp curry.

                It's time consuming to prepare, and requires good fresh whole shrimp, but, and this is the great part, if you don't have access to the right shrimp, or have the time, there's a great "cheat". Bay Lobster Pate, the type we buy is a Canadian product, comes in little 4 oz. or so cans, added to the curry before the tomatoes go in, will make a huge difference to the results, without too much difference in cooking time or ease.

                1. re: qianning

                  I'll have to look into this magical product you speak of; thanks for the tips, as always!

                  1. re: qianning

                    Is this the pate you're talking about? I sure hope so, 'cause I should readily be able to locate it (just have never tried before); CloverLeaf is in every grocery store around here.

                    So how does it work, do you use the whole tin for one recipe?

                    1. re: Allegra_K

                      exactly, even the same brand we get. the cans are pretty small, one per curry is about right.