Assignment 77: Myanmar

MYA mapLocation: Southeast Asia
Population: 53.6 million
Capital: Napyidaw
Geography: A country of lowlands and coastal mountains, with a tropical climate
Language: Burmese
Signature flavours: Seafood, rice, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, lime, pandan, coconut, chilli peppers, onion, shallot

The Menu

When we first began the Wooden Spoon Wanderer blog (way back in Bhutan…remember that?), we relied almost exclusively on recipes we found online. Now, we jump onto the Toronto Public Library’s website first, to see what cookbooks they have available. Their collection has yielded some incredible finds (yes, they have a massive, trilingual Tajik cookbook, for example). For this assignment, I worked from two cookbooks — The Food of Myanmar and The Burma Bookbook. The former is authored by a Myanmarese cook, and the latter explores Myanmarese (or more accurately, colonial Burma’s) cuisine with an emphasis on the colonial legacy on the local culinary tradition.

soup

Mohinga: Arguably Myanmar’s national dish, this thick fish soup is flavoured with lemongrass, turmeric, and ground roasted rice. Noodles are added when serving, and the soup is then garnished with scallions, hard-boiled eggs, fish cakes, and more.

Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Difficulty: 3/5

MYA fishies

Ngephe Gyaw (Fried Fish Cakes): Spiced featherback fish rolled into balls and deep fried. A popular mohinga garnish.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: 2/5

MYA fritters

Ba-yar Gyaw (Chickpea Fritters): Crunchy crackers made from whole chickpeas in a thin batter, deep fried by the scoop. Another popular mohinga accompaniment.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: 2/5

Dain Chin: A thick yoghurt drink sweetened with palm sugar.

Prep and cooking time: 15 min (plus time to cool)
Difficulty: 1/5

pancake

Ye Mon (Rice Pancake): A lacy rice flour crepe filled with scallions, ginger, and peas.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: N/A (see below)

bamby

Myit Se Chet (Bamboo Shoot Curry): Panfried bamboo shoots flavoured with garlic, ginger, fish sauce, and chilli pepper.

Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Difficulty: 3/5

naners

Nget Pyaw Baung (Steamed Banana): A dessert made from steamed whole bananas, coconut milk, pandan leaf, and palm sugar.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: 2/5

The Shopping List

I headed to Nations in Toronto’s northwest for my long shopping list of Myanmarese ingredients that included some hard-to-find items like featherback fish, pandan leaves, and bamboo shoots. The enormous international market did not disappoint, and I walked away with everything I needed.

The Meal

For this assignment, I made a timetable for myself, dividing each dish into steps so I knew what had to be done when. Because none of the dishes were terribly time-consuming, this helped me break up each dish so nothing was sitting around getting cold while another something was just getting started. This approach was so efficient that I think I will likely adopt it for all future assignments.

I started the mohinga first since it was the most labour-intensive of my dishes (in fact, two of the other dishes, chickpea fritters and fish cakes, were only bit players in the mohinga production). The soup’s broth is made from lemongrass, fish, and shallots. It’s a simple but very hearty base which is then loaded with rice noodles, egg, crispy fried onions, fresh scallions, and whatever else you want. I opted to make the fish cakes and chickpea fritters to accompany, since they sounded indispensable to the mohinga experience. Both were pretty easy dishes. I still find myself a bit intimidated when it comes to deep frying, but in this case, it was really not at all difficult. The fish cakes came out springy and very fishy, and the fritters were crunchy and mild in flavour. Both added some oomph to our soup bowls.

bowl

This assignment boasts not one, but two, fails! My rice pancake, which started out so promising, completely fell apart when it came to shifting it in the pan. I’m not quite sure what I did wrong, but my rice flour batter did not hold together at all.

Fail number two was the bamboo curry. I was really excited to use bamboo in a dish, and found canned sliced bamboo shoots at Nations. Unfortunately, I later learned that canned bamboo has a distinctive sour stink that is hard to get rid of. I’m being kind to the shoots, here, because actually the smell was unbelievably foul. I rinsed and rinsed those shoots, then boiled them for a while, then rinsed them again. They still stank. Finally, I just made the curry and hoped that through some magical curry process, the offensive odour would diminish. That didn’t happen. The curry smelled so awful that I couldn’t have it on the table. We tried a little bit of it, but the stench permeated the flavour. After some research into what went wrong, I learned that fresh bamboo shoot is preferable for that very reason.

mya-table.jpg

Luckily, both the beverage and dessert were successes! The dain chin was delicious, a silky, sweet, refreshing yoghurt drink in the lassi family. Palm sugar has a more complex flavour than white sugar. It has a deep sweetness to it that I would liken to light molasses.

The steamed bananas were also incredible. I’ve never steamed my bananas before, but maybe I will from now on. I used cooking bananas, which are less delicate when cooked, and soaked them in a coconut milk, pandan, and palm sugar mixture, then sprinkled them with grated coconut. They were very filling — we had a banana each — and were a great way to end our Myanmar experience.

Links

https://www.amazon.ca/Burma-Cookbook-Recipes-Million-Pagodas/dp/6167339384/ref=sr_1_5?keywords=the+burma+cookbook&qid=1576435816&sr=8-5
https://gotpassport.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/burmese-palm-sugar-yogurt/

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.

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