Citizens – allow me to introduce you to a rarely-encountered cuisine – that of Burma (aka Myanmar)! 🙂
There are very few Burmese restaurants outside of Burma for the simple reason that when the government of the country fell due to a military coup in 1962, the borders were sealed. As a result, only Burmese who were traveling or the few who had emigrated were able to form the small communities that exist today outside of the country.
Due to this, Burmese restaurants are very few and far between as you can imagine. Recent positive events have allowed tourists to once again visit this amazing country – I personally hope to visit soon with my Burmese friend Kenneth and see the Shwedagon Pagoda (a lifelong dream of mine!).
We are very fortunate here in the San Francisco Bay Area to have a number of excellent Burmese restaurants due to the ex-pat community that settled here. It was at one of these restaurants that I was first able to sample Mohinga, the national dish of Burma/Myanmar!
Mohinga is a rice noodle and fish soup that is readily available in most parts of the country. In major cities, street hawkers and roadside stalls sell dozens of dishes of mohinga to the locals and passers-by. Although Mohinga is available throughout the day, it is usually eaten as breakfast.
The main ingredients of Mohinga are Mekong River catfish in a rich broth cooked and kept on the boil in a cauldron plus chickpea flour and/or crushed toasted rice, garlic, onions, lemongrass, banana tree stem, ginger, fish paste and fish sauce.
It is served with rice vermicelli, dressed and garnished with fish sauce, a squeeze of lime, crisp-fried onions, coriander, spring onions, crushed dried chili. Optional extras can include crispy fried fritters such as split chickpeas (pè gyaw) (ပဲကြော်), urad dal (baya gyaw) (ဘယာကြော်) or gourd (bu thee gyaw) (ဗူးသီးကြော်) or sliced pieces of Chinese donuts (အီကြာကွေး), as well as boiled egg and fried nga hpè fish cake (Burmese: ငါးဖယ်ကြော်).
While Burmese eat Mohinga for breakfast, most Westerners prefer it as a dinner entree – and my version includes duck eggs (which I am very fond of, you can of course substitute chicken eggs) and my preferred spices. My recipe results in a thicker sauce as opposed to a soup, but that is just the way I prefer it. Think it out with some fish or chicken stock if you want a more traditional Mohinga.
This is not a “true” Burmese Mohinga as it lacks a few ingredients and condiments, but it is as close as we can get here in the States. It is, however, true in spirit and delicious.
By the way, if you are visiting this page on an iPhone or iPad and seeing a lot of “blank boxes” where there should be Burmese – sadly iOS 9 doesn’t come with an installed Burmese (Myanmar) font. There is, thankfully, a very easy solution that will enable you to read Myanmar text in native apps such as Safari, Facebook, etc.. You just need to install the ZawGyi font and it couldn’t be easier. 🙂
To install the ZawGyi Font for iOS, visit the following link using the mobile Safari browser on your iPhone or iPad: http://shwe.co/zawgyi
Click Install when prompted – don’t worry about it saying this is an unverified profile, it’s safe.
Click Install to install the font and voila – perfectly rendered Burmese fonts! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 duck eggs, at room temperature (substitute large chicken eggs if unavailable)
80 ml (1/3 cup) peanut oil
4 red shallots, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
800 gm thin fresh rice noodles
To serve: coriander sprigs, small green birds-eye chilies, pickled mustard greens (available in Asian grocery stores, or use any finely-shredded pickled vegetable you can get your hands on), lime wedges, and chili powder
1 tsp brick-style Malaysian shrimp paste
3 vine-ripened tomatoes, scored
60 ml (¼ cup) sesame oil (Kadoya brand strongly preferred)
1½ onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
20 gm (4cm piece) ginger, cut into julienne
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, finely chopped
60g (2oz) banana stem, sliced thinly (or substitute fresh or canned sliced bamboo shoots)
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
3 tsp finely chopped fresh turmeric (if unavailable, use an equal amount of Turmeric spice or more as needed to achieve a fine yellow color)
1 tsp each sweet paprika and ground chili
500 ml (2 cups) coconut milk
2 fresh curry leaf sprigs (available in Indian grocery stores, omit if unavailable)
2 tbsp tamarind purée, or to taste
2 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
1½ tbsp sugar, or to taste
2 firm white fish fillets, such as catfish (preferred), skin on if you like
Juice of 1 lime, or to taste
For fish curry, preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit (180C). Wrap shrimp paste in foil and roast until fragrant (5-10 minutes), then set aside. Meanwhile, blanch tomatoes until skins split, then refresh, drain, peel, finely chop and set aside. Heat sesame oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add onion, garlic, ginger and lemongrass and sauté until softened (10 minutes), add fenugreek, turmeric, spices, shrimp paste and sauté until fragrant (1-2 minutes), then add coconut milk, curry leaves, tamarind, banana stem or bamboo shoots, fish sauce, sugar and tomato and stir occasionally until flavors meld (10-20 minutes).
Add fish and cook over low heat, breaking up slightly with a wooden spoon, until cooked through (4-6 minutes). Add lime juice, adjusting seasoning to suit your taste, keep warm.
Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to the boil over medium-high heat, add duck eggs and cook until medium-boiled (10-12 minutes). Cool under running water, peel and halve.
Meanwhile, heat peanut oil in a saucepan over medium heat, fry shallot and garlic separately until golden (3-5 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on absorbent paper.
Place noodles in a heatproof bowl, cover completely with boiling water and stand until heated through (1-2 minutes), then drain and serve with fish curry, fried garlic and shallot, duck eggs, coriander, chilies, mustard greens, lime wedges and chili powder to the side.