shrimp curry

This is kind of like my secret recipe (shhhhhhhhhh). It’s my variation on shrimp curry that is traditional in Burmese cuisine. Some versions have tomatoes but mine doesn’t. The key to the rich flavors in this dish is that I get whole shrimp with the head on. When you peel the shell and carapace, save the guts inside the heads aka shrimp mustard (or crab butter or lobster tamale in the case of other crustaceans). This is what gives the really creamy flavor and red color to the dish.

Start with caramelizing some onions with some oil. Add some peppers (whatever you have on hand) for some heat if you’d like. Keep everything on low-med heat.
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I think I also put in some garlic as well. Not entirely necessary. Stir frequently so that the onions don’t burn. Sometimes I put a teaspoon of shichimi togarashi (japanese spice mix) spice which is untraditional in this dish but I like the heat and color that it gives. If you don’t have that some paprika or cayenne pepper will do to add some color.
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Once the onions are well caramelized add the shrimp, the shrimp mustard, and let it chill. Do not stir!
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You’ll see that the shrimp will turn on the bottom side and once it is about pink halfway through body. Turn the shrimp over. Add some cilantro. Turn off the heat and let the residual heat finish cooking the shrimp so you don’t overcook them.
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Burmese food part 4: Mohinga

Mohinga is the national dish of Burma and one of my favorite soups. It’s a fish stew that is thickened with ground rice (not the same as rice flour which is very fine). The best part of this soup are all the condiments you can put on it like all sorts of fritters, youtiao, eggs, pork blood, etc. ¬†You can also put the stem of the banana tree in here. It has the texture of a celery and essentially no flavor. The inner parts of the stem are very tender almost like an artichoke but the outer parts are more crisp like the celery.


mohinga - burmese fish noodle soup

Burmese food part 3: Baya-kyaw

Bayakyaw is a popular snack food in Burma. It’s a thick paste made of ground yellow split peas, chilies, coriander leaves, and onions. Golf ball sized portions of the batter is deep fried until crispy on the outside. They’re pretty much like falafel except falafel is made with chickpeas or fava beans.

My dad made these. Next to them are meatballs.
byakyaw - yellow split pea fritters

If you skip to 1:52-4:00, you can see the vendor mixing bayakyaw and frying them up. There’s a lot of fritters featured in the video: bayakyaw, shan tofu, samosas, fried gourd, etc. Typically these are added as extras to soups or salads but they are also eaten as a snack through out the day. Because of the broad availability of street vendors in busy areas, people usually don’t make these fritters at home. You almost take them for granted until you are overseas and there are no vendors.

*video credits to meemalee3

In this video, Cho, the author of Hsaba demonstrates how to make bayakyaw. Here’s the recipe from her website. Thanks to Cho for doing all the work for me. =p

Bayakyaw go great with a sour dipping sauce like this one:

juice of 1 lime, 1 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1 chopped garlic clove, 1 chopped thai chili, some coriander leaves. Mix and serve.

Fried fritters also go great with a tamarind dip:

1 tbsp tamarind pulp, 1/4 cup warm water, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 crushed garlic clove. After mixing the ingredients, you need to strain it to get the tamarind solids out. I like to let the crushed garlic clove chill out in the dip to release it’s oils and flavor into the sauce. This tamarind dip should be sour with a tiny bit of sweetness but I like mine with some heat. If you want some heat, replace the 1/2 tsp salt with Sriracha to taste. You don’t need the salt since Sriracha has a good sodium content.

Burmese food: Part 2

It’s been awhile. Been busy with school and research. This is a Burmese noodle salad recipe. It doesn’t really have a name, it’s just something I’ve adapted from my parents. In Burmese cuisine, there’s a lot of types of noodle salads, called “thote” in Burmese. The ingredients in this recipe are common in a lot of thotes, so I would say this is a pretty authentic recipe. I like this recipe because you can make it beforehand and it can be served cold. The main flavors come from the fish sauce, shallot oil, and gram flour. Play around with the recipe and adjust it to your taste.

Ingredients (makes 2 servings):
2 servings rice vermicelli, cooked per package instructions and rinsed in cold water
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced

for the dressing,
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 lime, juiced
1 tsp chili flakes or 1 thai chili, chopped
2 tbsp shallot oil

3 large cloves shallot (or 1/4 an onion), sliced
2 boiled eggs
fried shallots
3 tbsp roasted gram flour
2 tbsp dried shrimp, pounded into a coarse floss/powder
a few pea crackers
(see link for recipe from a previous post)

  • First start off by roasting the gram flour (Note: This is not the same as graham flour. Graham flour is whole wheat flour, but gram flour is just ground chickpeas). Just drop the gram flour onto a pan on medium heat until the color turns darker. It’ll give off a nice nutty scent once they’re roasted. Don’t burn them! Set this aside.
  • Now for the fried shallots. Cover a pan with a very shallow layer of oil. Take shallot slices (can substitute onion) and fry them on medium heat until golden brown and crispy. This will take a while. You only need to stir to make sure they don’t burn. Drain the shallots once they’re done. Save the oil for the dressing. The oil should take on the shallot flavor.
  • Now make the dressing by mixing in the oil, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, chili, and shallot oil
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked noodles, shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes, shallot oil, roasted gram flour, and dressing.
  • You can keep this in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
  • Once you are ready to serve, just add the garnishes as you like. Crumble in a few pea crackers. Top with some fried shallots, cilantro, dried shrimp, and sliced boiled eggs.

bumrese noodle salad

burmese noodle salad
I tried plating two different ways. I think I like the bowl shot better.

Here’s a street hawker that sells noodles. You can see that he’s got everything in nice compartments and it’s a quick and simple procedure to make an order. You’ll find a lot of these guys walking around with their carts or sometimes they’ll set up on the side of a busy road.

I think the best meal is breakfast in Burma. Almost everyone buys breakfast in the morning, because that’s when the most street vendors and hawkers are out. No one ever makes breakfast at home just because of the number of vendors available in the morning. The best thing is, a lot of street vendors have regular routes so the food comes to you! If you’re a regular, they’ll remember you and come to your house every morning. The cities are pretty condensed and there is a high population density so you can easily find a remedy to any food craving within a half-mile radius. The street we lived on had a coffee shop at the end and when you would wake up you wouldn’t have to walk more than 5 minutes to get anything you wanted for breakfast. Way better than walking to your fridge and getting cold cereal. That’s the thing I miss most about Burma, the food and the food culture. Words can’t describe how nostalgic I am right now.

Burmese food: Part 1

This is part one in a series of posts I’ll do about Burmese food. Some will be dishes I make, other posts I might just write about the dish if I am too lazy to make it or it is too labor intensive.

I noticed that there’s not a lot of Burmese food exposure to Westerners. There may only be a handful of Burmese restaurants in the US, I know of two (one in Maryland and one in California). I believe there’s three cookbooks out, one is pretty old and I’ve never read it. I know that its mostly text. There’s no reason to buy a cookbook with only text. I can learn a lot more from a picture than by reading a recipe. That’s why I try to put up photos of each step like in my oyster omelette recipe. There is a Burmese culture and cuisine book out on Amazon that was published in 2003. I can’t really comment on it but that I’d like to get it as soon as some funds roll in this semester. The one I have was just recently published last year by a Burmese lady in the UK. She emigrated to the UK when she was younger (like me!) and she went back to Burma to do research for her cookbook. Her book is Hsaba. It means “Please eat.” It was the first cookbook I bought. Hsaba has a ton of recipes and a lot of pictures. I like that each recipe has a little blurb and explanation too. Almost everything I grew up eating is in the book. It brings a lot of nostalgia looking flipping through the book and it makes me wish I was back in Burma. After being away from Burma for 10 years, its great to look through the book and find out the names and exact ingredients of dishes from Burma. I could ask my parents, but this is much easier. I feel like I’ve been rambling on…

The first recipe I’ll post is Pe Kyaw or yellow split pea crackers. It’s a popular snack eaten by itself or you can crumble it into salads or soups.

yellow split peas
rice flour
*I used about 2.5 cups water and 1 cup rice flour to one pound of dried yellow split peas when I made my batch. Note: I made a really big batch so you might want to downscale.

Soak some yellow split peas over night.
Make the batter by mixing about 2.5:1 ratio by volume of water and rice flour. The batter should be pretty thin.
Add a half teaspoon of turmeric and a teaspoon of salt to the batter.
Then add the drained peas.
Now the fun part, you’ll fry them in a pan covered with a shallow layer of oil.
Make sure the batter is properly mixed before you drop a big spoonful of batter into the pan. The peas and flour will settle at the bottom if you don’t. I find that a chinese soup spoon is a good size for the batter.
When you spoon in the batter into the pan, it should be fluid enough that it easily disperses and flattens into a crack on its own.
Now fry these until you stop seeing steam coming out, you want to cook these all the way and not leave any moisture.
This will ensure that they stay crispy longer. You can store these in the fridge in an airtight container once they are cool.
Try adding these to like a thick stew to add some crunch. I think they’d work pretty well in a lentil soup also.

frying some pe kyaw
There should be enough oil to fully cover the pan and submerge most of the batter. You can fry about 4 at a time depending on your pan size.

pe kyaw
Adding the turmeric to the batter gives the batter a yellow color to match the peas.

a big batch of pe kyaw (yellow split pea crackers)
Needless to say, I might have gone a little overboard and made too much. They’ll keep well in airtight containers in the refrigerator.

This ends part 1 of my Burmese food post series. More to come soon.