Burma (officially known as Myanmar); a small landlocked nation in South Asia overshadowed by giants such as China, India and Thailand. Mostly in the news for political reasons, its cuisine has yet to be explored. Culinary conversations about South-East Asian food always revolve around Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, hence Burmese cuisine always manages to slip through the cracks. To any food lovers surprise, this undetected culinary gem is exploding with taste, colors and aromas. The only way to bring Burmese cuisine to the fore is by understanding their flavors and creating them in your kitchen.
Heavily inspired by the fare of its neighbors, China, Thailand and India, Burma adapts foreign flavors into local manna to make it their own signature dish. One such dish that I have had at numerous occasions, mostly home-cooked, is Khow Suey. In essence the use of coconut milk can be attributed to Thai influence, but when the whole dish comes together, along with the use of various condiments, the dish stamps its own individual identity. For years I have been searching the internet and various cookbooks to find the recipe for Khow Suey, but the results were fruitless. Either they were unnecessarily complicated or very bare. To my surprise, where most entries on a search engine coughs up millions of hits, Khow Suey barely had any. It was then when it dawned upon me, the fragrance and taste of this dish deserved more, it had to be made public knowledge. The solution was research and compilation. It required me to study the information I had on hand and then use the bits that were necessary. After that it was simply a test of my own palate. Luckily, first time proved to be a charm.
- 500g chicken fillets, cut into small pieces
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1/4 cup gram flour
- 2 tsp garlic paste
- 2 tsp red chilli powder
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tsp desiccated coconut
- 1 packet egg noodles
- 75g dried spaghetti
- 2 eggs
- Handful coriander
- 4-5 dried red chillies, chopped
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- 4-5 green chillies, chopped
- 2 lemons, quartered
- Place the sliced chicken in a bowl and add the garlic paste, lemon juice, salt, desiccated coconut and 1tsp each of red chilli powder, turmeric powder and cayenne pepper. Mix well to coat the chicken evenly. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes
- In the meantime, prepare the condiments: 1) Boil the eggs for about 10 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and then remove the egg shell. Dice into small pieces. 2) Chop the dried red chillies, spring onions, green chillies and coriander. Quarter the lemons 3) Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a pan. Break the dried spaghetti into small pieces and fry in the oil till they are crisp and brown. Soak on a kitchen towel to remove the excess oil
- After that prepare the gram flour to be used later. Add the gram flour to a frying pan and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes or till the color changes slightly and you can smell the flour. Move the flour around the pan so the bottom does not burn. Once it is cooked, remove and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp of oil. Add the chicken and cook for 2-3 minutes on low heat, till it turns into an off-white shade. Make sure not to brown the chicken
- Pour the chicken stock into the saucepan and slightly increase the heat. Allow the chicken to cook in the stock for about 10 minutes
- Meanwhile mix the prepared gram flour into the coconut milk and stir vigorously so no lumps remain
- As the chicken is beginning to cook, add the coconut milk mixture and bring to a boil
- Add 1tsp each of turmeric powder and red chilli powder, simmer and mix well. At this point you should see the color of the curry turn to a pale yellow
- Stir the mixture for another 5 minutes. At this point try a spoon of the curry to see if you can taste the flour. If not, your curry is ready. You can cook the curry to your desired thickness, normally Khow Suey curry should be runny. Let it cook more if you want the curry to be thicker. Advisable to let the switch off the heat at this point
- Boil the noodles in hot water for about 5-8 minutes. Once cooked, drain the noodles over a sieve and let cold water run through them
- To serve, transfer all the condiments in one plate
- Pour the chicken curry in a separate serving bowl and noodles in another.
- Create your own dish by putting the noodles first, then the curry and finally the condiments on top. Normally, there is more curry added in relation to the noodles
- For a spicier version, pour some chilli oil over the Khow Suey
It is the perfect combination of fragrant chicken curry poured over soft noodles, complemented by crunchy fried spaghetti, fiery chillies, sour lemon juice and aromatic coriander. With one bite you would be amazed at the plethora of flavors emanating from the cuisine that goes by largely unnoticed. But not anymore, this recipe is sure to put Burma on the map when it comes to culinary skills. For all of us, it is yet another page in the book of worldly cuisines, yet another lesson on our way to mastering food from around the world. It is still just a drop in the ocean but a journey on the right path, nonetheless.