The flavours of Burma


Talk about Burmese cuisine in Chennai and it's atho and khow suey that come to mind. But I've just learnt that there's much more to this cuisine than just these 2 dishes.

Chef Nay Myo Htet

Chef Nay Myo Htet from Burma is at Soy Soi to give Chennai diners the real taste of food from his homeland. He's also a licensed tour guide and apart from food, gave us an insight the country. There are 8 states and 135 ethnic groups in Burma, the most dominant being the Barmar. Where food is concerned, there are many similarities with Indian food. The staple crop is rice, very little wheat is grown; chillies, tamarind and coriander are used in their curries. Split chickpeas are a common ingredient, used not just to thicken curries but also as a main ingredient. People in coastal regions eat a lot of seafood while further inland, pork and chicken are preferred. Also, the Burmese make awesome salads. 

A group of us were invited to experience a degustation menu. Chef Peter was also on hand to explain the salient points of the food we were going to taste that evening.

Htamin lone gyaw

Nga sope

Balachang phat htoke baung

Samusa thoke with lentil sauce

We started with Htamin lone gyaw - fried rice cakes with a spicy tamarind sauce. The rice had been pounded into a paste, mixed with fried garlic and other aromatics, shaped into cakes and fried. The sauce was delicious but not that hot. Yummy!
Fried fish cakes - nga sope were a little too strong on the fish flavour.
The Burmese too have dumplings and balachaung phat htoke baung looked and tasted like a fully enclosed siu mai. The squid dip it was served with was shmeared along the side of the plate and tasted unusual. If you like squid, go for it!
There's something familiar about samusa thoke, yes, they do look like our potato-stuffed samosas all cut up. It was topped with a dhal curry doppelganger and tasted like one too as it had been made with split chickpeas.

The salad platter: Lahpet thoke; khwai ywat thoke; thayat thee thoke

And then there were the salads - lahpet thoke, made of tea leaves, topped with fried shallots. Did you know pennywort (vallarai) can be used to make a salad? Well, that's the main ingredient in myin khwai ywat thoke, shallot oil giving it a gorgeous flavour. Thayat thee thoke is the Burmese mango salad, different from the Thai version. The dressing of all three delicious salads had shallot oil and roasted gram flour which acted as a thickener. By now, it must be evident that thoke is the word for salad 😁

Mohinga

Mohinga is considered the national dish of Burma, a one-dish meal, a hot and sour soup and this one is like nothing I've had before. It starts with the dominant flavour of fish but soon enough, other aromatic flavours take over. It has a boiled egg, rice noodles, a raft of crunchy bits and a slice of banana stem and tastes delicious. Do squeeze the lime over for it brightens up the flavours instantly.  

Khayanthi hnat

The main courses were served with fragrant coconut milk rice. The vegetarians had khayanthi hnat, aubergines cooked in a thick onion and tomato gravy.

Nga hin

Gyat karlatha chat

For the others, there was nga hin, grilled sea bass with roesti and Burmese gravy. The fish was beautifully cooked and flaked effortlessly. 
The chef explained how gyat karlatha chat or bachelor chicken got its name - it's so easy to cook that even a bachelor could do it. Well, it might be a simple dish but it was so darn tasty. 

Shwe yin aye

Sanwin makin

Most Asian desserts have something made of coconut and shwe yin aye had sago cake and pandan noodles in sweetened coconut milk, the Burmese version of ice kachang. But the semolina cake, sanwin makin, served with caramelised orange, chocolate cream and honey ginger was what I preferred. Absolutely delicious.

The Burmese Food Festival is on till June 2nd and it does showcase food of the different regions of the country. The menu is à la carte and a meal for 2 would cost about 1500/-    

Soy Soi
2/10, Gandhi Mandapam Road, 
Kotturpuram.
Do call 9791555851 for reservations.


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