2 – Taste of Myanmar

This was from a 2013 recipe column, written after a trip to Myanmar.

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

A Taste of the Shan state, Myanmar

After fifty years of repressive military dictatorship Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a land of mystery. Most of us Westerners know little about it apart from news images of Buddhist monks, pagodas, and Nobel Peace Prize-winning democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi. Though tourism has increased since a democratic government took power in 2010 Myanmar is still the least-explored part of Southeast Asia. Like many first-time visitors I was bowled over by how large and geographically diverse it is.

Almost twice the land mass of Britain, it drives a slender wedge between Bangladesh and India on the west and China, Laos and Thailand on the east. In the space of 10 days my companion and I went from the heat and clamour of Yangon to lush mountains in the Mon state, the arid plains around Bagan, and the otherworldly beauty of Inle Lake in the Shan state.

Set some 3000 feet up in the mountains in the eastern part of the country, Inle Lake is Myanmar’s answer to Lake Tahoe – if Tahoe were populated by artisans, fishermen and farmers rather than frat boys and Valley girls. The inhabitants of this bucolic water world are the most gracious and self-sufficient people we encountered and we were fortunate to see some of the local craftspeople at work making the region’s renowned hand-woven cloth and cheroot cigarettes.

Inle Lake is also justifiably famous for the quality of its produce which is grown on floating island gardens. Their crops include cucumber, squash and tomato, which are the most flavoursome I’ve ever eaten. Shan rice noodles – the quintessential Myanmar fast food – were my favourite culinary find of the trip. The following recipes are my interpretation of two ubiquitous dishes: tomato salad and Shan rice noodle salad. Due to the language barrier I couldn’t ask many questions about preparation and ingredients, so they are based on observation and repeated tastings.

Photo by Robin St on Unsplash

Myanmar tomato salad

As a starter or side for two

  • 2 large ripe red tomatoes
  • 1 large green tomato
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/3 cup peanuts, coarsely crushed

Preparation:

  1. Slice the tomatoes, being sure to catch the juice
  2. Sliver the onion
  3. Mix the crushed peanuts with the tomato juice
  4. Thoroughly toss all ingredients. Season to taste.

Shan noodle salad

Serves two

  • 6oz of rice noodles
  • 1 cup cress or other fresh green
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • ¼ chopped green onion
  • French-fried onion strips
  • Crushed peanuts

Dressing:

  • Dark soy sauce
  • Fresh bird’s eye chilli
  • Garlic

Preparation:

  1. Prepare the noodles according to packet instructions
  2. When cooked quickly toss with the cress, spouts and chopped onions till the greens begin to wilt
  3. Garnish with French-fried onions and crushed peanuts
  4. For the dressing add finely sliced chilli and garlic to the soy sauce and serve on the side

NB: Use tamari instead of soy sauce to make this gluten-free