Is it possible to find good Burmese food in London? We asked food writer and Burmese food expert MiMi Aye to enlighten us.
With all eyes of the world on Burma as it held its first free election in 25 years, you may be interested to find out more about this country that has been isolated for so very long. As a Burmese food writer in London, let me tell you about its cuisine and where you can find it for yourself.
Burmese food is a little like Thai, a little like Indian and a little like Chinese (hardly surprising since those are Burma's neighbours), but it takes these influences and then combines them with techniques, ingredients and flavours of its own to make something subtle, delicious and unique.
Subtlety is the key — no crude hit of chilli or one-dimensional note of sweetness — every dish has at least three of the five tastes of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, and every meal has a host of accompaniments. Texture is also important — a noodle dish might have soft but toothsome noodles, crunchy sour pickles, bean sprouts that snap to the bite, and rich, tender chunks of chicken.
Rice is our mainstay as well as fresh and dried noodles made of wheat, rice, egg, mung bean and even tofu. We also love both dry and saucy curries, and salads of every colour and combination.
There's an obsession with freshly fried fritters and pungent, spicy or sour dips and pickles, not to mention the near-reverence with which pork is regarded.
In terms of where we eat, the snacks, salads, noodles and fritters are eating out options — either cafes, restaurants, tea shops or street vendors. Rice and its accompaniments tends to be family food, cooked and eaten at home.
Want to try it out for yourself? Here are a few places you can get hold of Burmese food in London. And if you're around on Monday 30 November, do come along to my Burmese Food and Beyond charity dinner at the Drapers' Arms in aid of Action Against Hunger — tickets available here.
Mandalay on Edgware Road is the best known and longest running exponent of Burmese cuisine in London. Ask the owners for advice on which dishes to choose. The lamb meatball curry is particular delicious, the prawn and vegetable fritters an excellent starter, and don't miss the balachaung which is like an addictive dry sambol and best served with rice. My only caveat is that they don't serve pork, which is a big part of Burmese cuisine.
Mandalay, 444 Edgware Road, W2 1EG
Dine with Kyi
Dine with Kyi is primarily a catering service, but founder Thuzar Kyi also runs pop-ups like her recent Burmese Nights in aid of the Angus Mcdonald Foundation, so do check out her Facebook page. Her food is modern Burmese with the occasional twist and very exciting. Definitely one to watch.
The Cook's House
The Cook's House was a takeaway in Herne Hill run by people who really know their stuff. They offered a wide range of Burmese dishes mixed in with their Indian menu, including great fried snacks such as Mandalay bean fritters and chickpea tofu fritters, and a mouthwatering selection of salads. Unfortunately they closed in June this year, but they promised to return so keep watch on their Facebook page.
Rangoon Sisters is a fantastic supper club run by sisters Emily and Amy Chung. They're known for their excellent rendition of Burmese street food such as Nangyi-Thohk (a sort of "spaghetti" salad) and Ohn-no Khao Swè (coconut chicken noodles). Currently taking a short break, but keep track of their next event by following them on Twitter @RangoonSisters.
If you want to try making Burmese food yourself, this supermarket in Turnpike Lane stocks any kind of Burmese ingredient you could wish for including our unique pickled tea known as lahpet. They do online orders too.
Mum's House, 20 Taylor Close, Tottenham, N17 0UB
Lahpet is a new Burmese street food venture from Dan Anton who is part Burmese through his father's side of the family, and his Burmese chef Zaw Mahesh. Launching in the New Year in a location yet to be disclosed, their market stall will serve Burmese staple dishes, rotating warming bowls of Mohinga (fish and vermicelli soup) or Ohn-no Khao Swè (coconut chicken noodles) throughout the colder months. They will also serve a salad each week such as Lahpet Thohk (pickled tea salad), Gin Thohk (pickled ginger salad) or chicken salad with rice, as well as a crispy snack special each week such as my beloved Shan Tofu or Crispy Fritters with Chilli & Garlic Sauce. Dan says it will be simple and delicious, with the emphasis being on quality not quantity, and from what I’ve seen so far, it could be a big hit.
As for recipes, as well as my blog www.meemalee.com and my book NOODLE! which has a decent number of Burmese dishes, I'd recommend the following books: Ginger Salad and Water Wafers by Ma Thanegi, Flavours of Burma by Susan Chan, or The Food of Myanmar by Claudia Saw Lwin Robert.