Is it possible to find good Burmese food in London? We asked food writer and Burmese food expert MiMi Aye to enlighten us.
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 tend 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.
Mandalay is the best known and longest running exponent of Burmese cuisine in London. It's now located on Kilburn High Road rather than the original Edgware Road branch. 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 balachong 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, 302 Kilburn High Road, NW6 2DB
Dine with Kyi
Dine with Kyi is primarily a catering service, but founder Thuzar Kyi also runs pop-ups like her 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.
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 Burmese street food venture from Dan Anton who is part Burmese, and his Burmese chef Zaw Mahesh. They 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 also serve salad, such as Lahpet Thohk (pickled tea salad), Gin Thohk (pickled ginger salad) or chicken salad with rice, as well as a crispy snack such as my beloved Shan Tofu or Crispy Fritters with Chilli & Garlic Sauce. The emphasis is on quality not quantity.
Lahpet, 5 Helmsley Place, E8 3SB
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.