Burmese cuisine’s primary flavoring agents are fish sauce and ngapi, a pungent paste made from fermented shrimp and then sun-dried. As with most countries, consumption of fish and meat vary based on geography. Most commonly, inland cities consume poultry and pork, while coastal cities located on the Bay of Bengal serve seafood more often than meat. The primary proteins eaten within a certain region also vary based on the area’s religious affiliations. Rice is the most commonly served starch although rice and vermicelli noodles are used consistently in salads and soups. Tropical fruits are often served as desserts. Mango is pickled and served as a popular condiment, as well.
Reading recipes for Burmese cuisine proved to be an interesting study in how a region’s different influences can combine to create dishes that define it because of the combination of approaches and ingredients. For instance, I would describe Burmese Curry dishes as Indian curries with the addition of ngapi or fish sauce, influenced by Thailand, prepared as a stir-fry, as influenced by China. This blend of flavors and styles culminates in a distinctly Burmese-flavored dish.
As I approached my menus for the week, I considered my goals for the week.
- Incorporate ngapi in as many dishes as possible since it serves as the primary flavoring agent in Burmese cuisine.
- Make a Burmese Curry to experience the flavor profile of a curry influence with Thai and Chinese flavors and styles.
- Read multiple recipes for Mohingar, Myanmar’s National Dish, to determine the most commonly used ingredients to create this diverse, regionally-influenced dish.
The garnishes served with Mohingar vary based on regional traditions and on what products are in season. Based on the numerous listings of garnishes I read, I am fairly confident that the most often used garnishes include sliced boiled eggs, fritters (either gourd or onion), fresh cilantro, and lime. I also found the following recommendations: fried garlic, split pea fritters, chili flakes, shredded green beans, sliced scallions, and fish sauce.
All in all, I really enjoyed this dish. As mentioned in previous postings, I generally do not like fish soups or stews, but the creaminess and balance of flavors produced a delightful, filling main dish. So good that the hubs went back to the kitchen to finish everything left. I served it with hardboiled eggs, cilantro, lime wedges, and onion fritters. The hardboiled egg was the only garnish that did not make sense to me. I tried a little crumbled on the soup, and I tried a bite as I was eating the soup. In both cases, it seemed a heavy addition that did not provide an interesting contrast in flavor or texture to the main dish. The cilantro and lime complemented the richness of the soup by added a fresh, tart aspect. I crumbled part of an onion fritter on top of the soup, and that was a really nice touch.
Traditional DinnerA traditional dinner includes soup, meat curries, steamed rice, and ngapi yay served with raw vegetables. For our dinner, I served soup, meat curries, and steamed rice. After countless searches for more information about ngapi yay, I found that it is a dipping sauce seasoned with ngapi (shrimp paste), but I could not find any recipes or formulations for what actually makes ngapi yay. I gave up on that aspect and focused on the other elements. As I prepared for this meal, I discovered that www.101cookingrecipes.com has an extensive listing of recipes for Burmese cuisine, which I used as guidelines for the Chin Hin, Chicken Curry, and Pork Curry.
Chin Hin is a “sour soup” served at the beginning of a meal. I read several different recipes and discovered that the sour elements may be delivered by various ingredients: sorrel leaves, green tomatoes, tamarind, and even rhubarb. For my preparation, I made a tamarind broth and added onion, turmeric powder, green tomato, and fresh spinach. While I found the flavors to be interesting, this was not a soup I could eat in large quantities. After a few spoonfuls, I was overwhelmed with its sour, bitter quality.
The bright, fresh flavor of this Chicken Curry resulted from the use of multiple fresh ingredients to create its flavor profile: thin slices of fresh Serrano chiles, grated gingerroot, onions, garlic, tomatoes, lemongrass, and lime juice. For this curry, the addition of turmeric and cardamom provided the “curried” seasonings. It also included fish sauce, which offered an interesting background flavor and gave the dish a different profile than an Indian curry.
The Pork Curry included several of the same ingredients (onion, garlic, fresh gingerroot, turmeric, and lemongrass), but its flavors differed significantly from the Chicken Curry. The addition of brown sugar, curry paste, ngapi, dried chiles, and soy sauce resulted in a dark, rich sauce with a depth of flavor similar to mole. With every bite, I tasted something new. I loved this dish!
After a week, I’m still not sure if I should be calling this Burmese cuisine or Myanmarese cuisine, but I am confident calling it unique, interesting, and delicious. This week’s meals felt more experimental than others, perhaps because I was familiar with the ingredients but not their composition as it relates to this cuisine. In the case of Burmese cuisine, the whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts.