Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Burma (Myanmar)

Location: Southeast Asia, between Bangladesh and Thailand
Area: Over 675,000 sq km; 40th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Texas
Population: Almost 54 million; 24th most in the world
Capital: Rangoon
People living with HIV/AIDS: 240,000; 25th most in the world
Name: Military authorities in Burma promote the name Myanmar instead
Diplomacy: The US and Burma do not have ambassadors to each other
Per capita income: $1400; 203/228 in the world
Source: CIA Factbook

When I  e-mail the embassies, I have no idea what will come back.  It is often an "address not found" or "mailbox full," but usually just nothing.  So I was pleasantly surprised when I received this from Burma (I have edited only some of the spacing):
Dear Mr, Danielle,

Thank you for interesting our Myanmar food recipes. We have four or five Myanmar restaurants around Washington DC. Here are the list and address –

Even though these are Myanmar restaurant, they tend to make the taste for local people.
Try to go there and taste our food. You can also asked them about recipes.

1) Myanmar Restaurant
7810 Lee Hwy
Ste C
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 289-0013
2) Burma Restaurant
740 6th St NW
(between N G Pl & N H St)
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 638-1280
3) Mandalay Restaurant & Café
 930 Bonifant St, Silver Spring MD20910 38.994131 -77.024837
 (Btwn Fenton St & Georgia Ave)
4) Burma Road
617 S Frederick Ave
Gaithersburg, MD 20877(301) 963-1429 
5) Taste of Burma
126 Edds Lane
Sterling, VA 20165
Phone: 703-444-8510

Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
2300 S St NW Washington DC, 20008
Different from the other embassies in that it does not include a recipe or even a specific dish, but a wealth of resources in the restaurants around.  I had no idea there was so much Burmese cuisine in the DC area.

And yes, I was aware that they were also called Myanmar.  I am using the Wikipedia list, however, and there it is under Burma.

I started looking up the restaurants on yelp and the general interwebs.  There wasn't time to go to any of them before cooking, but I could see what people mentioned in the comments and what foods seemed universal.  The first thing that caught my eye was Burmese Khao Suey.  This is just one of many versions out there.  However, many mentioned that this was the Indianized version of the Burmese dish.  It was hard to tell what was authentic and what was just labeled "Burmese" the way we label "French" fries.

Then I found this recipe for Ohn-No-Kauk-Swe (Burmese Chicken Soup).  It had similar ingredients to the Khao Suey, and at least this was from someone who said they lived in Burma.  It was reverse engineered, and therefore perhaps lost something in translation, but it was supposed to taste like the real thing.  I had my recipe!

Now...the ingredients.  Some of them were a bit hard to find.  Fish sauce.  Chickpea flour.  Coconut cream.  I eventually found the first in Giant.  In the comments, someone mentioned using hummus and corn starch for the chickpea flour, so I did that.  I went to at least three stores looking for coconut cream.  I found coconut water, coconut milk, coconut juice, coconut, coconut drink, and cream of coconut (sweetened version).  No coconut cream.  I decided to go with the milk, because Wikipedia told me that they were closely related.  Recipe full of compromise.

On top of everything else, my parents and brothers were visiting!  This seemed like a good meal to feed to a crowd, so it worked out.  I doubled the recipe to accommodate everyone.  I also had plenty of help.  I started with the noodles and chicken while Kevin and Patrick handled the food processor.
This was the closest I could find to "thin egg noodles."
Look at Patrick go!
I did cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, but also threw in the bones.  They would add some flavor.  I reduced the water for the chickpea flour, since I was actually starting with hummus.
Spelled differently than I am used to...

Now the boys went off to play some NCAA while I continued to slave in the kitchen.  Separate from just adding ingredients and stirring, another pot with the thickeners had to be started.  I didn't have a sieve, but the hummus didn't create any lumps.  While I multi-tasked, the cats lounged.
Tesla's new favorite place was under my mom's wheelchair.
Curie really likes small enclosed spaces.
Tesla wants to know why he can't join.
I had to call the boys back to help with the garnishes since there were so many.  They were very accommodating.  They created every one.  Patrick was even in charge of hard boiling the eggs.
Kevin was slicing and dicing away.
Our solution for not being able to find the right lid.
Patrick wanted everyone to know how helpful he was.
Patrick even made us all try...something.

With the aid of my sous chefs, things were ready.  We have added all of the ingredients to the pot, and the garnishes areall set up.  I reheated the noddles and added the finishing touches.
Super-full table, after adding all of the salad fixings.
Most of us didn't end up eating at the table.

I'm not really sure where the real test was here.  The younger people, or those who aren't trying to maintain their football figure, and therefore may be more discerning?

It didn't end up mattering, as everyone was pleased.  The soup was delicious.  It was full of rich flavor, and the ability to customize with the sides made everyone happy.  Personally, I liked adding some lime, crushed red chilies, eggs, and a bit of fish sauce.  Everyone had their own way.

My mother commented that it reminded her of Mrs. Grass's Noodle Soup, which I would have to agree.  And since that was one of my favorites growing up, I can't complain.

The only change I would make is to add more chicken, but that may be a result of some of my substitutions.  With the real ingredients, it would have been thicker, richer.  Without that, it needed something to fill it out more.  As it was, after a few rounds of leftovers, there was mostly just broth left because we had eaten all of the meat.

This dish definitely gets a high grade from me.  So far I have been very lucky when cooking for other people.  Will that continue?  Only time will tell.

I plan to visit at least one of these restaurants, and perhaps try some more authentic Ohn-No-Kauk-Swe.  This experience definitely makes me want to plan for this meal out soon.

Next time: Burundi


  1. You can get chickpea flour at Indian groceries (it's used to make papadams and pakoras), and potentially at one of the larger Asian groceries. It's also called gram flour (very different from graham flour) or besan.

  2. Hi Danielle
    Thanks so much for making my Burmese chicken soup recipe. Love the idea for your blog.
    Maybe I can help you on your quests for recipes. I have a cookbook collection (about 600 books) and many have been acquired on my extensive international travels. Just ask and I'll see what I have.