Naomi Duguid, author of 'Burma: Rivers of Flavors', explains how to rustle up your own Burmese food at home
Serves 4 or 5
At morning markets in Shan areas of Burma and northern Thailand, there is always at least one vendor selling this thick, smooth, pale yellow soup for breakfast, hot and enticing, often poured over fine rice vermicelli. Alongside they sell Shan tofu, either in large chunks to take home or cut up and dressed as a salad.
You don’t have to restrict yourself to breakfast, however: serve this vegetarian soup at any meal. On its own or over tender noodles, topped with chopped coriander or other fresh herbs, it’s comfort food par excellence.
1.5 cups chickpea flour
2.5 tsp salt
8 cups water, or more as needed
3/4 pound fresh rice vermicelli or soba noodles or 1/2 pound dried rice noodles
1/2 cup chopped coriander
Optional toppings and condiments:
About 1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts
1. Combine the chickpea flour and salt in a medium bowl and add 2 cups of the water. Whisk well to blend and to get rid of any lumps (if you are having difficulty getting it perfectly smooth, press it through a sieve). Set aside for the moment.
2. Bring the remaining 6 cups water to a boil in a wide heavy pot, then lower the heat to medium-high. Whisk the chickpea mixture one more time, then, using a wooden spoon, stir continuously as you slowly add it to the boiling water; the liquid will foam at first.
3. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring to ensure that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
4. After about 5 minutes the mixture will be smooth and silky, with a sheen to it, and thickened. Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring for another couple of minutes. (If you are not going to serve it immediately, cover tightly to prevent a skin forming and set aside. When you want to reheat it, add a little water to loosen it, since it will thicken as it cools, and heat over medium heat. Whisk a little as it heats to prevent lumps from forming.)
5. If serving noodles bring a pot of water to a boil and toss in the noodles: fresh ones will cook in 1 or 2 minutes; dried ones will take about 5 minutes. Lift the noodles out of the water and set aside.
6. Put out any or all of the suggested toppings and condiments, as you choose.
7. Serve the soup sprinkled with the coriander. Or, if serving the soup over noodles, place some noodles in each bowl, ladle the hot soup over, and sprinkle on the coriander.
Invite your guests to help themselves to the array of toppings and condiments, then stir it all together and eat with pleasure.
Note: If you have soup left over, pour it into a bowl and refrigerate. In a few hours, it will set into Shan tofu.
Makes about 1 ¾ cups
A standard hot sauce on tables in Burma, this condiment for every occasion is hot, tart with vinegar, and a little sweet. If possible, make it at least a day before you first want to serve it, because when you make it the sauce will seem watery, but it thickens and the flavours blend after a day.
I reach for this sauce whenever I am eating rice or noodles, and I drizzle it over fried eggs. It’s also a great complement to grilled meat and deep-fried snacks. Once you have a stash of it in your refrigerator, you’ll never want to bother with store-bought Sriracha or other commercial hot sauces again.
1 cup packed dried red chilis
¾ cup water
¼ cup coarsely chopped garlic
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup rice vinegar, or substitute apple cider vinegar
Market chili in Myanmar (Shutterstock)
1. Break the chilis in half, break off the stems, and empty out; if you wish, discard some or all of the seeds. Place the chili pieces in a small pot with the water. If your garlic is somewhat dried out and harsh-tasting (in the winter months), add it too.
2. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the chilis are softened and have swelled up a little. If your garlic is young and fresh, add it for the last minute of cooking.
3. Combine the chilis and garlic with their liquid, the fish sauce, and sugar in a food processor, and process or grind to a coarse paste; scrape down the sides of the processor bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula. Add the vinegar and process again.
4. Transfer to a clean, dry glass jar and store in the refrigerator, preferably for at least a day before using. It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
This dish can be cooked in a bowl set in a steamer or in a tightly covered pot. The chicken is chopped into small pieces, on the bone. It cooks more quickly than it would in large pieces, and more surface area is exposed to the flavour paste and the broth.
The chicken is rubbed with a flavour paste of garlic, ginger, ground coriander, turmeric, and dried red chilis. It steams in its own juices, emerging tender and succulent.
About 1.5lb chicken, chopped into about 15 pieces
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp salt
2 to 4 dried red chiles, seeded and minced
Scant 1 tsp ground coriander seed
¼ tsp turmeric
1 tbsp water, or as needed
1 tbsp peanut oil or vegetable oil, if slow-cooking
2 tbsp minced scallion greens or chopped coriander (optional)
Nyaung-U market, Myanmar (Shutterstock)
1. Rinse the chicken pieces, remove most of the skin, and set aside. Place the chicken in a wide bowl. Pound together the garlic, ginger, salt, chilis, coriander, and turmeric in a mortar to make a paste. Alternatively, mash the garlic and ginger with the side of a knife. Place in a small bowl, add the salt, chilis, coriander, and turmeric, and use the back of a spoon to blend them.
2. Stir the water into the paste, and add it to the chicken. Turn and mix the chicken and paste until the pieces are well coated. Set aside while you organise your cooking method.
3. If steaming the chicken: You need a shallow bowl that will fit into your steamer basket when the lid is on and that is large enough to hold all the chicken. You also need a pot that is just about the same diameter as your steamer, so that no steam escapes.
4. Pour about 3 inches water into the pot and set the steamer basket in the pot. Transfer the chicken and flavorings and the reserved skin to the wide shallow bowl and place in the steamer. Put on the steamer lid, then heat the water over high heat. When it comes to a strong boil, turn the heat down slightly. Steam the chicken until cooked through, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Check on it after 45 minutes: be careful as you lift off the lid not to burn yourself on the steam, then stir the chicken so that pieces that are underneath will be exposed to the hot steam. Cover again and resume steaming.
5. Check one of the largest pieces of chicken after an hour or so. Also check that the pot has enough water and is not running dry. When all the chicken is cooked through, remove the steamer from the pot, again taking care not to burn yourself on the steam.
6. If slow-cooking the chicken: Add 2 tablespoons more water and the oil to the chicken. Place in a wide heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, add the reserved skin, and stir to mix well. Place over medium-low heat, with the lid on, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 hour, or until all the chicken is cooked through. The chicken will be
bathed in a light sauce and will be tender and succulent.
To serve: Remove the skin and discard. Serve hot or at room temperature, topped, if you like, with a sprinkling of scallion greens or coriander.
These recipes have been extracted from Burma: River of Flavors by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books, £25). Copyright 2012. Photographs credited to Richard Jung.
Experiment with over 125 recipes in Burma: River of Flavors. Find out more about the book and order your copy online now.