Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Burmese Way With Noodles

The Burmese have interesting noodle dishes, using many of the ingredients that other Asian countries do, but with a few local touches that result in distinctive flavours. As with all dishes, these too have many versions and the ones I have eaten in Burma (Myanmar) to me seem tastier than the reproductions elsewhere. I was often served Mohinga for breakfast - an involved affair that used catfish, fish sauce, shrimp paste, ground peanuts, spices, rice and gram flours to make a thick broth. This was served along with rice noodles, eggs, lime, coriander (cilantro) leaves and bean crackers and was a very wholesome, delicious morning meal. Then there were the Shan rice noodles, served with a meaty pork broth over which were sprinkled golden bits of fried garlic, white and green spring onion slivers and fragrant green coriander.

One of the better known Burmese one-meal dishes is the Burmese Chicken Noodles, called Oh-no Khaukswe (or Kaukswe or Khau swe). This is a rich chicken-coconut milk soup into which are added boiled wheat noodles, bits of chopped chicken, eggs, spring onion greens, chilly powder, raw, sliced onions, lime juice and/or fried rice vermicelli depending on one's personal preferences.

I have found this to be a very popular party dish as the ingredients themselves are delicious and people seem to enjoy putting their meal together in a sense. Much of the work can be done before hand except for prepaing the accompaniments, which I prefer to do a few hours before serving. I give below a recipe modified from Mi Mi Khaing's book (Cook and Entertain the Burmese Way) along with notes about the original recipe. I modified this to make a slightly lighter, vegetarian version of the soup and to increase the variety of accompaniments. This gives it more versatility as a party dish. The left overs last for at least a week in the refrigerator, it's one of my favourite party options for all these reasons. This makes about 20-24 cups of soup depending on how thick you like it (enough for 15-20 servings).

Ingredients for the soup:

3 coconuts, grated, from which coconut milk has been extracted or
3 cups thick coconut milk and about 4-5 cups thin coconut milk or
7-8 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups minced or ground onions
1/2 cup minced or ground garlic

12-16 cups water

3/4 cup gram flour (called besan in India, a pale yellow coloured flour)

oil to fry the onion and garlic (about 1/2 cup)

1/2 tsp turmeric
salt to taste


In a large pan, heat the oil till a faint haze appears. Add the onions and garlic, fry till pale brown. Add the thin coconut milk. Make a paste of the besan using about 2 cups of water and slowly stir it into the mixture in the pan. Add the remaining water, turmeric powder and salt. When the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat to low, add the thick coconut milk and let it simmer for about 5-10 minutes till it is of the desired consistency. Remove from heat. This is ready to serve and can also be stored in the refrigerator and reheated.

Accompaniments (you can select from amongst these, the boiled noodles are essential):

Boiled wheat noodles
Boiled eggs, chopped
Pan fried, sliced baby corn
Fried, finely sliced okra (ladies finger)
Pan fried, chopped prawns
Boiled chicken, chopped
Chopped spring onion greens
Wedges of lime or lemon
Chopped coriander (cilantro) greens
Raw or fried sliced onions (I prefer fried)
Fried chopped garlic
Fried and pounded red chillies
Fried rice vermicelli

A smile(essential)!

Note: The original recipe involves cutting a 3 1/2 pound (about 1 1/2 kg.) chicken into pieces, rubbing it with turmeric, boiling it in water for about 20 minutes or until cooked. The chicken pieces are removed from the water, the meat taken out, the bones smashed and reboiled with the water to get a rich stock which is strained and used (instead of the water that I use in my recipe). About 2 tablespoons of fish sauce are added towards the end of the final cooking. The boiled, shredded chicken is served along with the soup.

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