[Sca-cooks] Burmese curry, was Why *X* and not *Y*?

Lilinah lilinah at earthlink.net
Sat Aug 2 14:36:15 PDT 2008

>I've never had a Burmese curry...just Japanese, and East Indian, and Thai.
>What makes it specifically Burmese?
>--M, definitely working up a curry jones...

Well, i think in many cases the word "curry" is used in English as a 
way to convey to English-speakers that the dish (or the cuisine in 
general) contains a blend of spices, although the spice blend in 
those cultures is NOT called "curry".

The word for the spice blend in Thailand is kaeng (variously 
Romanized). The word "curry" is used only as a convenience for 
non-Thais. Thai spice blends are generally nothing like Indian spice 
blends, except the one called in Romanized Thai: kaeng kari, i.e. 
kaeng "curry"...

What often passes for "curry" in Japan and China (as least in my 
experience eating the two cuisines in the US and in Japan) is an 
awful lot like US yellow curry powder. Not high on my list of 
preferred foods.

Indian cuisine is so vast and varied that i don't feel the need to 
eat Japanese or Chinese dishes mixed with standard yellow curry 
powder - i'd rather continue to explore Indian cuisine. And Chinese 
cuisine is so vast and varied that i don't feel the need to eat 
Chinese dishes made with standard yellow curry powder. YMMV.

As for Burmese "curry" - well, there is some Indian influence on 
Burmese cuisine, in some dishes. But Burmese food (in my experience 
with several Burmese cookbooks and in several local Burmese 
restaurants) is quite unlike anything Indian. Basically, Burmese food 
is closer to other Southeast Asian cuisines than it is to Indian.

As Adamantius pointed out, the basis of most dishes is a puree of 
garlic and ginger, sometimes with onions as well. In Indonesia they 
use shallots which are cheap there, i'm not sure what's used in Burma 
- using common onions here, one needs to cook them for some time 
first so that most of the moisture cooks out, before incorporating 
the garlic and ginger.

Slices of garlic and small slices of onion are often deep fried until 
crispy and used to dress dishes shortly before serving.

Sesame seeds show up a bit.
And sesame oil is often used for cooking and flavor (the light kind 
as is used in 'Abbasid cuisine, NOT the dark roasted East Asian kind).

I enjoy the young tea leaf salad, which includes crispy garlic 
chips,deep-fried  lentils, shrimp powder, chilis, roasted grated 
coconut, and other condiments eaten rolled in the young tea leaves

Turmeric shows up sometimes - but bear in mind that in Burma (as in 
Thailand and Indonesia, and, i guess India, although i haven't been 
there) turmeric is used fresh, not dried.
Lemon grass is also used quite a bit, as it is in Thai cuisine.

But for the most part, Burmese dishes do not have the extent of 
complexity of spicing as Indian and Thai dishes, as different as 
those two are from each other.

Burmese cuisine tends to a bit sour, due to tomatoes, tamarind, and 
citrus juices, sometimes all in one dish.
Powdered dried shrimp are often incorporated into what will become 
the sauce, and into other dishes as a main ingredient.
The resulting "sauce" is rather liquid, not thick as it often is in 
Indian food.

Fish sauce (nam pya ye) is used with some frequency, although perhaps 
not quite as much as in Thai cuisine.
Shrimp paste, used in Thai and Malay and Indonesian food, features in 
some Burmese dishes.
And dishes are often a bit salty, through the use of fish sauce, 
shrimp paste, soy sauce, and salt, sometimes at least three of these 
in a single dish. Since it's meant to be eaten over rice, the rice 
absorbs some of the salt. Plus salty food can be a good thing in a 
hot and humid climate (like the Pennsic? or summer in NYC?)

The primary "meat" is fish and seafood - there are some big rivers in 
Burma - and i suspect there is also aquaculture in flooded rice 
fields, as there is in Indonesia. Of course other animals show up, 
although not quite as often. Since pigs and chickens are pretty much 
indigenous, they are there, but most Burmese are Buddhists and don't 
eat a lot of red meat, and some are Muslim, so no pork.

At the moment, I can't find my first Burmese cookbook, "Cook and 
Entertain the Burmese Way" by Mi Mi Khaing (late 1970s), i know it's 
here somewhere. But there's an excellent section in Charmaine 
Soloman's Complete Asian Cookbook - title's a bit of hyperbole, but 
it's an excellent book!! The author is Sri Lankan and her husband is 
Burmese, so she got Burmese recipes from her in-laws.

And there's also "The Burmese Kitchen" by Copeland Marks and Aung 
Thein (1987), which may be the book Adamantius referred to.

I see a couple other Burmese cookbooks on Amazon, but i am not 
familiar with either:
- "Food of Burma: Authentic Recipes from the Land of the Golden 
Pagodas", which a couple actually Burmese reviewers said was quite 
authentic, but is unfortunately out of print, and rather expensive 
- "Flavors of Burma":
Here are three recipes from the latter cookbook

And here's another Burmese recipe from someone's blog
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

My LibraryThing

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