The national dish of Burma is called mohinga, a kind of fish chowder with lemongrass and banana stem that's served over rice vermicelli noodles. But arguably the most famous Burmese dish is one called ohn-no khao swè - Coconut Chicken Noodles.
The reason for this is that ohn-no khao swè is generally considered the predecessor of the famous Northern Thai noodle dish Khao Soi - a dish so beloved that it has spawned its own fan sites and even essays.
Apparently "khao soi" doesn't actually mean anything in Thai, so it's very likely that the name is just a derivation of khao swè, the Burmese word for "noodles", which literally means "fold pull" ie the method for making noodles.
To add support to this theory, outside of Burma, ohn-no khao swè is also known as khao sway, khauk swe, khaot swe and my absolute favourite, cow suey. That's what happens when you try to transliterate a non-Roman language like Burmese.
"Ohn-No Khao Swè" literally means "Coconut Milk Noodles" (and then you get into all kinds of murky cultural metonymy, as "No" not only means "milk" but also "breast" in Burmese), but the protein which is generally used is chicken, hence my paraphrase of Coconut Chicken Noodles.
This is a wonderfully subtle, lightly curried dish, vaguely like laksa but comforting and flavoursome without whacking you in the face. Of course, you can also adjust the seasoning to taste - adding more fish sauce, squeezing more lime or sprinkling more chilli at the table.
Which reminds me, ohn-no khao swè will also go down in my personal history as the dish that I cooked for John and Gregg at the Miele MasterChef Cook-off - happy days ...
Ohn No Khao Swè - Burmese Coconut Chicken NoodlesServes 4
- 3 medium white onions
- 1/2 inch chunk of ginger, skinned
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 2 shallots or 1 small red onion
- 2 spring onions
- 250g egg or wheat noodles (standard packet)
- 4 deboned chicken thighs
- 2 tbsp gram flour
- 200 ml coconut milk
- Small handful of dried flat rice noodles aka rice sticks
- 3 tbsp chilli flakes
- 3 tbsp paprika
- 1 lime, sliced into wedges
- 2 eggs
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- Fish sauce
- Vegetable oil
Slice the chicken thighs into small strips. Mix chilli flakes, 1 tbsp paprika and a little salt in a heatproof cup.
Whisk the gram flour with 100 ml cold water and then add to the pan of sweated onions. Add four dashes of fish sauce and the stock cube. Bring to a simmer and then top up with 500 ml cold water. Bring the broth back to a simmer.
Heat a 2 inch depth of vegetable oil in a small frying-pan/wok. When it's hot (you'll feel a wave of heat coming off the top), ladle a few spoonfuls of the oil over the chilli flake mix so it sizzles and becomes fragrant. Set the toasted chilli oil to one side.
Next, snap the dried rice noodles straight into the hot oil so they puff up, and then use a slotted spoon to fish out the now-crispy rice noodles onto some kitchen towel. Turn off the heat and pour away most of the oil from the frying-pan, reserving about a tbsp.
Boil the egg/wheat noodles and drain. Soft-boil the eggs and slice into wedges. Slice shallots/red onion finely and soak in some cold water.
Reheat the frying-pan/wok which has the tbsp of oil, and add the minced garlic, ginger, onion, spring onion. Add the chicken and 1 tbsp paprika, and stir-fry the lot till browned.
Add the coconut milk and the last tbsp of paprika to the saucepan of broth. Lob in the stir-fried chicken and bring to a simmer.
Place the egg/wheat noodles in bowl, then ladle the chicken broth over. Top with the sliced shallots, the eggs and the crispy rice noodle garnish.
Add another dash of fish sauce, and serve with the toasted chilli for sprinkling and a fat wedge of lime for squeezing.