Sunday, 19 May 2013

Burmese Creamed Corn with Fried Onions

Creamed Corn 02
Burmese Style Creamed Corn with Fried Onions

Like many South East Asian countries, dairy isn't a big thing in Burma. A number of factors are involved: little pastoral land, a historical lack of refrigeration, and a respect for cattle in agriculture - milk is considered to be for the calves; cows and bulls are part of a Burmese farmer's family.

In fact, for a long time I never realised that, although scarce and extremely expensive, milk and butter *was* actually available for those in the know. Until 20 or so years ago, there were no supermarkets in Burma, and food was always bought daily - fresh from open-air markets so early in the morning I was usually still in bed. 

We even used to pack Lurpak in our suitcase for my grandparents in Mandalay - frozen and quadruple-wrapped in tin foil along with a tub of Brylcreem and a fruit cake and countless bars of Dairy Milk (my grandparents have since passed away, but we still take chocolate for the rest of the family every time we go home).

One day though - this is 15 years ago now - as I was tinkering with a radio in my aunt's house in Yangon, the doorbell rang and my cousin ran to the door. She came back holding a large steel mug, the contents of which she emptied into a small saucepan and began to heat.

"Who was that? What is that?" I asked.

"The noh(t) galah. It's milk", she replied.

"Noh(t) galah" literally means "milk Indian", and I found out afterwards from my mum that ever since she was little, the only dairy farmers in Burma were Indian, and so the genuine Burmese word for "milkman" was milk-Indian.

"Why are you heating it? D'you like it warm?"

"No, you plum. I'm boiling it to make it safe".

"Oh". That was me told.

Anyway, my cousin was fairly unusual in liking "real" milk in her coffee. Most of the rest of the Burmese world preferred those 3-in-1 packet mixes with coffee, creamer, sugar combined, though sometimes they'd add a dollop of condensed milk for good luck (known as noh(t)-zee).

My dad remembers seeing a huge condensed milk factory in Maymyo, just beyond Mandalay - condensed milk was also used in Burma to make ice cream and Indian sweets and puddings, and at least one of my other cousins was known to squeeze it neat into her mouth - sometimes it came in tubes.

Such was the desire for condensed milk, it even cropped up in savoury recipes - for example in ohn-no khao swe noodles, partly in the wrong-headed belief that it was somehow much healthier than coconut milk.

Condensed milk also appears in this recipe below for Burmese creamed corn - and although I'm not sweet-toothed, I used to hoover this stuff up as a child. 

Use double cream instead if you really must, but it's worth trying the way it should be - pure comfort food.

Creamed Corn 01

Burmese-Style Creamed Corn
Byaon-bu Jaw

Serves 4 as a side dish
  • 250g tin (or approx weight) of sweetcorn in unsalted, unsweetened water
  • Equal amount of frozen sweetcorn kernels
  • 2 medium white onions
  • 1 heaped tbsp tapioca flour mixed to a paste with cold water
  • 1 tbsp condensed milk or double cream

For the fried onion garnish

Finely slice one onion and then squeeze the slices with your hands so you get as much juice/liquid out as possible and discard this juice (I find if you can microwave the slices for a minute, this makes the job much easier). 

Fry the onion slices in a little groundnut or other plain oil for 15 minutes on a medium heat, and then 5 minutes on high so they brown and crisp up a little. 

This will make more fried onions than needed for this dish, but they make a good garnish generally - on noodles and salads for example.

For the creamed corn

The two types of corn are necessary to get the right texture to resemble Burmese sweetcorn.

Blitz the sweetcorn (including the liquid from the can) with a blender or mini-chopper till most of the kernels break down into a mush.

Dice the other onion and fry the pieces in groundnut or other plain oil in a wok or frying pan for 10 minutes on a medium heat till they become translucent. 

Add the blitzed sweetcorn, the tapioca flour and the cream or condensed milk, mix thoroughly and fry for another 10 minutes.

Top with the fried onions and serve warm as a side dish - as in the photo above, it makes a good accompaniment to Burmese egg curry and rice (recipe here) or even as a topping for toast.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Gong Bao Chicken, Burmese Style

Gong Bao or Kung Pao Chicken

As a child, my musical tastes were dictated by my parents. Having arrived in the UK just before I was born, their choices largely consisted of the "safe" Western music that had been allowed into Burma - for example, ABBA, Andy Williams and a certain Cliff Richard - as well as old-time Burmese songs dating from before World War II as far as I could tell.

Later on however, as we kept in touch with the family back home, our playlists began to be dominated by a man called Zaw Win Htut

I say 'a man' - he was (and still is) vaunted as a rock legend - a Burmese Bruce Springsteen at the height of his powers. I adored every single one of his songs - the ballads and the anthems - and I would lustily yell along to the many tapes we brought back from our visits to the old country.

One fine day here though, I remember very clearly we were in the car on the way to see some cousins. We had the radio on for once, and suddenly the voice of John Lennon filled the air. 

Confusion clouded my features, till I unwrinkled my brow and suddenly yelped, "Hey, this is a cover of one of Zaw Win Htut's songs. I never realised he was so famous".

Of course, I was wrong. In fact, this was just the first time I'd heard the original version of "The Ballad of John and Yoko". Zaw Win Htut's version was the cover, not The Beatles'.

The Beatles with The Ballad of John and Yoko

Zaw Win Htut's cover of The Ballad of John and Yoko

My youthful world came tumbling down*

"Cocaine" was actually an Eric Clapton song. "The First Cut is the Deepest", a Rod Stewart number.
And a few years later, I had another rude epiphany when I finally twigged that one of my favourite dishes jet thar gohn baon-ji jaw was actually a culinary cover version of the Szechuan / Sichuan dish gong bao chicken (or Kung Pow as the Americans would have it).

But you know what? I still prefer Zaw Win Htut, and I still prefer this Burmese version of gong bao chicken. 

Neither may be as edgy as the original, but there's a sweetness to both that is irresistible.

Je(t)-thar Goh(n) Bao(n)-ji Jaw 
(Burmese Kung Pao Chicken)

Serves 4-6

  • 1 kg boneless chicken thighs, sliced into 1 inch long strips (remove the skin and use for cock scratchings)
  • 2 medium white onions, diced into large wedges/chunks 
  • Handful of chopped spring onions
  • 4 dried fat red chillies (smoky is good - all Oriental supermarkets sell in bags)
  • 4 thick slices of ginger (50p size), peeled
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce 
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce 
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Pinch of MSG or 1 tsp Marigold bouillon

Heat the oil and fry the chillies till they become smoky and fragrant and then set aside. 

Add the sugar to the oil and reheat. Add the chicken and fry until all the liquid that comes out of the meat is reduced to a sticky sauce. 

Next add the ginger, onions, MSG if using, dark and light soy sauce and then stir-fry for another 5 minutes.

Make sure the onion chunks retain some bite - you don't want them to brown or become translucent.

Sprinkle with the spring onions and serve immediately with steamed rice.

Zaw Win Htut's cover of The First Cut is the Deepest

*As an interesting side-note, Zaw Win Htut's Wikipedia entry states "[l]ike most Burmese pop singers, Zaw Win Htut became famous with Burmese language covers of foreign (mostly Western rock and pop) hits" but unlike most he "was actually embarrassed about it" saying that singing those songs was "like wearing someone else's shirt".

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Magnum and Cornetto Chocolates Review - They're Teeny Tiny

WallsChocs 001
Magnum Chocolates and Cornetto Chocolates from Wall's

Much as I hate to admit it, I'm a sucker for a gimmick, especially the type sitting at the checkout at your local supermarket (yes, I know they're aimed at children, but I'm a creature of childish impulse). 

I saw these new chocolates from Wall's Ice Cream, and obviously I couldn't resist chucking a couple in my basket.

The Magnum ones first - you get three in a packet and they really do look like tiny Magnum bars. Each one is a couple of centimetres long - about the size of a large lozenge.

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It's a Magnum, but tiny

When you bite into the chocolate, there's fluffy vanilla cream inside (bit like creme patissiere).

The taste and texture is about as close to ice cream as not-ice cream can get, though a little artificial.

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The Cornetto next. I like how there's a big warning at the top saying "No ice cream included". 

When you unwrap the silver foil, it's quite impressive how it is just a mini Cornetto. Though maybe I'm easily pleased.

WallsChocs 003

The same fluffy vanilla cream can be found inside when you bite off the top.

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Whipped fluffiness

What I really like though is that they've even bothered to include the "secret" chocolate tip.

WallsChocs 006
Money shot

Anyway, either of these can be yours for 65p, which seems like daylight robbery to me but then a standard chocolate bar costs that amount these days. I don't know.

At least these are more entertaining than a Dairy Milk.