Thursday, 29 August 2013

How to Make a Ramen Egg - Recipe (Hanjuku Egg, Nitamago, Ajitsuke Tamago)

Ramen egg in situ

People complain that it's hard to get around in Japan because you're literally lost in translation. This isn't true for a number of reasons which I won't go into now, but especially when it comes to food.

Most restaurants, even the high-end ones, have amazing plastic models in their windows called "sampuru" which show you pretty much exactly what you're going to get; when you get inside, the menus often contain pictures; and a lot of more casual places make you order in advance from a machine which has photos of all the dishes (it's a bit like buying a car park ticket, but what you get in return is a hell of a lot more fun).

Choosing noodle options in Osaka

I loved using these machines because you could easily build up the craziest order possible without any confusion - press this button for extra noodles, that button for tempura on the side - but my favourite button was the one which got you a ramen egg.

A ramen egg, if you're unaware, is the second most delicious soft-boiled egg in the world* in my opinion. 

Super-soft ramen egg

Also known as a hanjuku egg, ni-tamago or ajitsuke tamago, a ramen egg is soft-boiled so the white is cooked through, but the yolk remains molten (in fact some people refer to it as a lava egg or molten egg) and it's then marinated in a soy sauce mix.

A bowl of ramen in Japan just isn't right without one of these eggs, though it goes very well with other noodle dishes such as soba and udon, and it even makes a fantastic sandwich - just smush one down in some bread and butter.

Random Cooking
A firmer Ramen Egg


Makes 6
  • 6 eggs (I use Burford Browns for their gorgeous yolks)
For the marinade
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp mirin or dry sherry
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • Pinch of instant dashi/Marigold bouillon/MSG (optional)

Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl or jug and set to one side.

Soft-boil your eggs - I use this method. As soon as they are cool enough to touch, peel them very carefully, making sure you don't split the whites.

Random Cooking
Eggs in soy marinade

Place the peeled eggs in a large ziplock bag and pour the marinade on top. 

Roll the eggs around in the marinade, and then tie the bag tightly shut.

Random Cooking
Make sure the eggs are completely covered in marinade

Place the bag of eggs in a bowl and leave in the fridge overnight (turn them once though for even coverage). 

The next day, when you're ready to eat them - on noodles, on rice, in a sandwich, in a ramen burger - slice your ramen eggs in half and enjoy.

My friend Cherry from Feed The Tang even serves an amazing canapé at her supperclub Fed by Tang where she tops ramen eggs with ikura ie salmon roe - actual genius.

Heaven in egg form

*(the first being an onsen egg, recipe coming soon ...)

Monday, 26 August 2013

How to Make a Ramen Burger - Recipe

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Ramen Burgers

Hot on the heels of the food trend known as the cronut comes the Ramen Burger.

Made popular by Keizo Shimamoto, writer of the blog Go Ramen! and now ramen chef in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this culinary mash-up is a sister to MOS Burger's famous rice burger, this time using ramen noodles as the unlikely burger receptacle - ie the ramen is the burger bun.

And like MOS Burger, its roots come from Japan - unsurprising as Shimamoto, a second-generation American Japanese-American, ditched his career in finance to study the art of ramen in Tokyo itself.

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Looks good, huh?

The Japanese forerunner to the ramen burger is more traditional - all the usual elements are there, including cha shu pork, naruto fishcake, menma bamboo shoots, spring onions - portable ramen - whereas the American Ramen Burger is a proud fusion, much like Shimamoto himself.

The most famous of the old-school ramen burgers comes from Furusato-tei in Kitakata City, but the ramen burger in its present form was introduced to the world by fast food chain (and one of my favourites) Lotteria. And now Shimamoto has taken the idea and run with it, using 75% lean USDA prime beef and fresh ramen noodles from Sun Noodle, a leading US ramen maker.

My version takes the ramen burger back to Japan - using pork, Japanese mushrooms, spring onions, tonkatsu sauce and chilli oil. It's a bit of a faff, but I think it's worth the effort.


Serves 2


  • 2 individual packets of instant noodles (I like Koka Stir-fried flavour)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 egg, beaten with a tbsp water
  • 2 pork burgers
  • 1 eringi mushroom, sliced
  • 1 spring onions, green and white parts, shredded (I had Chinese chives too)
  • Tonkatsu sauce (buy ready-made or use my recipe here)
  • Chilli oil

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Instant noodle plus beaten egg

Slightly over-cook the noodles in boiling water for 6-8 minutes. Drain and mix in one of the seasoning sachet (there is usually one in each packet of noodles), plus the sesame oil. 

Let the noodles to cool for 5 minutes, then add the egg and stir through so that the noodles are coated. They will congeal - this is actually what you want. 

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Getting ready to shape the buns

Divide the noodles and pack into four ramekins, cooking rings, burger moulds or other round containers, lined with greaseproof paper. 

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Weighing down the buns

Place another circle of greaseproof paper on top of each noodle patty and then place a smaller container on top of this to press the patties down. 

I also weighed them each down with cans of beans. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Pressed noodle buns

When the time is up, you'll see that the noodles have formed patty shapes. 

Cook your burgers and mushrooms (I grilled the burgers and fried the mushrooms in a tbsp oil).

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Eringi mushroom, Spring Onions, Chinese chives

Heat a tbsp oil in a large frying pan on high till sizzling, and then turn down to a medium heat and fry the now-moulded noodle patties for three minutes on each side. 

Apart from flipping them once, do not be tempted to move the noodle patties - you want to avoid collapse, and they need to form a brown crust.

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Frying the pressed noodle buns

Flip the patties onto two plates, snipping off any rogue noodles if necessary.

Then fill each pair of patties with the burger, the mushrooms, spring onions, tonkatsu sauce, and chilli oil. 

Eat immediately.

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Ramen burger topped with spring onions, Chinese chives, chilli oil, and fried eringi mushroom

The noodle "buns" have a light toasted crust outside, but are still soft and yielding inside, rather like baked polenta. The texture works surprisingly well with the meat.

In future, I'd go even more traditional and use cha shu pork belly, or maybe left field with a crispy tonkatsu fillet.

I think it would also be great with pork belly, sweet peanuts and preserved mustard greens - the fillings for the Taiwanese pork bun, gua bao.

But I had the pork burgers to use, so hey.

Ramen Burger by meemalee
Let's see that again
Ramen Burger by meemalee
It holds together and is really rather good

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

I Don't Like Crickets ... Sous Chef and the Rentokil Restaurant

Bugs, Crickets, Grasshoppers
I have small hands and all

Growing up in Britain as a Burmese child was weird in a lot of ways.

One of these was that my diet was entirely Burmese at home. I didn't really cook or shop for food for myself till I was at college, so I genuinely never realised for example that asparagus made your wee smell (in fact, I used to think that there was something up with my future in-laws' plumbing, since their house was the only place I ate the stuff).

Bugs, Crickets, Grasshoppers
A plate of  fried crickets in Burma

And I didn't know that avocados could be savoury as I'd only had them in milkshakes and ice cream, and I only got to eat fish and chips from a bag when there was a power cut. I had my first McDonalds when I was 12 - and yet I had my first cricket when I was 8.

Crickets - those chirpy little beggars with too many legs and antennae. Known as payit in Burma, and sold on the streets of Mandalay and Yangon in huge bamboo trays, they were meaty and crunchy and incredibly delicious, fried in lashings of garlic, ginger and salt.

I knew that they weren't your usual snack - even I wasn't that dense - but, as the bugs were introduced to me at such a young age, I had no qualms at all at tucking in (and I'm still just as adventurous).

Bugs, Crickets, Grasshoppers
Cricket seller in Burma

So I was amused to see that Rentokil (yes, them) is running a one day pop-up restaurant at One New Change in London tomorrow from 10.30 am, exhorting people to try "BBQ grasshoppers and chocolate dipped bugs" amongst other things. There's no charge for the food either.

The Pestaurant (sic) has been billed as "exotic", which I guess is unsurprising as a large number of people in the UK still seems to think chicken on the bone is foreign, but if I was free during the day tomorrow, I'd obviously be there like a shot.

Bugs, Crickets, Grasshoppers
Rentokil Restaurant

If you're also intrigued by edible insects (they're a future food, after all) and you can't make it down there either, I have two suggestions for you:
  1. Visit Archipelago, the other bastion of edible creepy crawlies;
  2. Go online to Sous Chef and buy some bugs for yourself.

Now, Sous Chef is my new favourite website, supplying hard-to-find ingredients to the home chef - and amongst all the other culinary wonder, they've just started stocking fried grasshoppers called chapulines from Oaxaca, Mexico.

Bugs, Crickets, Grasshoppers
Wooden Tortoise is unimpressed

Of course, I couldn't resist ordering a pack. When they arrived though, I was a bit startled to find how tiny they were.

It's not just that the bugs were bigger because I was a wee lass - just look at the size of our Burmese crickets.

Bugs, Crickets, Grasshoppers
This is a normal sized man selling the crickets

Anyway, I shared the pack with my brother and my father, who agreed with me that, although fresh-fried crickets in Burma are the cricket connoisseur's choice, these Mexican grasshoppers weren't bad at all.

Fried in chilli and lemon, perhaps they're a little sour to eat by themselves, but I can see that ground up they'd make a lovely garnish to a salad (or the suggested fajitas) - rather like a more savoury sumac.

And of course you can also use them to freak other people out, like I did my nephew, though the niece was quite keen - she obviously takes after me.

Bugs, Crickets, Grasshoppers
I don't like crickets (I love them)

Monday, 12 August 2013

Shan-Burmese Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle Recipe

Spicy Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle - meemalee
Spicy Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle

Pickling is in my blood. As you know, I'm Burmese, but Burma aka Myanmar is made up of over 100 ethnic groups. A large part of me is Shan, one of the more prominent of these ethnic groups, who primarily live in a rural, hilly region in Burma known as the Shan State.

Traditionally tall and fair, and cousins to the Dai people in Thailand, the Shan are rather fond of pickles (and noodles, and pork - often the three in combination).

All manner of Shan pickles for sale in Mandalay

The classic Shan pickle is mohnyin-tjin, but as wonderful as this is, it takes a little effort and patience to make (by patience, I mean at least a week, kimchi-style). 

This recipe is for one of my favourite overnight pickles, using cauliflower and carrot, both of which are hard to come by in lower Burma, but plentiful in the Shan State.

Spicy Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle - meemalee

Though of course carrots and cauliflowers aren't rare in the UK, you may not find the pickling spice Shan hnan ("Shan sesame") in this country - although if someone can look at the photo below and let me know if you can get it here and what it's called, that would be brilliant.

I find however that black mustard seed is an excellent substitute in terms of both texture and flavour.

Spicy Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle - meemalee
Shan hnan ("Shan sesame")

The vinegar that's traditionally used is a sweetish by-product from palm toddy-making, but malt vinegar works well instead.

Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle
Shan Hbun-Mohnlar Kar-Jet-Oo A Tchin


  • 1 large cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
  • 1 heaped tbsp caster sugar
  • Malt vinegar
  • 1 inch knob of fresh ginger root, skin on
  • 6 cloves of garlic, skin on
  • Groundnut or other neutral oil
  • 1 heaped tbsp chilli powder
  • Large handful of black mustard seeds

Put the cauliflower and carrots in a large non-reactive bowl with the sugar and just enough vinegar to moisten ie as if you're dressing a salad. 

Mix everything well, cover and leave overnight in the fridge.

Spicy Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle - meemalee
Carrots and cauliflower pickling in sugar and vinegar

Remove the bowl of carrots and cauliflower from the fridge and have it ready next to the hob.

Chop the garlic and ginger roughly, leaving the skin on. Part of the flavour of this pickle comes from the skin - you can pick the bits out afterwards.

Spicy Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle - meemalee
Chopped garlic and ginger with the skin left on deliberately

Heat a few millimetres depth of oil in a large frying pan on high till it sizzles, and add the ginger and garlic. 

Fry for a minute, and then add the chilli powder and the mustard seeds and stir-fry for another minute. 

Spicy Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle - meemalee
Garlic and ginger sizzling in hot oil

At this point the seeds should start to pop and dance in the pan a little bit, and everything should smell fragrant.

Pick up the frying pan with both hands and pour the sizzling oil and all the bits in it onto the cauliflower and carrot.

Shan cauliflower and carrot pickle - meemalee
Mustard seeds popping in the hot oil

Mix thoroughly to "cook" the pickled vegetables.

Your spicy Shan cauliflower and carrot pickle is immediately ready to eat. It will keep in a jar or sealed Tupperware for a couple of days, but then will lose its crunch.

Spicy Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle - meemalee
Mixed pickle

This Shan pickle is traditionally eaten in Burma with noodles and rice, but it also works in sandwiches and with hot and cold meats. 

Think of it as a type of piccalilli or relish - you can have it as part of a ploughman's lunch, with a pork pie, on a hot dog, in a burger ...

Spicy Shan Cauliflower and Carrot Pickle - meemalee
Doesn't last long in my house

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Burmese Rainbow Salad Recipe - Let Thohk Sohn

Let Thohk Sohn (Let Thoke Sone)

A friend of mine was mocking the recent craze for food mash-ups - cronuts, doissants, townies, what have you. She suggested the world should come up with a dish combining noodles and rice called "nice", so I mentioned to her that us Burmese already have a dish comprising rice, noodles AND potatoes (the Atkin's diet was never going to work in Burma).

This triple-carb beauty is called let thohk sohn (or let thoke sone) which literally means "hand-tossed everything", but I've seen it called "rainbow salad" which, to be fair, makes for pleasanter nomenclature. Let thohk sohn is perfect picnic fare, as well as a pretty awesome desk lunch.

Let Thohk Sohn (Let Thoke Sone)
Triple carb joy, plus some carrots and white cabbage

Eaten cold or at room temperature, it's technically a salad (the Burmese for salad is "a-thohk" ie "tossed"), but its flavours and textures make it as far from a droopy bunch of green leaves as you can possibly imagine.

In Burma, you'll see let thohk sohn for sale by gaon ywet thair - vendors who walk along the streets as they carry all the equipment and ingredients on their head. 

If you call them over, these "head sellers" will gladly bring down and unwrap the packages that they balance so skilfully, and prepare you a fresh portion on the spot. You can ask them to leave out any ingredient you're not keen on (carrots are rare and some Burmese don't like them), or ask for more of another and they're always happy to oblige.



Let thohk sohn is also served more prosaically at roadside stalls and tea shops, with a cup of steaming Burmese green tea called yay nway jun, and a dish of fritters on the side.

The salad contains one special ingredient called be bohk in Burmese (literally "rotten beans"), a thin, dried, pressed cake of fermented soybeans which is known by the Shan and in northern Thailand as tua nao. You can buy it online, but I've suggested an easy alternative below.

Let Thohk Sohn (Let Thoke Sone)
Be Bohk aka Tua Nao

In Yangon, they like to use another special ingredient as well - called jaok pwint (literally "stone flower"), it's a type of white seaweed - unfortunately I've no idea what the English name is, and I've never come across it here ...

You can serve let thohk sohn in two ways - either ready-mixed or with all the ingredients in small dishes for diners to help themselves (see below).

It's much more fun to DIY though - the Burmese way with a lot of dishes is to adjust according to taste - wanting a bit more salt here, or a bit more sourness there - and you can get stuck right in yourself (remember it's called "hand-tossed everything").

Let Thohk Sohn (Let Thoke Sone)
Condiments for Let Thohk Sohn

Let Thohk Sohn - Burmese Rainbow Salad

Serves 4-6


  • 200g bean thread noodle/mung bean vermicelli
  • 200g rice (uncooked, dry weight)
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste or 1 inch cube of tamarind block
  • 2 medium floury potatoes, peeled 
  • 4 tbsp gram/chickpea flour
  • 1 disc of be bohk/tua nao or 1 tbsp tahini mixed with 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 handfuls of raw peanuts, skin on
  • Handful of dried shrimp
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
  • 2 white cabbage leaves, julienned
  • Half a green papaya, peeled and julienned (optional)
  • Coriander leaves to garnish
  • Crispy onions to garnish
  • Chilli oil to garnish
  • Groundnut oil or other neutral oil
  • Fish sauce

Cook the noodles according to instructions, drain and set to one side.

Cook the rice, but add the tomato purée to the cooking water first - this dyes the rice red and adds a hint of tomato flavour.

If using a tamarind block, soak the cube in 200ml boiling water until it breaks down into a liquid (takes at least 30 minutes); remove the stones and the fibrous bits.

Boil the potatoes and slice into fat discs. Set to one side.

Let Thohk Sohn (Let Thoke Sone)
Main components of Let Thohk Sohn

Toast the gram flour by tossing in a dry frying pan on a medium-high heat till it smells fragrant (about 5 minutes) and set to one side.

If using the be bohk/tua nao, toast by tossing in the same dry frying pan on a medium-high heat till it smells fragrant (about 5 minutes), grind into a powder using a pestle and mortar, and set to one side.

Grind the dried shrimp into a powdery fluff using a blender (or a pestle and mortar though this will require some effort).

Fry the peanuts by tossing in a tbsp of oil on a high heat in the same frying pan until they smell fragrant (about 10 minutes) and the skins become dark red and shiny. When they cool down, they should be good and crunchy. Set to one side.

Now the fun bit - get a big salad bowl or mixing bowl, throw everything in, add a glug each of groundnut oil and fish sauce (just enough for moisture), get stuck in with your hands and mix lightly together. If you're going DIY, just add a little bit of everything to your bowl, plus a tbsp of oil and a tbsp of fish sauce and mix.

You can serve let thohk sohn immediately, or keep for a few hours covered in the fridge or in a cool bag. Hand-tossed everything, indeed.

Let Thohk Sohn (Let Thoke Sone)