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.
|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.
|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").
|Condiments for Let Thohk Sohn|
Let Thohk Sohn - Burmese Rainbow Salad
- 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.
|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.