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Diverse Borders Bring Intense Flavors to Burmese Cuisine

At the intersection of its many flavor-rich borders comes the dynamic cuisine of Burma. It’s tough to get away with salad as a major selling point, but Burmese cuisine manages to do it with style. Which makes more sense when you consider that Burmese salads feature ingredients like crunchy roasted peanuts, dried shrimp, and crispy beans and seeds. Not the delicate salads of your neighborhood cafe, these are hearty, sumptuous dishes that can pull their weight as entrees. The popular tea leaf salad is named for its pickled tea leaves or “lahpet,” an ingredient that is not only unique to Burma but its beloved national delicacy. Even the serving style is unique – traditionally the lahpet is placed in the center and surrounded by piles of the other ingredients, with diners hand-tossing it as they eat. In San Francisco you’re more likely to find the local additions of lettuce and tomato, which Chef Ma incorporates into her tea leaf salad along with jalapeños and red onion.

But salad is just one component of Burmese cuisine. Heavier dishes feature staple ingredients like fish, ngapi (shrimp or fish paste), and rice. The national dish, Mohinga soup, includes all of these, and at least a dozen more. It’s traditionally eaten for breakfast, but with main components like catfish and vermicelli or additions like hardboiled eggs and chickpea fritters, it’s a popular course throughout the day. Burma, now known as Myanmar, is bordered by five other counties, so Burmese versions of dishes like Indian biryani, Chinese stir-fry, and Thai fried insect snacks are prevalent. All of these influences result in a cuisine that is diverse and dynamic, even resisting attempts to be constrained by formal recipes. And no two chefs cook it exactly the same way. The timing is often more important than the specific ingredients, and, like Feastly’s Chef Ma can tell you, some dishes take days of simmering and stewing to take on their full flavors. And the effort is worth it, because with so many contrasting textures and flavors tossed into heaping bowls, you’re bound to come away surprised, satisfied, and very, very full.

See Burmese Meals by Chef Ma in San Francisco

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