Food writer MiMi Aye talks Burmese cuisine: 'We don't do dull'

MiMiAyeisa‘thirdculturekid’.BorninBritain(Margate,specifically)toBurmeseparents,thehomecookandcookerybookauthorsays:“Ihavemyfootinbothworlds,andIalwayshavedone.”

ShewasbroughtupeatingBurmesefood,speakingBurmese,wearingBurmeseclothingandvisitingBurmafromageeightonwards,wheremostofherfamilystilllive.

However,sheisadamantthatwhilethefoodinherlatestrecipecollection,Mandalay:RecipesAndTalesFromABurmeseKitchen–itsjacketaspectacularsunshineyellow,decoratedwiththeprintofaspecialoccasionsarong(“asignofwomen”)–“ispartofme,it’sverypersonal”,thebookis“notanostalgiatrip”.

bloomsburycooksFishcakeinasalad?Staywithus....andwaittilyoutrythisrecipefrom@meemalee'snewBurmesecookbook#Mandalay.ThecombinationofcrispynoodlesandcrunchyvegwiththesofterAsian-stylefishcakesorballsmakeforonefascinatingandtastydish!by@crisbarnettPre-orderlinkinbio!

NeitherisitacomprehensivedirectoryofeverydishyoumightcomeacrossinBurma.That,Ayesays,wouldbeimpossible.“Burmaisahugecountry,”sheexplains,notinghowdisparateitis,beinghometoaround130differentethnicgroups.Wholeswathesofitarealsouninhabitableandtravelisoftenverydifficult,meaningthereare“pocketsofpeopleeverywhere”allwiththeirownregionaldishes,theirownsourcesofproduceandtheirowninfluences,fromIndia,Thailand,Chinaandmore.

“Wecherry-pickallthestuffwelikebest,”saysAyehappily.Assuch,sheconsidersherownfood–andthefoodsharedinMandalay–asfairlymainstreamBurmeseandsaysupfront:“IamnotanexpertonBurmesefood;Iwouldn’tsayI’manauthorityeither–I’mageek.IprobablyknowmoreaboutitthanmostpeopleintheWesternspeakingworld,butIonlyknowafractionofBurmesecuisine.

“IjustcookwhatIknow,whatIlike,”addsAye,40,andshe’sclearthatshehasn’tmadeanyconcessionstotheWesternpalate.So,ifyou’reentirelynewtoBurmeseflavoursandingredients,Mandalayistheidealgateway–andgettingyourheadaroundtextureiscrucial.Texture(alongsidefriedfoodandpork)is“big”whenitcomestoBurmesefood.

“Youneedcrunchandcontrast,that’ssomethingwehaveineverything,”saysAye.“Ifyouhaveacurry,thecurrymightbequitesoft,butyoustillneedsomethingontheside,soyou’dhavefrittersforcrunchorasidesalad,becauseyouwantamix.

meemaleeMandalayBlackGramFritters(MandalayBayaKyaw/MatpeKyaw)-thesealsowentdownatreatwithadippingsauceknownasChin-Ngan-Sat(Sour,Salty,Hot).In#MandalayBookoutintwoweeks!

“Everytimeyouhaveascoopofrice,youputadifferentmorselinwithit.”Aonedish,onebowldinnerisnot‘theone’inBurmesecuisine.“That’sdull,”saysAyewithalaugh,“andwedon’tdodull.”

Aye,atrainedlawyerwholivesinKentwithherhusbandandtwochildren,began“shoutingabout”Burmesefood10yearsago.Herblog(meemalee.com)startedoutasaplacetopokefunatMasterChef(“Itjustmademelaughsomuch”),andhadAyefreeze-framingherTV,snappingtheMasterChefcontestants’mostamusingfacesandthenuploadingthemtotheinternet.Oldschool.

ButassheincreasinglybranchedoutontoTwitter,shebegantoreceivequestionsaboutBurmesefood–andcouldn’tnotgetstuckinwithreplying.Itledtosupperclubsandfurtherblogposts,andthenAye’sfirstcookbook,Noodle!

Sincethen,shesays,Burmesefoodhasbecomemorewellknownoverhere,butit’sasuptoBurmesepeople“tofindconfidence”inthecuisine,asitisforthoseoutsidetheculturetoembraceit.

cheftimandersonAnotherwonderfullunchby@meemalee,thistime#mandalaymeeshaynoodlesand#falooda,bothinhernewcookbook#mandalaybook.Thisfoodisamazingandsoisthebook,Icannotwaittogetcookingfromit!#burmesefood#meeshay#noodles#burmesecuisine#burmesenoodles

“InBurmeseculture,wehavethisthingthatalotofAsiancountrieshave,”explainsAye,wryly.“Youshouldbeadoctor,alawyer,oranengineer–andeverythingelseisadisgrace.

“Cookingwasahobby,”shecontinues.“It’snotsomethingyou’ddoprofessionally.

“There’sabitofabarrierinthatrespectforpeoplethatarehere,becausewethink,‘Thefood’samazing,butshouldwebedoingthat?Wouldpeoplecare?’”

Fortunately,theyoungerBurmesecontingentinBritainarestartingtoopenrestaurantsandshareBurmeserecipes.“It’sahangoverthatwehave,butwe’rebreakingthroughthat,”addsAye.

ppgettinsHere’sthefinishedLimeLeafBeef(AmeTharPyoteKyaw),everybitasdeliciousashoped.Wasalmostasgoodinthemaking-aromastookmestraightbacktothestreetfoodofYangon&Mandalay.#BurmeseFood#MandalayBook@meemalee

AnotherhangoverAyeisallforeliminatingisthemisconceptionsmanyofushavearoundmonosodiumglutamate(MSG).InMandalayshededicatesawholeessaytoit(‘WhyMSGisA-OK’),anditfeaturesasaningredientinmanyofherrecipes.“YoucangetitinTesco,”shesaysbrightly.“It’scalledAromat–MSGmixedwithsaltandceleryseeds.”

Shesaysit’smainlytheUKandtheUSthatseemtohaveaproblemwithMSG(“InIcelandtheyhaveshakersofMSGmixedwithtomatogranules–theycallitchippowder!”),andthatlargelyit’sdowntowhatwecallit.“Ithasachemicalname,andchemicalsscarepeople,”musesAye.“ButifIsay,‘Iputsomesodiumchlorideinmymeal’,there’snodifference.”

Whileshenotesthatifyoudon’twanttouseMSG,that’sfine,shedoesaddreasonably:“I’mtalkingaboutaquarterteaspoon,it’sjustthatlittlebitofextraenhancement.”Plus“it’swhatmakesPringlesandDoritostastegood!”

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Andifyouthinkit’swhatmakesyouthirstyifyou’veeatenatakeaway?“That’sthesalt,Ithinkyou’llfind,”saysAye,whoquotesAnthonyBourdain:“YouknowwhatcausesChineserestaurantsyndrome?Racism.”

Butifyou’reOKwithMSG,hungry,andwantBurmesefoodtonight,gofortheMogokMeeshay–Mogokporkandroundricenoodles.

“Poachsomeporkandsoaksomenoodles,andthenitcomestogetherreallyquickly,”promisesAye.“Formeittasteslikehome,becausewhenwegotoBurmathatisthedishwehavewaitingforus.Mymum’ssideofthefamily,whoarenowinYangon,that’showtheypreservetheirMogokhistory,soI’llgothereandjuststuffmyselfsillyonit.”

ppgettinsGOTITANDITISGLORIOUS!#mandalaybook#BurmeseFood@meemalee

Mandalay:RecipesAndTalesFromABurmeseKitchenbyMiMiAye,photographybyCristianBarnett,ispublishedbyBloomsbury,priced£26.Availablenow.

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