Something for the Weekend: Hnin’s Burmese Curries

My cousin Hnin came to visit last week.  All the way from Yangon, Myanmar.  That’s Rangoon, Burma for those of you still living in the 1850s.

She offered to cook supper.  I suspect because by day three of her visit our feeble attempts to cook Asian food were starting to wear thin on her refined  palette, but also it’s because it’s just how the Burmese are – they like to do things, preferably for others – and Hnin knows we love Burmese food.

I show her my cookbooks, including my new favourite, “Burma” by Naomi Duguid (Artisan) but she puts these politely to one side.  Burmese people don’t need cookbooks, why would they?  Until Nigella et al came along and reclaimed English nursery food as some sort of gastro-delight did our mothers ever use cookbooks to knock up a quick Shepherd’s Pie?

“I’ll cook fish curry. Pork curry.  Lentil Soup. Fried vegetables. And an omelette, for you,” she says (I don’t eat meat or fish).

We set off to Borough market because even though it involves a 40 minute tube journey and Sainsbury’s is only five minutes away I want Hnin to go back to Myanmar with a romanticised vision of England’s green and pleasant land; that we all shop at farmer’s markets and organic shops with in-season vegetables.

It’s coals to Newcastle, obviously – the fresh produce markets I saw on my trip to Myanmar last year were far more colourful, vibrant places, little pongyi monks tripping along with black lacquer bowls to collect food for the monastery; seamstresses taking a nap, their broad-brimmed hats pulled down over their faces; noodles being fried in deep steel pans, everyone sitting around wooden tables on stools for lunch..

(And by the way, have you ever been round London with a tourist?  The stallholders in Portobello are monsters!  £35 for a scratched copy of  The Beatles Abbey Road album and they wouldn’t even let Hnin have her picture taken with it. “You’re mean,” I say to the stallholder.  “I know,” he says.  “No really, you’re a Mean Person,” I say.  “I know,” he says).

Meanwhile, at Borough market, at the fish stall, Hnin asks, “What is this fish?”

“Cod,” I say. “It’s a sort of English fish.”

She laughs.  “So, we’re having  Burmese Fish curry with English fish.  Usually we make it with river fish.”

“Trust me,” I say.  “You don’t want fish from the Thames.”

There were a couple of herbs we couldn’t find but otherwise we bought our ingredients and came home.  And here’s what Hnin cooked:

Burmese Fish Curry with English Fish

Ingredients: Cod – enough for four, ask the fishmonger; 6 cloves of garlic; 2 cms of ginger; 2 teaspoons of soy; 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric; 2 tablespoons sunflower oil; 5 Asian shallots (they’re much smaller than French ones); 2 ripe large tomatoes; vegetable/chicken stock cube; Karachi curry powder or similar; 2 tablespoons tomato puree; 2 large red chillis; large handful fresh coriander

Method: Chop the cod into large pieces about 6cm square and place in a medium sized bowl. (In the photograph above the fish is on the left, the pork for the recipe below is on the right)  Chop the garlic and then put it through a garlic press; do the same with the ginger, and add to the fish.  Add the soy and turmeric.  This is your marinade.  Hnin then grips each piece of fish with her hands to help the mix of garlic, ginger, soy and turmeric permeate the fish.  Set aside for an hour or however long you can spare.

Into a frying pan add the oil.  We used sunflower.  Add 4 or 5 finely chopped shallots.  Stir and leave to soften over a gentle heat, don’t let them brown.  Add the tomatoes – Hnin peels them first “because the skin is too hard, not like with Myanmar vegetables”.

Crush the stock cube and stir it in until it dissolves with the tomato and onions, then add the curry powder.  (We bought this from a spice stall at Borough, but you could use any mild curry powder.  Hnin was really particular about all the spices she used – she smelt them all and was underwhelmed by the freshness of some of the items we’d bought). Add the fish and about half a glass of water and stir over a medium heat until the contents of the pan resembles a thick paste, about 20 minutes.

“Not much colour,” Hnin says, momentarily confused.  “Needs more red. It’s the tomatoes…”  A tube of tomato paste comes to the rescue – squeeze in about 2 tablespoon’s worth and stir well until it dissolves.

Slice the chillis diagonally, removing some of the seeds if you don’t want a very hot curry. You might need to add another half a glass of water if it’s looking a little dry.  Adda  large handful of coriander. Hnin tore her’s, throwing the stems in too.  Turn off the heat and put a tight lid on.  Then leave it until the fish is cooked through. You don’t have to eat the chillis; they’re there to give heat and aroma, but we served it with them as they look so pretty. Serve with rice.

Burmese Pork Curry

Ingredients: Pork fillet – again, you’ll have to ask at the meat counter for precise quantities; 6 cloves garlic; 2 cms ginger; 2 teaspoons soy; 2 tablespoons sunflower oil; 2 sugar lumps; 2 potatoes, peeled.

Method: Chop the pork into cubes about 4 cms square.  As with the fish curry, chop about 6 cloves of garlic and put through a garlic press; do the same with 2 cms of ginger.  Add these to the pork with 2 teaspoons of soy.  There’s no turmeric in this curry and we kept the chillis out of it as we had children eating with us, but you could add chilli if you like .  Again, Hnin squeezed the meat with all the soy, garlic and ginger with her bare hands, before setting it to one side to marinate, again for an hour or as long as possible.

In a pan, add the oil and the sugar lumps, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Add the pork and stir until it’s coated in oil and slightly brown.  Add half a glass of water.  After about 20 minutes of gentle cooking add the slices of raw potato – Hnin cut about 2 potatoes as if she was making chunky chips.  Put a tight lid on and over a low heat let it continue cooking until the meat is tender and the potatoes are cooked. Serve with rice.


Lentil Soup

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons sunflower oil; 4 cloves of garlic, finely crushed; 1 onion finely chopped; 1/2 teaspoon turmeric; 250g split red lentils, rinsed.

Method: In a large pan fry half the onion and garlic only until it’s soft but not browned, then add the turmeric.  Tip in the lentils and add enough water.  Let it come to the boil and then leave to simmer until the lentils are cooked through.  In a small pan fry up the remaining onion and garlic, letting it brown slightly.  This is added to the soup at the end as a garnish – it’s a substitute for the herbs Hnin couldn’t find here.  This soup is so delicious I think I could eat it every day, and yet I can’t work out why – it’s just a bag of cheap red lentils and some garlic.


Hnin made me an omelette using 3 eggs but she added onion, 1/2 a teaspoon of garam masala and lots of fresh coriander at the end and that’s what made it so special.

Easy condiment:

With a pestle and mortar grind up some chilli flakes with coarse sea salt and garlic.

Fried Vegetables

Nothing over complicated here; take 3 cloves of garlic and an onion and cook in some oil until soft, then add some spring onions, sliced vertically; a couple of carrots cut in a fancy way; mushrooms; French beans; 1 head broccoli (chop it into chunky floret sized pieces first).  Add each ingredient in precisely that order, giving each a few minutes before adding the next.  Give it a good stir as it cooks, then add a little sesame oil at the end.

The fancy way to cut carrots, in case you haven’t been on a Thai holiday and attended the hotel’s fancy veg cutting course, is to take the carrot, peel it, cut a mini wedge vertically from top to toe and repeat 3 or 4  more times around the carrrot. Then slice it in thin circle shapes and you should end up with something resembling a shamrock, without the stem. Got that? We left out the chilli in this one because we had children eating with us, but ramp it up if you like.







5 Responses to Something for the Weekend: Hnin’s Burmese Curries

La Pyae says: March 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm

It’s really amazing that she haven’t cook at home anymore for a long time but cooked many curries in London.And the pictures are so nice. 😀 ……

prfashionbeauty says: March 22, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I just got home from a very TRYING meeting grrrr! Anyhoo, seeing your post on my timeline put a great big smile on my face. I Wasn’t going to leave a message but thought, what the hay? Why not!

Lovely piece and yummy looking food! Nom nom 🙂

oliver says: February 5, 2015 at 11:40 am

hi, kathleen, am in yangon. Love your intro (..1850) and nigella-books too. will make fish curry tonite, stumbled over your site. all well written and you caught the bama spirit very well. All fresh ingredients from down on the street. will be thinking of you when eating, all the best, oliver

oliver says: February 5, 2015 at 11:51 am

am in yangon now. Love your intro (..1850) and nigella-books too. will make fish curry tonite, stumbled over your site. all well written and you caught the bama spirit very well. All fresh ingredients from down on the street. will be thinking of you when eating, all the best, oliver


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