Nestled between India, China and Thailand, Burma (or Myanmar as it’s now known) was pretty off-the-radar until a couple of years ago. Once repressed by its military junta, the country has been opened up by its new leader Aung San Suu Kyi, so it’s become much easier for curious travellers to check out its ancient Buddhist pagodas, relaxed (almost horizontal) way of life and stunning cuisine.
The Burmese immigrants of my father’s generation, who moved to London fleeing the military dictatorship, have kept a fairly low profile – so much so that there are hardly any Burmese restaurants in London (in fact, in the whole of Europe!). That’s nuts, considering there are an estimated 5,000 Burmese settled here. But the West’s fascination with the country has made us second-generation Burmese keener than ever to celebrate our heritage. The city has seen a flurry of Burmese happenings in the last few months, so 2017 could be our year. Freya Coote
Did you know? A typical Burmese meal includes several dishes which are arranged in bowls, family-style, for everyone to tuck into at the table – usually with their hands.
Freya’s favourite Burmese spots in London
Lahpet started as a stall on Maltby Street Market. Its current residency at Tuck Shop in London Fields means east Londoners can sample traditional Burmese dishes including Shan tofu (made from chickpea flour) and aubergine curry.
Until now it’s been near impossible to source Burma’s best-known street snack: the pickled green tea leaf salad called lahpet. The Lost Tea Company will change that from the end of March, working ethically with Burmese farmers to bring the leaves and the salad to London and the UK for the first time. The green tea leaves are fermented and served with fried garlic, toasted sesame seeds and peanuts. It’s delicious.
For a little taste of what you might see at the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Burma’s biggest city, visit the Asian collection at the V&A. That’s where you’ll find The Mandalay Shrine. The intricate golden piece dates back to the nineteenth century and was probably owned by a Burmese royal.
My own Burmese dinner event, Yee Cho (pronounced Yay Cho) happens bimonthly at The Gun in Homerton. It’s a chance for me to share my love of Burmese food and serve my personal interpretations of the dishes I grew up eating, like ginger pork potato cakes and mohinga fish noodle soup. The next instalment is on April 25 – come down and give Burmese food a try!