International Gourmet Magazine
Photo Malte Clavin | Text Leah Cohen
100 Myanmar Calling
When Myanmar (formerly Burma) opened its borders to tourists a few years ago, I hopped on a plane as quickly as I could. I’d traveled extensively in Southeast Asia before opening Pig & Khao, my Southeast Asian restaurant in New York City, eating fresh spring rolls at market stalls in Vietnam, plopping down at divey restaurants in Thailand, and inhaling steaming bowls of noodle soup laced with lemongrass, bringing back the best of what I’d learned to my diners back home—but Myanmar was still an enticing mystery to me.
When I hit the ground there, the first thing I noticed was the tomatoes. Sure, there were the chiles, the cilantro, and mint I’d seen in neighboring countries, but the base for many Burmese dishes was a vibrant quartet of ginger, garlic, onion, and tomato. Perhaps this appealed to me so much because in my first professional job as a young cook years before heading for more exotic cuisines, I worked the line at La Madia, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Sicily.
Nix the ginger, and you’ve got yourself the three main building blocks of most Italian dishes. Traversing the country of Myanmar from top to bottom, I cooked crispy rice cakes with a local vendor by Inle Lake, slurped wheat noodles out of a crisp green shredded papaya salad, and scarfed up crunchy tempura-battered scallions.
A land of striking beauty and surprising tastes—not least of which is… tomatoes
When I came home, I brought those flavors back to my menu, as I’d done before. My Shan noodles, inspired by the flavors of the Shan state in the East of the country, were an instant hit. They’re made with ground chicken, turmeric powder bloomed in peanut oil, and Shan spice—a heady mix of cloves, star anise and black peppercorn—and built upon, of course, that glorious base of garlic, ginger, onions, and tomato. It’s my way of bringing a little bit of Myanmar back to the States, but if you ever find yourself in this country, go visit a few of my favorite places and taste the flavors at the source.
Leah Cohen is the chef-owner of New York City’s Pig & Khao.
Where to go?
Bogyoke Aung San
Hawking everything from antiques to clothing to food, this giant bazaar is a mustvisit. Bo Gyoke Road, Dagon, Yangon
Chauk Htat Gyi
Head to this temple to see a reclining Buddha that’s more than 200 feet long. Shwe Gon Taing Road, Tamwe Township, Yangon
This rotating market—so named because it moves every five days among villages that ring Inle Lake—is the place to go for fresh produce and handicrafts. Locations rotate
Inthar Heritage House
Feline lovers, take note: Among the attractions at this upscale resort is a Burmese cat sanctuary. Inpawkhon Village, Inle Lake
Mr. Toe Restaurant
Accessed by boat, this beloved restaurant showcases fish caught in Inle Lake. Thar Lay village, in front of Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Inle Lake
The most sacred Buddhist pagoda in the country. Singuttara Hill, Dagon, Yangon
My personal favourite photos from over 93,000 travel images in my database. The 28 colour and two black-and-white photos were taken over eleven years, eleven countries with ten lenses on seven cameras.
Desert Adventure Wadi Rum
A labyrinth of magnificent sandstone formations stretches as far as the eye can see, the sun makes the steep, red craggy rock faces shine, the desert wind whispers stories of times gone by – in Wadi Rum, Jordan is “great cinema”.
Son Doong Cave Expedition
I can’t say it any other way: this was the most awesome thing I’ve ever done: The five-day expedition through one of the largest caves in the world in Vietnam. I couldn’t forget the amazement and sweating.