Burma is a culture-rich country nestled between India, China, Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand. Their cuisine is as rich as their culture and I have had the pleasure of enjoying some staples and delicacies during my growing years, namely because my grandmother is Burmese. The key components of Burmese cuisine have been greatly influenced by the neighboring country’s eating habits, the most notable being India, China and Thailand. That being said, Burmese cuisine is notably different from any others you might have come across, be it the sublime taste or the rich colorful presentation. A single bite of Burmese can be hot and sweet, salty and sour, crunchy and chewy, all at the same time.
The fact that my grandmother is Burmese doesn’t make me an authority on Burmese cuisine; it does, however, give me a fair idea as to what authentic Burmese cuisine tastes like. I was recently invited to sample some food at Mong Chow, a fairly recent entrant, featuring a relatively obscure (albeit delicious) cuisine, on the Karachi food scene.
Since Mong Chow is set to open at Ocean Towers, Karachi later this year, the owner, Mrs. Fauzia Maung Khuhro, decided to open the restaurant as a ‘delivery/takeaway’ out of her own kitchen. Her daughter, Ayela Khuhro, is helping her set everything up. The mother-daughter duo invited me to their home last week for some Mong Chow and I was over the moon, as I hadn’t had good Burmese in a long time. As I stepped into the house, I was greeted by Ayela and her dog, which left me a little apprehensive, for obvious reasons. After a brief round of introductions, Ayela led me to a bright reading room of sorts with bookshelves containing priceless tomes by literary giants including Dumas, Wordsworth and Burton. The room greatly lifted my spirits and I was hoping the food would too.
We started off with a Burmese Green Papaya Salad featuring shredded raw papaya garnished with some deep fried onions and garlic, and a dash of finely chopped coriander. I was a bit hesitant to taste this salad mainly because I hate papayas, but I’m glad I tried some. Even though it was a little on the sour/tangy side, I liked it for the crunch and the freshness it had to offer. On the whole, it tasted phenomenal. I’d kill for a bottle of that dressing. I’d rate it a solid 9 on 10.
Next came the Tofu Salad featuring thin slices of garbanzo bean (besan) tofu with a light peanut-chili dressing topped off with a generous amount of sesame seeds, some fried garlic and chopped cilantro. My mom actually makes a variant of this tofu at home so I had a (tough) benchmark to compare the tofu against. The tofu on its own could have used some seasoning and still had a little bit of the floury smell typical of besan (that you need to burn off), but on the whole, it was a refreshing and filling cold salad. I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.
After what I had already been served, I was really looking forward to trying the main course, i.e. the Ohn No Khauk Suey. A variation of this dish has been passed on in my family from generation to generation and is, hands down, one of my all-time favorite dishes. Needless to say, I consider myself a bit of a Khauk Suey connoisseur and this was the perfect dish to pass my judgement on.
As seen in the image above, Khauk Suey can be a bit intimidating for someone trying it out for the first time, as there are a lot of ingredients that you need to combine to get a platter ideal for YOUR taste-buds. I started off with a generous amount of egg noodles and coconut-chicken curry, and garnished it with some coriander, some boiled egg, some wheat crisps, chili flakes, chili sauce, fish sauce and soy sauce. It took me a good two minutes to prepare the plate and after carefully re-evaluating my decisions, I dug in; the image below shows the final result.
The first bite transported me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Everything sung in perfect unison and the effect it had on me cannot be put into words. Needless to say, I enjoyed every single crunchy bite of the dish and even though my stomach was full, my heart yearned for more. I couldn’t help but give this dish a 10 on 10.
A typical Khauk Suey serving with a Papaya salad on the side costs around 570 PKR, which is comparatively lower than what you’d be spending at a restaurant for lunch. The generous portion sizes ensure good value for money and the price is worth every single noodle, no pun intended. Below is a copy of their latest menu.
In recent years, Karachiites have developed a palette that is more tolerant to other-worldly (there; I said it!) cuisines. If you’ve never had Burmese food in your life, you’re in for a real treat. The dishes perfectly complement the Pakistani flavor profile and are ideal for lunch or dinner. If you feel like trying something different, do give Mong Chow a call and get some piping hot food delivered at your doorstep. This is one restaurant to watch out for and I know it will go places; this is just the beginning of a long and fruitful journey.
My advice to the restaurant owners is to stay consistent and keep serving mouth-watering delicacies; you’ll be living in people’s hearts (and stomachs) for years to come.