After more than a decade of research, Sydney-based food tour guides and authors Morrison Polkinghorne and Robert Carmack have published The Burma Cookbook (River Books; US$35), a collection of 175 recipes from Myanmar augmented by travel anecdotes and personal photos. DestinAsian caught up with the well-traveled duo to talk food and their favorite Burmese days.
How would you describe Burmese cuisine?
RC: Odd as it sounds—I trained in classic French cooking in Paris for three years—in terms of flavors, it reminds me of northern France, very subtle.
What are some must-try dishes?
MP: Mohinga, a noodle-and-fish-broth soup served for breakfast; tea-leaf salad; and roselle soup, made from hibiscus leaves, which has a unique, acidic taste. And at Inle Lake, maybe 300 meters away from the airport, there are several simple restaurants that serve Shan khout shwe, a dish of sticky-rice noodles that’s a cross between a soup and a salad.
Your cookbook involved some culinary sleuthing. Can you elaborate on this?
RC: We met with a lot of people to uncover historical recipes, some of which, like osso bucco with coconut milk, have colonial origins. This took us to some pretty interesting places, like the old Candacraig Hotel beyond Mandalay, where the maître d’ and chef shared their grandfathers’ recipes with us. With so many of the older generation gone now, many of these recipes are disappearing.
What are your most memorable Myanmar moments?
RC: I remember going to the Rakhine State years ago before it was blocked off and seeing these remarkable old medieval-like citadels. The people there told us about how horrible the typhoons were in the area, and that these stone citadels were built to survive the storms.
MP: More than 10 years ago, before we started our tours, we went to Golden Rock pagoda in the Mon State. We drove for six hours, then took a bus and finally had to hike up a hill. It was dark by the time we arrived. The next day we woke early to watch the sun rise, and realized that we were above the clouds. It was amazing. —Christi Hang
This article originally appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Burma by the Book”)