Burmese ingredients to get to grips with, according to expert food writer MiMi Aye

18th Jul 19 | Lifestyle

You’ll be getting through quite a lot of garlic.


“Unlike a lot of cuisines, Burmese food doesn’t have that many ingredients,” explains MiMi Aye, author of new Burmese cookbook, Mandalay – but the ingredients it focuses on are crucial.

Aye was born in raised in Britain by Burmese parents, and has been cooking and eating Burmese cuisine all her life. She’s hoping to bring that food to a lot more mouths.

Here’s what you’ll need in the cupboard to get started…


“A lot of people say, when they go to Burma, they try the food and there’s ‘a lot of oil’. We do like oil – it’s a sign of generosity, we’re not saying you have to eat it. The fact you’re able to put a lot of oil on a dish shows you’re generous,” explains Aye. “It’s pricey, so you want your guest to know there was no expense spared, but the other much more prosaic reason is that it’s to protect the food – you don’t necessarily have refrigeration [in Burma].”


“[It] goes into everything. Garlic and onions is almost the base of every curry, sizzling away,” says Aye. “There’s a rice dish that uses garlic, but does four different things with it: It’s fried, in a salsa and in an oil, and you also have it raw on the side. I have to say Burmese garlic is much milder than English garlic, people will eat it raw as a nibble with a cup of tea, like having peanuts at a bar. It’s that mild, and sweeter – it doesn’t have that pungency that will blow your head off.”


“It’s used in the curries and pickles, for that extra crunch, spice and sourness.”

Ground turmeric

“Interestingly, we don’t tend to use the root, more the ground types – it’s to do with the mellowness. That astringency isn’t there, you don’t have to cook it down so much [as you do with the raw root]. Flavours meld better using ground spices.”

Fish sauce, soy sauce to a lesser extent, fish paste

“Fish paste is a sister to the Thai shrimp paste, we use small fry rather than shrimps, ngahei – we say it runs in our blood, it’s so common and it’s in everything. It’s got the umami that fish sauce might not necessarily have”


“We love pork. My children were basically weaned on pork curry. We eat goat; beef not so much; chicken is quite expensive – we have chicken at weddings, it shows you’re generous. The closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.”

Lahpet (tea leaves)

“It’s a huge cultural thing, it’s iconic, it’s used at weddings. In historical times, if there was a war and then you came to a peace treaty, they would share lahpet to show they’d come to a truce, it’s woven into our very being.”

Mandalay: Recipes And Tales From A Burmese Kitchen by MiMi Aye, photography by Cristian Barnett, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £26. Available now.

© Press Association 2019