Burmese Khow Suey / Coconut Noodle Soup
Burmese Khow Suey is a beautiful classic delicacy from Burma (now known as Myanmar). The subtly spiced curried coconut milk broth is usually served with plain boiled egg noodles and topped with fried eggs, fried garlic, crispy fried onions and many other toppings that offers a delightful contrasting texture and adds range of flavours in every bite.
Burma – Bengal : Inter colonial Connections
It was in late 80’s, one fine evening in Kolkata at my Aunt’s place, somewhere in North Kolkata, a beautiful autumn day it was when for the first time I had a delectable mutton stew with noodle in it. A totally surprising dish it was, an unique pairing of ingredients was on the offing – noodle with mutton that I never had before. Flavours were so relatable yet something was there which was so unique, so distinctive and unfailingly carries an imprint of foreign land and its culture. It was Panthey Khow Suey.
Though the cosmopolitan texture of Kolkata had been extensively chronicled but not much had been written (overlooked may be) about the hundreds of Bengali families that had lived in Burma for generations, before migrating back to India in 40’s – 70’s. My aunt’s paternal grandfather and her in laws fall in that little cluster of Bengali families. Who through their shared cultural history of foreign land had kept alive here that little piece of forgotten history, before being passed onto the next generation.
Their house (we kids used to call it Burma House) in North Kolkata, beautifully decked up with heritage Burmese accent. Always brimming over with tales of mighty Irrawaddy, their ancestral home in Yangon (for them it will always be Rangoon), the celebration of Durga puja there. And every conversation invariably marked by ongoing agonizing cultural identity crisis, which is perhaps the characteristic of every migration stories.
Not much but these – Ohn no khao swe, mohinga (fish broth) and laphet thoke (fermented tea leaves salad) was staple at our “Burma house”. Along with some typical Bengali dishes that uses shrimp paste or fermented shrimp paste (ngapi) in the recipe (an unique culinary identity of people belongs to Chittagong – Burma heritage). I can never recreate my aunt’s panthey khow suey which was so distinctive in taste and flavour.
The vegetarian version of khow suey is however nothing but an Indian adaptation (mostly by the restaurants) of the Burmese classic and none the less we love it too as long as it has coconut milk sauce.
How to make Burmese Khow Suey ?
For khow suey- you need to prepare a curry base with onions (you can use shallots for more flavours), ginger, garlic, turmeric powder, lemon grass (not mandatory but these are real flavour bombs), cilantro stalks (stems of coriander leaves), bit of fish sauce ( optional, these are however staple in a Burmese kitchen) and little bit of oil.
Coconut milk is base of this recipe. I have divided the coconut milk in two parts and dilute the one part with water, which I have used to cook the curry sauce.
Roasted chickpea flour is used invariably in Burmese cuisine either to thicken the soup or to make silken chickpea tofu, also known as Burmese tofu or Shan tofu.
Fermented shrimp paste or ngapi is another Burmese kitchen staple and is invariably used in this dish. Since I don’t stock these, so I have not added. But if you have, use that for more authentic flavours.
Vegetables you can add of your choice or can go seasonal with broccoli, carrots, baby corn etc.
Garnish or toppings – are an important aspect of this dish as they brings lots of contrasting textures and flavours to the dish. Fried garlic, fried onions, fried peanuts, crispy fried noodles and chilli oil are usually added as a toppings in khow suey. I have added spring onions and cilantro leaves too.
Protein factors – vegans can top this noodle dish with fried tofu. Omelettes cut into thin strips is also a popular topping. Boiled boneless pieces of chicken curried in coconut milk sauce is what I mostly prefers in this dish.
Burmese Vegetarian Khow Suey
- 400 gm Egg Noodles or rice noodles
- 3 tbsp Cooking Oil
- 300 ml Coconut milk
- 1 medium Onions or shallots
- 1 inch Ginger
- 8-10 cloves Garlic
- 6-8 Lemon grass (only bulbs)
- Cilantro stalks (coriander leaves stem) Handful
- 2-3 Green chillies
- 1 tbsp Turmeric powder
- 1-2 tsp Fish Sauce (optional) use for authentic flavours
- 2 tbsp Roasted Chickpea flour (besan)
- 2 tbsp Fermented shrimp paste (optional) use for authentic flavours
- 1 Lime
- 2 Carrots cut into thin disc
- 1 head Broccoli
- 6-8 Baby Corn cut diagonally into 1 inch piece
Garnish or toppings
- 1 Fried thinly sliced onion
- 4 tbsp Crispy fried garlic
- Fried peanuts or cashews a handful
- Crispy fried noodles a handful
- 200 gm Fried Tofu, cut into rectangles or squares or into thin strips
- 1 tbsp Cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tbsp Spring onions, chopped
- Chilli oil as required
- Prepare the noodles as per instructions on packet.
To make curry base
- Make a paste of onion, ginger, garlic, lemon grass bulbs, cilantro stalks /stems, turmeric powder, 1 tablespoon oil and green chillies.
- Heat the cooking oil in a pan. Add the curry base and saute for around 10 minutes on medium flame till the rawness disappear.
- Add the vegetbales cut into desired portions and mix well. Add salt too.
- Dilute half of coconut milk with 2 cups of water. Add this to the curry base and vegetables.
- If you are using fish sauce and fermented shrimp paste, use that here.
- Lower the heat and let it simmer on low for 20 minutes around till the vegetables becomes tender and soft.
- Stir in the rest of the coconut milk and bring it to a gentle boil.
- Take the roasted chickpea flour in a small bowl. Add a ladle full of hot sauce over it. Whip it gently and nicelt so that no lumps are seen and looks smooth or creamy. Add this to the sauce to thicken it.
- Stir in the lemon juice around 1 tbsp is fine.
How to serve Khow suey
- Take a wide bowl or noodle bowl. Place the boiled noodles in one corner or in the middle.
- Pour enough ladle full of sauce and vegetables over it so that the sauce will form a pool around the noodle.
- Garnish with the toppings. Do not go heavy on the toppings per serve. USe it as per your requirements. Chilli oil and few sprinkles of chilli flakes brings nice flavour in the dish.
If you are looking for more coconut milk based curries – do try this