Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Burmese Baba Ganoush

Yes, I know we’re meant to call it Myanmar these days but I like the alliteration too much, so Burmese baba ganoush it is. But I promise to be more PC and call it Myanmar elsewhere.

And what a time to be celebrating Myanmar! This is a country on the cusp of enormous political and social change. This week’s by- elections saw the opposition party claim a landslide victory. Not long ago their leader Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. This week she is promising “peace and prosperity” for her country. A country which has remained closed off to the world for so long is about to open its doors - we are watching history being made!

I was lucky enough to visit Myanmar for work for the first time last week. Yangon, the capital, is  more green and laid back than I thought any Asian city had it in them to be. A highlight for me was the Shwedagon Pagoda, a Buddhist temple that manages at once to be magestic and serene:

Families, monks and couples strolling around the pagoda

I was one of few foreigners, and people came to chat to me out of curiosity and hospitality. It gives Bangkok’s temples a run for their money, not least because it is still a place for Myanmar people to meet and prey, rather than a tourist attraction:

Lighting candles in prayer

I managed to do some of my work while sampling the national food. Myanmar is bordered by Bangladesh, Thailand, China and India and there are flavours of each country all over, not least in the cuisine. I ate dhal which took me back to India, stewed pork which reminded me of Bangkok’s china town, and delicious stir-fried leafy greens like those which I find in Bangkok. Maybe soon the cafes will be blasting out pop music to Scandanavian backpackers eating banana pancakes. But for now, the food is local and good. I ate in small restaurants where you pick lots of tiny dishes and eat them with rice, vegetable broth and pickles.

Small dishes laid out for lunch in a local cafe

My favourite tiny dish was the smoky eggplant "salad". Why the inverted commas, you ask? Well it’s called a salad in Myanmar but by my standards this is not a salad. Call me old fashioned but to me there are two essential qualities for a dish to be classes a salad: green and crunch. The crunch in this dish is cursory and comes from nuts rather than vegetables. And the green is just a sprinkling from the coriander. Delicious it is, a salad it is not. So I’m calling it a dip. That way everyone knows where they stand. As a dip, I suggest that it is best served with flatbread. And in fact, why not serve it with the Bangladeshi flatbread and hummus to create an Asian Fusion Mezze?

Time: 40 mins
Rating: Easy
Serves: 4-6 as a starter or snack


2 medium aubergines (or eggplants if you’re American)
2 small shallots
2 garlic cloves
1 ½  tbsp vegetable oil
 1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp peanuts (roasted, salted)
Small handful of fresh coriander leaves
Juice of half a lime
1 tsp soy sauce if you're a vegetarian, fish sauce if you're not

Flat bread or vegetable crudités to serve


  1. Start by cooking your aubergines. Prick the aubergines all over with a fork or skewer (this will stop the skin bursting later) and place on a baking sheet under a hot grill. Allow the skin to char and turn them over to cook the other side. Cook them for about 30 mins in total, rotating them regularly until they are blackened all around and soft all the way through. Remove from the grill and allow to cool.
  2. While the aubergines are cooking, prepare your other ingredients. Cut the shallots in half lengthways and then very thinly slice them, width-ways. Finely chop the peanuts. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a pan – over a medium heat with no oil, stirring frequently. Finely chop the coriander.
  3. Prepare your garlic. Slice the garlic cloves width-ways as thinly as possible. Combine the two oils and heat in a small frying pan. When the oil is hot add the garlic slices and fry them, stirring constantly to make sure both sides cook evenly. As soon as they turn golden brown remove them from the heat and take them out of the oil. If you burn them at all they will taste bitter. Keep the oil aside, you’ll need it later.
  4. When the aubergines have cooled slice them in half lengthways with a knife and open them up. Remove the main clusters of seeds (but don’t worry about removing all the seeds) and scoop out the flesh into a bowl with a tablespoon.
  5. Mash the flesh (it’s up to you how smooth or chunky you want it), adding a tablespoon of the garlic oil. Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, shallots, sesame seeds, peanuts, chopped coriander and half of the fried garlic. Transfer to your serving dish and sprinkle over the remaining garlic.


  1. Excellent post, not only another mouth watering dish but a very educational post. I can't wait to see what comes next. Keep up the good work.


  2. Mmmm this sounds delicious! I can't wait to get to Myanmar, be it for work or pleasure. Very exciting to travel in a country experiencing such amazing change. Oh and by the way, thanks for the award...very nice of you! We should grab a drink one of these days if you're up for it. Email me - mistress.spices@ymail.com or ramyaviv@yahoo.com.

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