“I had a really bad experience with it last time I was here. But, I want it now. No, actually, I need it now”. Thoughts rumbled through my head as I watched a middle-aged dark woman at a roadside noodle stand in a local bazaar, serving up one of my favorites – a thoke sone (Burmese mixed salad).
When I had those salads in Yangon last year, I paid for that 1-minute pleasure with stomach pain so great I felt like I was in labor and every-5-minute-bathroom-visits. I was traumatized. But, I learned to look for some red flags before I eat street food. So this time, before I ate, I became smart and made a run down of a mental checklist.
“Does the person wash dishes or he/she just wipes with a wet towel?” “Yes. I saw her 10-year-old son and teenager daughter washing dishes. But, I didn’t see any soap though.”
“Does the person use disposable gloves when handling food?” “No. She handled money and food at the same time.”
“Does the person sneeze a lot? Laugh a lot? “No sneezing, but the girlfriend definitely laughed a lot.”
Does the person spit saliva when he/she talks?” “Not that I have noticed, but then again, the evening light is known to blur some stuffs”.
Yes, there were red flags. But, in desperate circumstances, I heed the words of Amy Schumer : “Red flags are your heart saying green light. Go for it”. So, I crossed my fingers and went for it. It was so freaking worth it. The experience was as glorious as I remembered last year. Using the term “salad” to describe this dish is probably walking the tight-rope of false-advertising, considering there were four massive portions of carbohydrates – rice, wheat noodle, glass noodle, boiled potatoes. But, these carbs are what make the dish so comforting. When tossed in tangy yet indulgent mixture of garlic oil, fish sauce and tamarind paste, you get this ultimate bowl food where each bite tastes pleasantly the same.
One aspect that I thoroughly enjoyed about this “salad” is the way the vegetables are super-thinly cut up to a point of almost jellyfish translucence. That way, you get the subtle complementary crunchiness from vegetables, rather than intrusive big chunky bite that kinda f-ed up the comforting aura of the dish. The last but not least, once in several bites, you get blown away by these generous bits of crispy onion chunks that lend both crunch and this intense savory of soft onion flesh. To help cleanse all those flavors, the dish is served with an extremely peppery and palate-cleansing gourd soup. It really feels like a unique experience as I sweat profusely, slurping away my tangy noodle and peppery soup in humid hot weather of Yangon. But, of course, after the meal, I felt like someone who had just watched a horror movie. I was convinced something bad would happen to me, but I just did not know when. What made me a tad bit more worried is that I am actually taking 18-hour flight from Yangon to L.A tomorrow.
Day 1 after my impulsivity – no signs of anything bad yet.
Day 2 – I was on the airplane on the way back to LA, and luckily, still no signs.
Day 11 – I am writing this post right now, and I am still feeling all right.
Who would have thought that sometimes you get rewarded for ignoring the lessons you learned in the past?
Notes on fried onions
The batter is made with 25% glutinous rice flour and 75% all-purpose flour. The latter helps crisp up the outside, while the former augments that desirable pillowy texture within. The addition of baking powder, makes sure that the batter fluffs up into a beautiful golden puff. Lastly, I feel the need to be specific here and tell you to use 1) white onions, which are much milder and sweeter than red onions or Vidalia onions, and 2) a spiralizer, essential to thinly slice the onions into strings. If you cannot get very thin slices of onions, I wouldn’t even bother making this recipe.
Notes on the salad
The dish seems quite cumbersome to make, but trust me it is the most forgiving dish to make. You will just need to have a few basic ingredients to make the “dressing”. What you put in the “salad” itself is completely up to you. You don’t have to be a complete gluttony like me, and include four types of carbs. The dish will still good if you amp up your veges and decrease your carb. The same concept goes for making the dressing. Taste along and adjust accordingly. Lastly, please either use a grater or a spiralizer to cut your vegetables. I really love Spiralizer 5-Blade Vegetable Slicer, Strongest-and-Heaviest Duty, Best Veggie Pasta & Spaghetti Maker for Low Carb/Paleo/Gluten-Free Meals, With 3 Exclusive Recipe eBooks as it has so many blades attachments. You would think this is unnecessary extraness but you will thank me later.
Palm sugar miso caramel (This is optional)
1 cup of water
250 g of palm sugar
1 tsp. of sweet white miso
Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan.
If you can get your hands on mini palm sugar buttons, do that. Otherwise, chop your palm sugar into chunks, about the size of an almond. Pour the palm sugar bits into the water, and cook under medium heat for about 10 minutes.
When all palm sugar bits have dissolved, finish by stirring in a teaspoon of sweet miso. This sauce is very versatile – you can use in any savory or desserts.
1 white onion (spiralized)
¾ cup of all-purpose flour
¼ cup of glutinous rice flour
1 tsp. of baking powder
1 tsp. of salt
1 tsp. of pepper
1/8 tsp. of cayenne pepper
1 tsp. of fish sauce
1 cup of cold water (+ 6 tbsp. for adjusting)
Oil (cover at least an inch of your frying pan)
Mix water, fish sauce and egg together well. Using a fork, also mix all the dry ingredients in a different bowl.
Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and use a fork to whisk. Don’t whisk too much. Otherwise, you will end up with a tough batter from gluten-development. The batter will be too thick at this point. Add up to 6 tbsps. of water slowly while mixing until you get almost pancake batter consistency.
In your iron skillet, pour enough oil so that it covers at least an inch. Heat the oil on medium high heat. The oil is ready when you flick some flour into the pan, it sizzles like crazy.
Divide your onions into 6 equal portions. Drop the onion strings into batter, then into the hot pan. Try to spread out the onion mixture so they don’t stay in one big lump. This step is very important to have a perfect ratio of outside crispiness and inside pillowiness. Fry for about 5 minutes for each side.
Peppery opo squash soup
2 cups of opo squash (diced)
3 tbsps. of dried shrimps
2 tbsps. of fish sauce
1.5 liter of water
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp. of pepper
A handful of cilantro stalks
Bring water to a boil.
Pound the cilantro stalks and garlic gloves gently so that the fragrance can permeate.
Put all the ingredients in the boiling water, and simmer for 15 minutes. Adjust the flavor accordingly.
Putting together salad
Palm sugar miso caramel (or brown sugar)
Toasted chickpea flour (toast the chickpea flour under medium heat for 2-3 minutes)
Dried shrimp powder
The main actors
Boiled potato or sweet potato
Spiralized or grated jicama or green papaya
It is useless to give you an exact measurement for each ingredients because you really want to tailor the dish to your own taste. Take the suggestion below as a starting point and tweak to your own taste.
Use 1 cup of wheat noodle, 1 cup of glass noodle, ½ cup boiled (sweet) potato, 1 cup of rice, 1 cup of jicama or papaya.
Combine 5 tbsps of garlic oil, 3 tbsps. of tamarind concentrate, 3 tbsps. of fish sauce, 1 tsp. of palm sugar miso caramel (or brown sugar) in a small bowl, and drizzle on top of the ingredients. To bring everything together, add in 2 tbsp. of dried shrimp powder and 1 tbsps. of chickpea flour.