Meet the sisters creating a buzz about Burmese cuisine in London

London is a city in which a craving for almost any cuisine can be satisfied with ease; its inhabitants have access to dishes and flavours from all over the globe. From Mediterranean favourites (think Spanish, Greek and Italian cafes) to dishes hailing from the Middle East (Israeli and Lebanese restaurants abound) and popular Asian bites (Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese eateries dapple the city), international cuisine is a prominent part of the London dining scene. But, how many London residents can say we’ve sampled Burmese food? How many of us even know what Burmese food encompasses?

Emily and Amy Chung, two London-dwelling sisters better known as ‘The Rangoon Sisters‘, are creating a buzz about the cuisine that’s close to their hearts. We asked them all about it … and became immediately hungry. Luckily, they also shared a warming Burmese recipe with us, here.

Tell us, who are The Rangoon Sisters and what do you do?

We are Emily and Amy Chung, sisters born and bred in London. Our heritage is a mixture of Burmese, Hong Kong Chinese and British. We are both junior doctors, but in our spare time we host Burmese supperclubs. Our first one was in 2013 as part of the E17popup series in Walthamstow – at the time, Burmese food was hard to come by in London, so why not share our love for it with some keen diners! Since then we have hosted at a variety of locations and it has been very enjoyable, both from a cooking point of view but also getting to meet lots of nice people who are interested in food.
Have you both always loved cooking?

Yes! Our parents got us interested and involved in cooking from an early age, whether it was a stir fry, or a curry or spag bol. We would eat our meals around a small table in the kitchen at the heart of the action. We both got more into cooking at university, trying to cook tasty meals on a budget. We’re both always planning what our next meal is going to be.

Rangoon Sisters

For those who haven’t tried it before, what is Burmese food all about?

Burmese food is hugely varied and most meals will be comprised of a multitude of small dishes. We have curries (hin) which are flavoured with a variety of spices; lots of different salads (a thoke) which are fresh and zingy, combining different textures and tastes (sour, sweet, salty, spicy, bitter..). Rice is at the core, plus no meal is complete without a soup and a plate of raw and cooked vegetables to be dipped into ngapi ye (fishy and sour dip). There is also a range of noodle dishes, which may be served dry or in soups. Snacks are also popular, which you might pick up on the street, or whilst having a break in tea shop. It could be crunchy split pea fritters, softly steamed buns, samosas, mutton puffs, nan bread and beans, or sweet things, which often involve coconut and jaggery.

What kinds of ingredients are typical to Burmese dishes?

Slowly cooked onion/garlic/ginger feature in a lot of the curries – as children, our friends would marvel at the huge sack of onions in the kitchen. Dried shrimps and shrimp paste. Fish sauce. Chilli. Turmeric. Lots and lots of rice.

What are your favourite Burmese dishes?

We have three that stick out. Ohn-no Khaukswe, a warming dish of wheat noodles and chicken in a coconut spiced broth, served with egg, crispy noodles, coriander and lime is one of our favourites. We would have a huge cauldron on the hob for birthdays and other celebrations, greedily consuming multiple bowlfuls. Our other top dish is Mohingha, probably the national dish of Burma, consisting of thin rice noodles in an intensely flavoursome catfish and lemongrass soup, again adorned with various condiments. We could eat several bowls of this during a day in Burma and our biggest compliment was one of our diners saying ours was better than her Grandmother’s! Lastly, Lahpet Thoke, which is a salad composed of pickled tea leaves, fried crunchy beans, nuts and garlic, usually mixed with dried shrimp, cabbage, tomatoes and chilli. It really is a unique taste and texture sensation, often taken after a meal and provides a caffeine hit when you might be post-prandial and sleepy.

You host supper clubs in London; are Londoners enjoying Burmese cuisine?

They most certainly are. Our diners are a mix, from those with Burmese heritage who want to be reminded of home, those who have travelled to Burma and are craving their Burmese food fix, to those who are just curious! The empty plates that come back tell us they’re enjoying it and we have had some lovely feedback. It also makes us very happy that Burmese food seems to be blossoming in London in general, with at least two restaurants opening last year and other supperclubs on the scene.

Do you have any tips for those wanting to travel to Burma?

Go now, because it’s changing so rapidly. Pop into a tea shop, drink sweet tea and enjoy a snack. Walk around the downtown Yangon area and marvel at the old buildings and step inside the Strand Hotel for a peek into times gone by and respite from the heat. Take lots of water and sunscreen when you visit Bagan, the city with endless ancient temples, which is a must visit. Make time to visit the south, including Dawei where our family come from and the beautiful surrounding unspoilt beaches before they become touristy (and definitely eat the amazing seafood on Maungmagan beach).

What are your tips for someone who’d like to host a supper club for the first time?

Keep it simple and true to what you love to cook. Choose a menu that you’ve tested on your harshest critics (for us it’s each other!). Preparation is important so we make lots of lists and try to do as much as we can before the big day. Reliable helpers and servers are essential and double check you have enough cutlery and crockery (we’ve had this problem before). Remember to take some high resolution pictures of your creations using a proper camera – they’ll be useful for social media – we still fail to manage to do this! Lastly, enjoy – it’s like taking dinner party hosting to the next level and while it can be very tiring and stressful, overall it can be hugely satisfying and it is so much fun to meet your diners afterwards. Who knows where it may lead?

What’s coming up next for the Rangoon sisters?

We are going to continue to spread Burmese food love across London and beyond through our supper clubs, while continuing to work for the best organisation in the world, the NHS. A lot of the skills you need to be a doctor overlap with those needed for being supperclub hosts, as it turns out!

We have been invited to host an event for the Evening Standard’s London Food Month in June, which is very exciting. We were also selected to be on a TV show, but unfortunately the dates didn’t work so we had to drop out. Who knows, we love a challenge, so watch this space!

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Sonya Gellert

Sonya Gellert is a contributing writer and associate editor for Khoollect. She lives in Sydney....

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