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Dinner in Burma: Shrimp Curry and Smoky Napa Cabbage From Naomi Duguid’s "Burma: Rivers of Flavor"

Dinner in Burma: Shrimp Curry and Smoky Napa Cabbage From Naomi Duguid’s "Burma: Rivers of Flavor"
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         I am insanely jealous of Naomi Duguid.  This writer, photographer, cook and traveller has made a career out seeing of the world and bringing it home in cookbooks.  What a dream job for a foodie with wanderlust!  Duguid has written six books about Asian cooking alone and this year came out with “Burma: Rivers of Flavor” (Artisan 2013).  The book won the International Association of Culinary Professionals (ICAP) 2013 award for Culinary Travel for Naomi and her co-author Jeff Alford.  Burma, or Myanmar, is a country steeped in mystery.  An ancient civilization, it became a British colony in the 1800s and only gained independence in 1948.  Unfortunately Independence heralded the arrival of one of the longest civil wars ever recorded.  In fact, it was untouched by the outside world for generations and really has only opened up in 2010. As a result, it is one of the least-developed countries in the entire world. 


To get to know its culture, what better way to learn than through its food.  That’s what Duguid has done in her book.  It not only features recipes, it tells the story of the country through amazing photographs of its geography and its people. At the crossroads of China, India and Thailand, it absorbed the influences of its neighbors and then created a cuisine all its own.  The country of 50,000,000 people is filled with ethnic groups that also influence what it eats and where.  The Buddhists avoid beef and the Muslims avoid pork.  There’s a healthy vegetarian culture but most recipes call for fish or meat broths.         
In the end, what you learn about Burma is that its cuisine is unlike any other Asian style of cooking. It took techniques from China, breads and biryanis from India and shares ingredients found in Thai cooking.    The techniques may be the same but the food is decidedly not.  I chose to make two dishes that immediately caught my eye: One was for a simple shrimp curry and the other for a stir-fry of cabbage that was recommended as a side dish to accompany it.   These recipes were very simple to make.  And their ingredients are easy to find in any large supermarket—particularly one with an Asian food aisle.  In fact, aside from the Fish and Oyster Sauces, you don’t even have to haunt that aisle to put these dishes on your dinner table.  Even the chiles they contain are given a list of easy-to-find chile substitutes.  What was amazing about these results is that this not fire-eating Asian or Indian cuisine. If anything, Andrew and I might have squirted a little sriracha into both because we like heat.  But you could probably serve this to a young child without getting a grimace.  Tomatoes are a great foil for shrimp and this dish is beautiful to look at. Although the original recipe gave the lime as an optional ingredient, do not leave it out. It elevates the entire dish.  The side dish, a stir fry of Napa Cabbage, gets its somewhat smoky flavor from the Oyster Sauce but again, it’s mild and tame.  Here are the recipes for a dinner that you can get on the table in well under an hour.  

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