The title of this book may be puzzling to those who aren’t familiar with Burmese food, but Singaporean writer and cake shop owner Bryan Koh (whose book on Filipino cuisine, Milk Pigs and Violet Gold , I reviewed in May) explains in the introduction.
“To say that mont hin gar, literally translated as ‘peppery soup snack’, is Burma’s most well-known dish is something of an understatement,” Koh writes. “For many an outsider it is the only dish for which the country seems to be known. The Burmese endearingly refer to it as their unofficial national dish.
“At its essence, mont hin gar is a fish noodle soup, which is about as enlightening as calling minestrone a vegetable soup [...] The soup, with the visual appeal of a mud-brown soupe de poisson, does little to titillate. But what it lacks in appearance it readily recompenses with flavour [...]
“Mornings are for mont hin gar. This is not a Burmese proverb, though it should be, one oddly absent from Hla Pe’s book on the subject, the missing 451st entry that would have bridged the sections on prudence and excess quite perfectly.
“Few can think of a better way to break into their day than with a hot bowl of the stuff, brightened with boiled duck egg and bulked up with crisp, succulent slices of blanched banana stem and snipped up buthee kyaw , crunchy fritters of calabash. Roadside vendors start their preparations as early as four o’clock in the morning so they are able to entertain the early birds by five-thirty.”
English-language cookbooks on Burmese cuisine are few and far between, and, as he did with Milk Pigs, Koh wanted 0451 Mornings are for Mont Hin Gar to include as many of the country’s myriad dishes and regional differences in its 602 pages as possible.
“Many times I felt I had bitten off more than I could chew,” he writes. “Every visit to a market seemed to uncover several new items [...] Conversations, however random, seemed to bring with them juicy morsels of information [...] It is of little wonder that the book swelled to twice its intended size.”
Koh gives recipes for several versions of mont hin gar as well as other (fairly) well-known dishes, including fermented tea-leaf salad, pickled ginger salad and coconut chicken noodle soup.
Lesser-known dishes include buffalo-skin salad, pork and Indian gooseberry curry, “soft as brain” pudding, fried fermented prawn paste with crushed tamarind pods, Shan kneaded rice with fish, roselle bud soup with grilled fish, green jackfish and pork soup with odoriferous acacia, and tamarind leaf salad.