Saturday, March 26, 2022

Perfumed Coconut Rice

Certain foods seem to be everywhere. Coconut rice is one of those foods. It is a dish that transcends cultures and continents. One can find a recipe for coconut rice in South America, Africa, the subcontinent and east Asia.  The differences vary depending upon the rice used (for example, jasmine in East Asia, basmati on the subcontinent), whether it is coconut meat or coconut milk that is used, and the spices or herbs added during the cooking process. 

This particular recipe comes from Myanmar (Burma). In that country, htamin refers to cooked rice that is paired with with hin, which is any kind of meat or vegetable. It is a staple food on the Burmese table. Coconut rice is known as ohn htamin or အုန်းထမင်း. The rice is cooked in a base that includes coconut milk, fried shallots and salt. The recipe goes two steps further. First, it calls for turmeric, which gives the rice its nice bright color. Second, the recipe calls for the use of cloves and cinnamon, which provide the aromatics that gives this recipe its name.

Coconut rice is typically a ceremonial food that is served on special occasions. As noted above, a hin is served with htamin. In the case of coconut rice, that hin is usually a chicken curry. I prepared this performed coconut rice to accompany my Aromatic Chicken from the Shan Hills. The combination of this perfumed rice ad the aromatic chicken made my kitchen smell the best that it has in a while.


Recipe from Naomi Daguid, Burma, at pg. 237

Serves 8


  • 3 cups jasmine rice
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil or vegetable oil
  • 3 or 4 small shallots, cut lengthwise in half or into quarters
  • 1 clove
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups canned or fresh coconut milk
  • About 2 1/2 cups water 


1. Prepare the rice. Wash the rice by immersing it in a bowl of cold water, swishing it around and draining; repeat two or three times. Set aside.

2. Continue preparing the rice. Place a pot with a tight fitting lid over medium heat. Add the oil (don't skip it or the coconut milk will make the rice stick to the bottom of the pot), then add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice, clove, cinnamon stick, turmeric, and salt and stir gently.  Add the coconut milk and 2 cups of water, then measure the depth of the liquid: place the tip of your index finger on the top of the surface of the rice, the liquid should come up to your first joint. Add water if needed.  Bring to a bowl, then cover, lower the heat to medium-low and then cook for 5 minutes. Lower the heat to the lowest setting and cook the rice for another 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

3. Finish the dish. Shake the pot gently, then remove the lid and use a wet rice paddle or flat wooden spoon to turn the rice: slide the paddle or spoon down the inside wall of the pot or cooker and turn the rice gently. Repeat all around the edges of the pot. Cover until ready to serve, hot or at room temperature. 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Aromatic Chicken from the Shan Hills

There is a region in Myanmar (or Burma) just east of Mandalay, which is historically referred to as the Shan Plateau. If one were to look at a map of the area, it is not so much of a plateau, but hills and mountain ranges divided by narrow valleys. In more recent years, the area has been referred to as the Shan Hills rather than the Shan Plateau. This new name is a little more representative of the landscape in the area. 

The Shan Hills are also a part of the Shan State, which is a political division in eastern Myanmar. It is an area with a long history of armed conflict between the central government and various militias seeking greater autonomy or independence. At the center of that conflict in many ways is the Shan, which form the largest ethnic group in the Shan State and the largest minority in the entire country of Myanmar.

The name "Shan" generally refers to a range of ethnic groups who refer to themselves as the Tai (တႆ). Their cuisine of the Shan or Tai is popular in Myanmar. It incorporates a wide range of ingredients and foods, primarily because the climate enables the cultivation of a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Some of these ingredients include water bamboo, banana buds, quince fruit and pennywort. The Shan also utilize every protein in a wide range of preparations. One that caught my attention is a fermented pork "sashimi."

My introduction to Shan cuisine is going to be a little more traditional, namely, a chicken curry. Generally speaking, Burmese curries stake their own position separate and apart from the curries of their neighbors, such as India, China and Thailand. Burmese curries do not use the spices that often find their way into Indian curries, such as coriander seeds, cumin, cinnamon or cardamom. (Khin Maung Saw, Burmese Cuisine, Its Unique Style and Changes After British Annexation, at 6.) There are also no traditional masalas or curry powders in Burmese cooking. Instead, Burmese curries begin with a generous amount of garlic and ginger, followed by different ingredients, such as lemongrass and lime leaves, to build the flavor of the dish. As for Shan curries, they are known for their use of fresh herbs, such as galangal, lemongrass and sawtooth coriander. (Naomi Daguid, Burma.)

This recipe for aromatic chicken demonstrates the uniqueness of Burmese curries, as well as what one could find in the Shan Hills. The recipe begins with a lot of garlic and ginger, which are pounded into a paste with dried chiles. The curry is then prepared by first browning the chicken in hot oil before adding the paste, along with onions and turmeric.  The recipe demonstrates its Shan roots with the use of lemongrass, lime leaves and cilantro, all of which provide a freshness to the dish.

In the end, this recipe demonstrates what I love about cooking and learning about cooking. Dishes such as this Aromatic Chicken from the Shan Hills represents one significant truism. It is how different groups of people but their own mark on the food they eat, yet, at its most basic level, that food -- such as a curry (however defined) -- is what is common among all of those people. That truism applies in many ways in Myanmar, a country with 136 recognized indigenous ethnic groups. (I underline the number because the Myanmar government only officially recognizes 135 ethnic groups, which include the Shan. The government does not recognize the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group within the borders of Myanmar, which I believe to be wrong.)


Recipe from Naomi Duguid, Burma, page 167

Serves 6


  • 2/3 cup chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup sliced ginger
  • 2 dried red chiles, stemmed
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 3 to 3 1/2 pound chicken chopped into small pieces
  • 1 cup sliced white or yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 3 stalks lemongrass, trimmed, smashed and sliced into 1 inch lengths
  • 2 Roma or other tomatoes, cut into small wedges (about 8 per tomato)
  • 1/2 cup fresh young lime leaves
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped


1. Prepare a paste. Pound the garlic, ginger and chiles together with a little salt to make a course paste; otherwise, mince them. set aside. 

2.  Cook the chicken. Heat the oil in a large pot or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and turn the pieces in the hot oil for about 3 minutes. Add the onion, 2 teaspoons of salt, turmeric, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, chiles and tomatoes and stir and cook for 2 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. 

3. Finish the dish. Add the lime leaves and other 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stir and simmer for 10 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Taste and adjust the salt if you wish. Add the coriander, stir in and serve. 


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Ukraine

"For Ukrainians who have never had their own tsar ..., the Motherland, their homeland, has always been more important than a foreign tsar and - which is the worse for Russia - more important than faith."

Andriy Kurkov, Ukraine in Histories and Stories: Essays by Ukrainian Intellectuals.

February 23, 2022 - the foreign tsar -- namely, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin -- authorized an unjustified and unprovoked war against Ukraine and its people. Putin conjured up multiple, patently false reasons for his war. Reasons so patently absurd that I will not repeat them because I do not want to give them any more airing than what news outlets have already provided. Nevertheless, this is the war of Vladimir Putin and his cronies, like Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. They have pressed hundreds of thousands of Russian troops into a war that, judging by the anti-war protests that took place across the Russian Federation, is not one embraced by the Russian people themselves. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy telling 
the Ukrainian people that he and his advisors are
fighting alongside them in the streets.

In the days that followed the initial invasion, the above quote manifested itself in the resolve of the Ukrainian people. It was found among that small Ukrainian garrison on Zminnyi Island (Snake Island) who told a Russian warship to go fuck itself. It is also present in the sacrifice of Skakun Vitaliy Volodymyrovich, a Ukrainian soldier who remained with the explosives that he used to blow up a bridge because he did not have time to set the charge and escape. It can even be seen in the words of the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who responded to the United States offer of evacuation with the words, "the fight is here, I need more ammo, not a ride."

The Ukrainian woman who told the Russian
soldier to put seeds in his pockets.
Indeed, this resolve is seemingly present in almost every Ukrainian. There is the woman in Henychesk, Kherson region, who stood just feet away from a Russian soldier while telling him to put sunflower seeds in his pockets so when he dies on Ukrainian land, those flowers, which happen to be the national flower of Ukraine, will grow from that spot. There are also countless other examples, including the Ukrainians who take to the streets to block Russian military vehicles with their bodies. 

To be clear, the stakes of the current conflict involves much more than whether Ukraine will continue as an independent country. At its most basic level, the conflict presents a clear and present danger to the very identity of the Ukrainian people. If the Russian Federation is successful in occupying Ukraine, the Russians could effectively destroy the history and heritage of the Ukrainian people. Indeed, that assault is already underway, with attacks on cultural institutions such as opera houses, museums and even the Babyn Yar memorial (which was built to remember the massacre of Jewish Ukrainians during the holocaust). 

In waging this It involves the Ukrainian identity. Ukrainian people are desperately defending not just their homeland, but their own identity and their freedom. No speech by Vladimir Putin and no war by the Russian Federation will deny or erase the history of the Ukrainian people or their homeland.  

"Inside yourself, dig the well which will bring water to both your house and your neighbor's." - Gregory Skorovoda (Ukrainian writer)

The war in Ukraine has underscored the importance of protecting and preserving the Ukrainian culture. Across the world, Ukrainians are reconnecting through shared experiences, many of which revolve around food. In the past, I have used this blog to discuss the persecution of peoples, such as the genocide of the Rohingya, the plight of the Somali, apartheid-like conditions imposed upon the Palestinians, and the systematic imprisonment of the Uyghurs and the destruction of their culture. I realize that posting on a blog is not much, but I try dig deep to contribute in my own small way to helping people understand (to the extent they don't already) the importance of human rights and the need to accept peoples and their cultures for who and what they are.

To this end, I have placed my thumb on the Around the World in 80 Dishes culinary challenge. Rather than wait for the random country generator to assign Ukraine as my next challenge, I have made an exception. It is perhaps one of the most important exceptions that I have made. 

I strongly believe that this particular story needs to be told right now. My hope is that by doing my own digging, I will be able to share what I have learned to help both myself and those who read this blog.

"We have survived two world wars, Holodomor, Holocaust, the Great Purge, occupation in eastern Ukraine. We don't have a lot of land, we don't have nuclear arms, ....  But we have our people and our land - that's what we're fighting for.

- Volodymyr Zelenskyy

The nation state construct known as Ukraine first emerged in the ashes of World War I.  In fact, multiple Ukrainian states emerged, such as Ukrainian People's Republic, the Hetmanate, and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. However, it was the Ukrainian People's Republic that obtained recognition by the international community in 1917. Wars continued in the region, with most of those nascent Ukrainian states finding themselves incorporated into other countries. When relative peace emerged in 1921, the territory of what would become modern day Ukraine was basically split between four countries. The western portions fell within the borders of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. The rest was squarely within the Soviet Union.  After the Second World War, the Soviet Union, under the iron grasp of Josef Stalin, drew the borders that continue to this day.  

And, while it may have been the Soviet Union that carved the lines that constitute the present-day Ukraine, it is an important thing to keep in mind that the Soviet Union and Russia are two separate states themselves. The Soviet Union was an "international project," a federation of national units, one of which was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. When the Soviet Union dissolved, those units emerged as independent countries, from Estonia to Moldova, Ukraine to Kazakhstan. (Ironically, the Russian Federation itself is an amalgamation of oblasts, republics, krais, and autonomous okrugs, many of which -- for example, Adygea, Bashkorostan, or Kalmykia -- were founded upon ethnic groups and/or have substantial numbers of ethnic minorities in them today.

In any event, the history of this nation state construct is not the same as the people who lived within it. Indeed, the history of the Ukrainian people predate that nation-state. While most of the people who lived in the areas would have identified themselves as Orthodox (based on their religion), a Ukrainian identity emerged in the early 19th century, with its own language separate and consciousness as a people.  Intellectuals and writers, such as Taras Shevchenko and Mykola Kostomarov, wrote works in Ukrainian exploring what would become Ukrainian national philosophy. Shevchenko wrote about the political repression of the poorer classes and dreamed of their liberation. This perspective is important: it is the poor in the countryside who formed the core of the Ukrainians, and the anti-elitist nature of their philosophy was integral given those who lived in the cities spoke Polish or Russian.  For these reasons, Ukrainian thought thrived at the lowest levels, out of view of the official state.  As the Soviet Union emerged, the emphasis on educating the poorest classes resulted in the spread of the Ukrainian language and literature into the 1930s.

However, the Ukrainian identity -- while officially celebrated as part of the Soviet Union -- was also viewed as a threat, especially by the Soviet leader, Josef Stalin. Aided by inept agricultural practices and poor weather, Stalin set in motion the events that led to the Holodomor, or the Great Famine, in 1932 to 1933. Nearly four million Ukrainians starved to death, while their intellectuals, artists, and writers were arrested. While the Ukrainian identity survived the Great Famine, it would face challenges  over and over again. Approximately 900,000 Ukrainian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, including the massacres of September 29 and 30, 1941, when 33,731 Jews were massacred by the Nazis. Hundreds of thousands of additional Ukrainians were killed after World War II during Stalin's Great Purge. While peace eventually emerged across what was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the battle continued to preserve the Ukrainian identity in a union dominated by Russians. 

This struggle ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. From the ashes of that empire arose an independent Ukraine. As with all of the post U.S.S.R. countries, Ukraine struggled with establishing a democratic government. While some of those newly established countries fell quickly back into authoritarianism (see my challenge involving a main course from Turkmenistan), the Ukrainian government established a republic and elected its leaders. Ukraine's independence has not always been smooth, with revolutions in 2004 and, most recently, the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. That second one led to the ouster of  pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, and a new, more pro-western government. Elections in 2019 led to a new President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who continued to push for greater ties with the European Union and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Dear God, calamity again! 

It was so peaceful, so serene;

We had just begun to break the chains

That bind our folk in slavery

When halt! Once again the people's blood

is streaming.

"Calamity Again," Taras Shevchenko

This poem hauntingly captures what it means to be Ukrainian. With the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, Ukraine and its people finally liberated themselves from the direct shackles of its past (whether it be as a direct subject of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union) and the indirect bondage of the present (through forced economic and political ties with the Russian Federation). They had finally the freedom to chart their own course; and, whether it took them west toward the European Union or continued east toward the Commonwealth of Independent States, it would be their own choice. 

All of that came to an end on February 23, 2022. Without provocation or justification, Russia commenced a war that is characterized by the inhumane assault upon the Ukrainian people. Those people are now fighting not only for their freedom, but for their identity. This fight has led many Ukrainians around the world to think about protecting their heritage. They have taken to social media to tell their stories, many of which surround the food that they eat. Whether it is the Ukrainian Borscht (which, as with the Ukrainian people, is different than Russian Borscht) or their paska (Easter Bread), these recipes define who they are as much as their history or any nation state. 

There are several key components to Ukrainian cuisine. First, flour and cereals -- such as rye and wheat -- play a significant role in many dishes, including breads, dumplings and pies. Second, ingredients like onions, garlic, horseradish, dill, parsley, and thyme are used to provide flavor to dishes.  Over time, the trade in spices also brought black pepper, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon to the Ukrainian kitchen. Third, Ukrainian cuisine emphasizes a wide use of pork and fat, along with sour cream, sunflower oil and eggs. Finally, Ukrainian cuisine is noteworthy for the two-step process in preparing many dishes, with the ingredients being boiled or fried first, followed by a second technique, such as stewing or baking, to complete the dish.

Telling the stories and sharing the recipes is important. It is as much a part of the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian war as taking arms or throwing Molotov cocktails. Russia has launched this war on the premise of nullifying the Ukrainian identity by subsuming it into a larger Russian one. Efforts to preserve what it means to be Ukrainian, even if through words, contributes to the defense. And, in the end, even the smallest contributions matter.


Turning to the challenge, I wanted to find a couple of recipes that are either distinctively Ukrainians or upon which Ukrainians have put their own mark. I chose two receipes, one that is a side dish and another that is a main course. 

The side dish, which could also double as a main course itself, is known as deruny, which are relatively simple potato pancakes. The cultivation of potatoes became widespread throughout Ukraine in the 19th century. Potatoes eventually emerged as the "second bread" on family tables, displacing vegetables like parnisps and turnips. Traditionally, families prepare deruny on Sundays as a meal in and of themselves. It seemed only appropriate that I made this dish on a Sunday as well.
This recipe comes from the northern region of Ukraine. If one travelled about two hours west from Kiev, they would arrive in the city of Zhytomyr. The city is some to a very particular piece of artwork by Volodymyr Kosyrenko. It is a stone monument to the deruny, featuring a basket of the potato pancakes sitting on a pedestal of red and gray granite. One could travel another hour and half north to the city of Korosten for the deruny festival.  The festival showcased not just the Ukrainian pancakes, but similar ones from Belarus, England, France, Norway and Poland.

Unfortunately, both Zhytomyr and Korosten have been targets of Russia's unprovoked war, where Russian forces have murdered Ukrainians in attacks across that region.

Recipe from Ukraine Food
Serves 4

  • 1 pound of potatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1. Prepare the potatoes. Peel and wash the potatoes. Grate using a medium grater. Combine the potatoes with the egg, salt, pepper and flour. Stir until completely combined.

2. Fry the potato cakes. Heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat. Spoon the potatoes into disc shapes in the oil. Fry each side until golden crisp.

3. Finish the dish. Once fried, remove from the oil. Serve with sour cream or browned onions. 


The main course for this challenge involves something that I have not done for years: make dumplings. I have to go back to my special challenge involving Tibet, when I made sha momos, or my challenge to prepare veprova pecene, a main course from the Czech Republic, during which I also made houskove knedlicky, or bread dumplings. In the Ukraine, the particular dish that I made is halushki. 

While one can find halushki dishes across central and eastern Europe, the Ukrainian version involves the preparation of small flour dumplings, as opposed to either potato dumplings or noodles. At least what I can find, Ukrainian halushki is more often served with onions and mushrooms, along with some bacon (as noted above, pork can be found in many Ukrainian dishes). This particular combination of ingredients works well together, with the puffy dumplings contrasted with crunchy bacon and sautéed mushrooms.

To be sure, my dumpling making skills need a lot of refinement. The dumplings came out rather rustic and, despite my best efforts to standardize the size and shape, it just did not work out well.  Still, in the end, the combination of those dumplings with the butter, bacon, mushrooms and onions made this a very delicious dish. 


Recipe from Mom's Dish

Serves 4


  • 5 cups flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 150 grams of butter, plus 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 pound of fresh mushrooms
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup bacon pieces
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper


1. Prepare the dough. Place the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a little well in the middle. Place whisked eggs, water and melted butter into it. Using a fork, work the ingredients together to form a dough. Finish up combining the ingredients by hand until you get a smooth even texture. 

2. Prepare the dumplings. Divide the dough into eight even pieces. On a floured surface, roll each piece into a long string. Dice each string into small pieces.

3. Cook the dumplings. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the raw dumplings and boil them until they float to the top.

4. Prepare the toppings. Dice the mushrooms and sauté them in a buttered skillet for about 5 minutes. Dice the onions and add them to the skillet, cooking them until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the bacon and sauté for about 5 minutes. Place the dumplings in a non-stick skillet and add the sautéed mixture and butter. Cook until they turn golden brown.

*    *    *

This challenge was done in short order. While I am not Ukrainian, I still wanted to contribute to the discussion of the Ukrainian culture, cuisine and heritage, all of which are under attack. One cannot stand silent watching Russia's unprovoked assault on Ukraine, its murder of Ukrainians and its attempt to subjugate Ukrainians under some false notion that they are anything other than Ukrainian. In this moment, we are all Ukrainians. Until the next time, 


Saturday, March 5, 2022

Oyster Ceviche

"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans." 

Earnest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Hemingway's words capture the joy that comes with eating raw oysters on the half shell. And, I have enjoyed many an oyster in that fashion. Eastern oysters, ranging from the Damariscotta River in Maine to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Western oysters, from Puget Sound in Washington State to Northern California. Despite all of the different varieties of oysters that I have tried, I have never encountered a "faint metallic taste." I do love the briny, seawater taste that comes with each little bivalve.

Over time, I have expanded beyond simply eating raw oysters. I have made a variety of oyster shooters, including my Andalusian-Inspired Oyster Shooters and my Trinidad Oyster Cocktail. I have also made oyster stews

I recently had a couple dozen oysters, Chunus, which were farmed in the Chesapeake Bay. I decided to serve one dozen in the traditional fashion, that is, raw on the half shell.  But, I wanted to find a new way to experience the joy of eating oysters.  

That is when I came across a recipe for Oyster Ceviche. The dish, ceviche," is generally described as raw seafood that is "cooked" through chemical reactions caused by the acid in citrus juice that coagulates the proteins in the seafood. 

There is some debate about ceviche's origins.  Most scholars and historians believe that the dish originated in colonial-era Peru, with the Spanish bringing the citrus - at first, oranges, and then, lemons and limes - which were combined with local seafood and chiles to make the dish. Most historians also agree that it was not the conquistadors who were responsible for the creation of ceviche. Instead, they credit the Moorish women who were brought to the New World with the colonizers. The women brought a cooking method known as escabeche, which is the maceration of raw meat or fish in vinegar or citrus. The word escabache itself is derived from the Andalusi Arabic phrase al-sikbaj. While the origins may trace back to the old world and to Arabic empires, there is little doubt that ceviche is Peru's national dish.  

Most ceviche served in restaurants usually involves fish. To the extent "shellfish" is involved, it is usually shrimp.  Other shellfish - such as oysters and clams - are usually not on the menu. The thought of gently "cooking" oysters with citrus juice really intrigued me. The addition of the diced bell peppers, diced red onions and chopped cilantro also provide a colorable palette for the oysters. The one departure from the recipe that I did was to simply chop the oysters in half, rather than in "small chunks." I think the larger the oyster, the better the presentation. The next time that I make this recipe, I will probably keep the oysters whole, unless they are too large. 


Recipe from Laylita

Serves 2


  • 6 large oysters, shucked, liqueur reserved
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
  • 5 limes juiced
  • 1/2 tablespoon sunflower seed oil or light olive oil
  • Salt to taste
1. Prepare the onions. Soak the onion in one cup of cold water with 1 teaspoon of salt.  Rinse and drain well. Marinate with the juice of 1 lime.

2. Prepare the oysters. Remove the oyster meat from the oyster shells, saving the oyster liqueur (juice), and chop the oysters into small cubes.

3. Marinate the oysters. In a medium sized bowl, combine the chopped oysters, the liqueur, marinated red onion, diced tomatoes, diced bell pepper, lime juice, finely chopped cilantro, oil and salt to taste.  Let marinate in the fridge for about 5 to 10 minutes and serve immediately. 


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

African Chicken (Galinha a Africana)

If one wanted African Chicken, the journey would take them to an unexpected place. It would not be a restaurant in Dakar or Kigali. It would not be to a home in Nairobi or Gabarone. Instead, that journey would transport the person to a small island off of a continent. The continent is Asia and that island is Macau.

The dish of African Chicken -- or, as it may appear on menus, Galinha a Africana -- embodies the essence of the cuisine of Macau. That essence is fusion. For more than 450 years, chefs and cooks on Macau have incorporated European, African and Asian ingredients, cooking methods and recipes to create the dishes that grace the tables of today.  So much so, that the cuisine of Macau has been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO as the world's first fusion food

The story of Macanese food, as their people, begins with the colonization of the island by Portugal in the 16th century.  Portuguese sailors and merchants came to the island as part of their voyages across the world. The Portuguese who remained on Macau began to intermarry with the Chinese, which gave rise to the Macanese people. The Macanese even had their own language, Patua, which is a form of Portuguese Creole. However, when the Portuguese returned control of Macau to China, the Macanese people began to disperse. Presently, the Macanese constitute about 10% of the population of the island at best, and, their language is deemed critically endangered, with only about 50 speakers as of 2000 (and that was 20 years ago).  

Like the people, Macanese cuisine is basically a fusion of Portuguese and Chinese cuisines, but it incorporates ingredients, cooking processes, and recipes from around the world, including Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Goa and Timor. This is where African Chicken provides a perfect example of Macau's fusion cuisine because that fusion can be found on multiple levels. For example, the dish incorporates chiles, which were brought to Macau by the Portuguese from Angola and Mozambique. It also incorporates fish sauce, that wonderful umami flavor that can be found in southeastern Asian cuisine. The fusion involves more than just ingredients, it also includes cooking processes. The chicken is first grilled until the skin becomes crispy and brown, and then the chicken is braised in its marinade. The end result is everything that is best about each African, Asian and European cuisine, namely fiery piri chiles, the smell and taste of fish sauce and the juiciness of braised chicken.

The one other fascinating aspect about this dish is that, according to some, "you never know what you are going to get" when you order African Chicken in Macau. Sometimes the chicken is grilled and served without sauce. Other times it is presented as a stew. Some versions are fiery hot because of the chiles (as was the version I prepared), others have sweeter notes brought about by the coconut. The malleable nature of this dish may be just simply another level of fusion, enabling cooks and chefs to add their own personal touches to what is truly a global dish.

Finally, this post would not be complete without a mention of the Africans who were and are still present in Macau. During the colonial period, Africans served in the galleys of ships or as servants at the houses of the rich in Macau and southeastern China. After slavery was abolished, Portugal continued to bring Africans from Angola and Mozambique to serve as soldiers in Macau. After the 1974 Portuguese revolution, many of these African soldiers returned to their countries. Some remained, as well as others who came to the island and to China to study. They remain an important part of the community on the island.


Recipe adapted from SCMP and Omnivore's Cookbook

Serves 4


  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs or breasts
  • 3 1/2 ounces shallots, peeled
  • 1 3/4 ounce garlic, peeled
  • 1 ounce ginger, peeled
  • 1/2 to 3/4 ounce of red bird's eye chiles
  • 3 1/2 ounces red banana chiles
  • 7/8 ounce fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons paprika
  • 5 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 5 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk


1. Prepare the chicken. Dry the chicken with paper towels.  Sprinkle salt on both sides of the chicken and place it into a bowl.

2. Prepare the marinade. Roughly chop the shallots, garlic and ginger, placing them into a bowl for a food processor or blender. Mince the bird's eye chiles, shaking out as many seeds as possible. Roughly chop the banana chiles and cilantro. Add the chiles and cilantro to the blender or food processor. Add the peppercorns, sugar, chile powder, paprika and 10 grams of salt to the food processor or blender and process the ingredients to a coarse paste. Add the fish sauce, vinegar and lime juice. Process the ingredients to a rough puree. Stir in the coconut milk into the puree and then pour the marinade into the bowl holding the chicken. Mix well to ensure the pieces are coated with marinade and refrigerate for three to eight hours, mixing occasionally. Take the bowl from the fridge an hour before cooking the chicken. 

3. Cook the chicken. Preheat the oven broiler. Take the chicken out of the bowl and wipe off as much marinade as possible. Place the pieces skin side up in one layer on a baking tray. Grill the chicken on high until the skin is deep brown and slightly charred in spots, then turn the oven to 390 degrees Fahrenheit and continue baking for eight minutes for the breasts, 10 minutes for thighs. 

4.  Prepare the sauce. While the chicken is cooking, pour the marinade into a heatproof serving dish (such as enameled cast iron just large enough to fit the chicken pieces a little snugly in one layer. Place over a medium flame and bring to a bowl, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring often, until the sauce is a nice coating consistency. Taste the sauce and correct the seasonings, as necessary. If it is too spicy, add more sugar and/or coconut milk. 

5. Continue cooking the chicken. After baking the chicken, take the pan from the oven. Pour any chicken juices into the serving dish. Place the chicken in the dish and spoon the sauce over the pieces to lightly coat them. Place the dish in the oven and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes. 

6. Finish the dish. Place sprigs of fresh cilantro over the chicken. Serve immediately with rice or potatoes.