Saturday, February 24, 2024

Lunu Miris

I love the cuisine of Sri Lanka, which is known to curry almost everything. One particular aspect of this cuisine has really gotten my attention: the sambols. A sambol is a freshly made condiment or relish that typically incorporates chiles to add not just spice, but other flavors to whatever one is eating.

The history of sambols takes us to Indonesia, where they are referred to as sambals. Indonesians prepared these condiments using cabya, also known as the Javanese long pepper, which is native to the island of Java. The earliest references to cabya go back to the 10th century C.E. Although not technically a chile, the cabya provided a spicy element to the dishes prepared by Indonesian cooks. However, by the 16th century C.E., Spanish and Portuguese explorers and colonizers brought the traditional chiles from the new world to the Indonesian islands. Soon, cooks started using chiles over cabya. From there, the Dutch colonizers exported sambals to other countries, including Sri Lanka. 

Sambols (or sambals) have chiles as the central ingredient, around which a range of secondary ingredients are added. For example, pol sambol includes green chiles combined with coconut, shallots, Maldive fish chips, and lime juice. Dried shrimp sambol uses red chiles combined with dried shrimp (obviously), dried coconut, onions, garlic and lime juice.  

Lunu miris translates into onion chile. However, there are no onions in this recipe, but there are three different chiles: long red chiles, chile flakes and chile power, as well as freshly ground black pepper. I found this recipe in O Tama Carey's Lanka Food, which describes the sambol as more of a paste. When I prepared it, the final product was more like a salsa, but a very thick and extremely fiery one. Carey advises that this sambol is "[n]ot for the faint hearted." That is definitely an understatement. This recipe should only be prepared by people who order their food at the highest level of spice for those who ordinarily prepare it.


Recipe from O Tama Carey, Lanka Food, pg. 222

Serves 4-6


  • 7/8 ounces Maldive fish flakes
  • 1/8 ounce chile flakes
  • 1/8 ounce salt flakes
  • 3 long red chiles, cut into thin rounds
  • 2.5 ounces of shallots, finely sliced
  • 1/8 ounce chile powder
  • 1/10 ounces of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 limes juiced


Using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, pound (or process) the Maldive fish flakes, chile flakes and salt until the flakes are finely ground. Add the long red chiles and shallots and pound (or process) to a paste like consistence. It does not have to be super smooth. Mix through the pepper and chile powder and season to taste with lime juice. Service at room temperature. 


Friday, February 16, 2024

Rohingyan Beef Curry

We all miss home, but we cannot go back to the same fear. -- Nur Anya 

For decades, the Rohingyans -- a Muslim minority group --  have suffered under dehumanizing discrimination in Myanmar. The government refused to grant citizenship to the Rohingyan people, denying legal status to an entire ethnic group. Yet, the government passed laws that placed significant restrictions upon the Rohingya. For example, in the northern towns of Mungdaw and Buthidaugn, the authorities limited Rohingyan couples to two children. The government also requires Rohingyans to get approval before they can marry, as well as to travel or move outside of their home towns. These conditions are exacerbated by the fact that the area where most Rohingyans call "home," the Rakine State, is the least developed of Myanmar's states and has a poverty rate of 78%, which is more than double the national rate of 37.5% percent. 

The discrimination and repression led to violence in 2017, after a militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police and army posts. The military cracked down on the Rohingyan people. As the United Nations would later find in an after-the-fact investigation, the Myanmar military showed "genocidal intent" and, in a 2018 report, the UN determined that Myanmar found that the military engaged in "clear patterns of abuse" that included, among other things, the systematic targeting of civilians, promoting discriminatory rhetoric against the Rohingya and establishing a "climate of impunity" for the government's security forces. After approximately one year, it is estimated that the Myanmar military and security forces killed nearly 24,000 Rohingyans.

Fleeing Death and Destruction

The violence and death led to mass displacement of Rohingyans, significant numbers of whom fled as refugees to other countries. I previously touched upon the Rohingyan refugee crisis as part of my culinary challenge involving Myanmar. Approximately 740,000 Rohingyans fled into neighboring Bangladesh. Many more fled to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It was, at the time, the world's fastest growing humanitarian crisis.

Rohingyan refugees. Source: UNHR Australia

The stories of those who became refugees is heart-wrenching. As Nur Anya recounted from a refugee camp in Bangladesh: 

In Myanmar, we had our lands where we grew flowers, vegetables and many plants. We had a big house where all the family members lived together. The violence and the killing drove us to leave our homes. They brunt houses in my neighbourhood. They shot and killed a lot of people in my village. We were living with fear every day.  When we decided to leave, we had no other option.

It was the most difficult journey of my life. We walked 13 days and nights. To cross the river, my family used a handmade bamboo raft. There were a lot of people with us -- I could not say what the number was, it was so huge. 

As Rohingyans became refugees, many of their villages were abandoned and even more were distroyed. At one point, 176 of 471 Rohingyan villages -- or more than 1/3 of the villages -- had been abandoned.  The Myanmar government cleared entire Rohingyan villages and farms. The government then built homes, infrastructure and military bases in their place. 

Preserving the Rohingyan Culture

The end result, and perhaps the government's objective, was to eliminate the Rohingya people from Myanmar.  The government sought to take the legal status of the people -- that is, no recognition of the Rohingyans -- and make that a factual reality. This creates a clear and present danger to the Rohingyan identity and their culture, including their cuisine. The stories from the refugees include accounts where they had to leave everything behind, including all of their cooking utensils, which makes it harder for them to prepare food for themselves and their families. This leaves the people dependent upon food aid, which has become more difficult to obtain, leading to smaller meals or even skipped meals.

Rohingyan refugees eating a meal. Source: UNHCR

There are efforts to preserve that culture and its cuisine. One example involves the Endangered Material Knowledge Program (EDKM), which provides grants to conduct research on critically endangered knowledge. One project that was under consideration in 2023 was entitled, Rohingya Recipes and Food Practices of stateless Rohingya Community in Camps of Bangladesh. The project description noted the historical difficulty of the Rohingyan people when it came to food: they struggled to maintain the needed nutritional demands, whether it was at their homes in Myanmar or in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. The objective of this project is, among other things, to document recipes and practices of the Rohingyan people. 

This research is sorely needed, as there are few resources and research available on the Internet about the Rohingyan people, their culture and their cuisine. I was able to find a few recipes (which was more than my previous research when I was working on my Around the World challenge). I found a couple of recipes, including one for Rohingyan beef curry.

This recipe is a very interesting one. It calls for beef with bones. When I went to the grocery store, I had to improvise: I purchased some stew meat and some marrow bones. The "masala" for this curry -- turmeric, red chile powder, coriander, cumin, and garam masala -- provided for an aromatic cooking experience and a lot of flavor to build upon the garlic/ginger paste. 

The end result is a delicious beef curry with a slight kick. (I used Kashmiri chiles for the ground red chile powder.) I could not escape the thoughts about how this dish is just a memory for nearly a million Rohingyan refugees who have been forced from their homes and subjected to even greater poverty than what they previously experienced. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to prepare this dish and prepare this post, as my effort to help publicize the Rohingyan culture and cuisine. More of this is needed so that the world does not forget the tragedies that unfolded over six years ago. 

Recipe from SBS Food
Serves 4

  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 kg diced beef, with bones
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic paste
  • 2 tablespoons ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon red chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 3 teaspoons garam masala powder
  • 4 tablespoons cooking oil
  • Coriander, as garnish
  • Green chiles, as garnish

1.    Saute the vegetables and brown the meat. Heat oil on high heat in a large pot. Add onions, garlic paste and ginger paste. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes until brown. Add diced beef and bones and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add turmeric powder, red chile powder, coriander and cumin. Stir-fry for 2 more minutes. Add the garam masala and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. 

2. Add the liquid and tomatoes. Add 1 cup of water and diced tomatoes and cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes in the last half an hour. 

3. Finish the dish. Garnish with coriander (cilantro) and green chiles. Serve with hot steamed rice.


Friday, February 9, 2024

Morning Tsampa

In a prior post, I began the exploration of tsampa, one of the most fundamental aspects of the Tibetan foodways. The cultivation of barley, along with the roasting of barley berries, gave rise to a foodstuff that provided sustenance to the Tibetan people, allowing them to expand their culture and civilization across the high, arid Tibetan plateau. As part of this journey, I made my own tsampa, roasting the barley and grinding it down into the finest powder that I could with what I have. 

Now it is time to go further down those foodways, to explore the uses of tsampa. A British adventurer and food writer, Peter Fleming, once recounted a basic way of preparing breakfast with tsampa: 

You fill your shallow wooden bowl with tea, then you let the butter melt in the tea (the butter is usually rancid and has a good cheesy flavor); then you put a handful of tsampa in. At first it floats; then like a child's castle of sand, its foundation begins to be eaten by the liquid. You coax it with your fingers until it is more or less saturated and has become a paste; this you knead until you have a kind of doughy cake in your hand and the wooden bowl is empty and clean. Breakfast is ready.

Fleming provides quite the description, and, maybe someday I will try to prepare breakfast in that manner. That date may have to wait until I have some rancid butter. 

More recent accounts, such as one by Barbara Hazelton, who visited Tibet in 2016, provide a similar glimpse into how tsampa is eaten at breakfast. Hazelton wrote: 

The trip to Tibet is long and arduous, and over these many trips to Tibet, I have found I have developed my wits and ways of adapting to this fierce world. In the monastery, the food, tiresome, over-fried and boiled vegetables and tasteless white rice which the kind, bow-legged cook Karma carefully prepares for the "foreigners," Rinpoche's guests, I discovered one gloomy cold morning, can be avoided by taking refuge in the warm cozy kitchen, where one finds the dzo yogurt from the nunnery and the leather bag of tsampa from the cook's family, hanging on a post by the kitchen stove and in the decorated wooden bowl, dried cheese, and sugar. This is where the monks gather and laugh and chat, as they make their morning tsampa balls and slurp the heavy nourishing butter tea, in the kitchen y the long black metal stove filled with fragrant wood, that snaps and spreads out its waves of welcome heat. 

This account -- with its dzo yogurt and tsampa -- provides a tie-in to what I decided would become my attempt to make a breakfast meal using tsampa. 

The recipe, Morning Tsampa, comes from the Beyond the Great Wall cookbook, which was written by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid. That cookbook taught me how to make tsampa in the first place, so it seemed only appropriate that it should guide my on my next step: to incorporate the roasted barley flour into a dish. 

The Morning Tsampa recipe, like many tsampa recipes, is very simple. It involves up to four ingredients, namely, tsampa, yogurt, berries and some sugary ingredient like maple syrup or honey. Those ingredients are combined in a bowl and eaten. The combination of tsampa (which is high in fiber, has important minerals, and promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria), along with the yogurts and berries, probably represents the healthiest breakfast that I have ever had in my life time. 

For that reason, I have resolved that this dish will constitute the start of my day whenever possible. It also represents a significant step forward on my Mindfulness Foodways, as it not only represents a notable improvement in my diet, but one based upon an ingredient and foodstuff that has an important place in our world. 


Recipe from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Daguid, 

Beyond the Great Wall, pg. 181


  • About 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, plain or sweetened
  • 3 tablespoons Tsampa, or to taste
  • Handful of berries or chopped fruit (optional)
  • Honey, sugar or maple syrup, to taste


Place the yogurt in  bowl and stir in the tsampa thoroughly so it is all moistened. Add fruit and a sweetener (honey, sugar or maple syrup) if you wish.


Friday, February 2, 2024

Chargrilled Hmong Black Pig Skewers with Sesame Salt

"I would tell people that Hmong food is not just a type of food. It's not about the product. It's a philosophy.... If you want to know our people you have to know our food. By knowing our food, you will know our story. You'll know where we been and it will show the trajectory of where we're going.  

-- Chef Yia Vang

To the extent people know about the Hmong, that knowledge comes more from political history. The Hmong are an indigenous ethnic group that has lived for centuries as a minority in eastern and southeastern Asia. During the Vietnam War, the United States Central Intelligence Agency recruited and trained the Hmong living in Laos for a "secret war" against the North Vietnamese Army. The Hmong harassed the North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh trail, safeguarded U.S. radar installations, and rescued downed American pilots. After the war, the communist governments of Vietnam and Laos declared that the Hmong were "traitors." The governments persecuted the Hmong. They arrested the Hmong, who were sent to hard labor camps. They sprayed Hmong villages with chemicals, including napalm.  Nearly ten percent (10%) of the Hmong population was killed and around 100,000 Hmong sought refuge in neighboring Thailand and beyond. 

The culinary history of the Hmong is far less known. Before the Vietnam War, the Hmong had a strong agrarian tradition in the mountains of northern Laos and Vietnam. They grew rice and other produce, as well as raised livestock, such as pigs. The Hmong practiced animism, believing that objects, plants animals, and even places have their own spirit. These beliefs underlie the respect that the Hmong hodl for what they have. It also informs their traditions. 

For example, there is a Hmong tradition -- called Noj Tsiab (nee-al jia) -- that centers around the butchering of a pig. During the last week of December, each family would select a pig from their herd to be butchered. Every family member had a role in the process, being taught by the elders how to prepare the pig, how it would be cut, and how to ensure that all of the pig would be used with nothing going to waste. This knowledge was important, and it was passed on from generation to generation. The end products would be used to prepare a meal for the community for the new year. It enabled everyone to participate in a tradition that gives thanks for what they have been given and to their ancestors for watching over them.

This tradition was lost, at least temporarily, for those Hmong who fled their homes and found themselves in refugee camps. Even after they escaped those camps, making their way to the United States or elsewhere, many of their new lives did not include the raising of pigs, let alone the opportunity to butcher them in accordance with their traditions. 

I knew none of this when I came across a recipe for Chargrilled Hmong Black Pig Skewers with Sesame Salt.  It was in a cookbook called the Food of Vietnam. The author, Luke Nguyen, is a Vietnamese-Australian chef who was part of a television show, Luke Nguyen's Vietnam, that I watched on public television. Every episode fascinated me, both with respect to the people, the surroundings, and, of course, the food. When I got this cookbook, as well as another Vietnamese cookbook, I spent a lot of time paging through the recipes. This one caught my eye because of the reference to the Hmong people. 

Roasted sesame seeds with salt
According to Chef Nguyen, the Hmong raised black pigs in the hills and mountains of Vietnam. The cuts from the necks would be used for this dish. I had access neither to those particular black pigs, or, more generally, to pig necks. Instead, I looked for any cut of pork that would enable me to slice thinly or that came sliced thinly. 

There are two things that I really like about this recipe. The first thing is the marinade. The recipe calls for a combination of scallions, lemongrass, fish sauce, oyster sauce, black pepper, and honey, for a marinade. This particular combination of ingredients imparts a lot of flavor into the meat, which is facilitated by the fact that the meat has been thinly sliced.  The second thing is the ease of preparing this dish. Once the marinade is complete, the rest of this recipe is easy: just thread some pre-soaked skewers, place on a heated grill, flip the skewers a few times and you are done. 

These skewers are very delicious and, given the ease of preparing this dish, I will very likely make this recipe again. The next time will take on a little more meaning now that I have some understanding of the traditions of the people behind the recipe. 


Recipe from Luke Nguyen, The Food of Vietnam, pg. 318

Serves 4-6


  • 300 grams (10.5 ounces) pork neck, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 3 spring onions, sliced then bashed to release the flavor
  • 4 tablespoons finely diced lemongrass, white part only
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil


1. Prepare the marinade. Combine the onions, lemongrass, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar honey and black pepper in a mixing bowl and mix well. Add the pork and toss until well coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. 

2. Prepare the skewers. Soak 12 bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes to prevent scorching. Thread the pork on to the skewers and chargrill on each side for 3 minutes. Mix the sesame seeds with a pinch of sea salt. Serve on the side for dipping the skewers into.