Jamie's Stomach: What's in it today?

Wrote a little ditty for the Wall Street Journal about the wide, colorful world of nam phriks, a Thai chili-salsa lovechild eaten alongside nearly every meal. My favorite is by far nam phrik ong, which is essentially Thai bolognese, and is scooped up with fried pork rinds. 
Aug 11

Wrote a little ditty for the Wall Street Journal about the wide, colorful world of nam phriks, a Thai chili-salsa lovechild eaten alongside nearly every meal. My favorite is by far nam phrik ong, which is essentially Thai bolognese, and is scooped up with fried pork rinds. 

Here’s a little ditty I wrote for CNN’s Eatocracy, breaking down the essentials of Burmese food.
Eating does not usually pose a challenge to me. I’m a food writer by trade, with the appetite of a dozen varsity shot putters combined. It’s my job to eat and to know about what I’m eating, but I was having a hard time in Myanmar.
The problem wasn’t that I found the food unappetizing - far from it. I’m smitten by the flavors of curries, chilies, shallots and seeds, all of which make frequent appearances in Myanmar’s cooking. The issue was that I was completely overwhelmed. Standing streetside in an early-morning market on my first day in Yangon, surrounded by vendors hawking strange spices, fantastical vegetables and prehistoric-looking fish, I’d never felt more unfamiliar with a style of food in my life.
So I spent the next two weeks methodically eating my way across the country, prowling produce markets, following the crowds to skilled street vendors and talking to the ultra-friendly locals about everything edible. It was hardly long enough to understand to all of the complexities of the cuisine, but by the end, I’d learned enough to finally feel a tiny bit at home.
Whether you’re planning a trip of your own or just armchair traveling, here’s what you need to know about food in Myanmar. READ MORE HERE
Apr 26

Here’s a little ditty I wrote for CNN’s Eatocracy, breaking down the essentials of Burmese food.

Eating does not usually pose a challenge to me. I’m a food writer by trade, with the appetite of a dozen varsity shot putters combined. It’s my job to eat and to know about what I’m eating, but I was having a hard time in Myanmar.

The problem wasn’t that I found the food unappetizing - far from it. I’m smitten by the flavors of curries, chilies, shallots and seeds, all of which make frequent appearances in Myanmar’s cooking. The issue was that I was completely overwhelmed. Standing streetside in an early-morning market on my first day in Yangon, surrounded by vendors hawking strange spices, fantastical vegetables and prehistoric-looking fish, I’d never felt more unfamiliar with a style of food in my life.

So I spent the next two weeks methodically eating my way across the country, prowling produce markets, following the crowds to skilled street vendors and talking to the ultra-friendly locals about everything edible. It was hardly long enough to understand to all of the complexities of the cuisine, but by the end, I’d learned enough to finally feel a tiny bit at home.

Whether you’re planning a trip of your own or just armchair traveling, here’s what you need to know about food in Myanmar. READ MORE HERE

Hey radioheads, tune in to Heritage Radio today at 2pm to hear me talk travel writing and eating adventures live on Snackytunes. LISTEN HERE. 

Apr 22
Before I left for Asia, one of the few stories I had assigned ahead of time focused on khao soi, the beloved northern Thai curry noodle soup. What I didn’t know is that when I got to Chiang Mai, I’d actually end up falling in love with a different noodle dish, one the locals eat considerably more than khao soi, which they consider for tourists. The second dish is called khanom jeen ngam niaw—a sort of Thai bolognese popular for breakfast and lunch. It’s not widely known outside of the country, but it should be. Read more about it in my latest for Saveur. 
Apr 22

Before I left for Asia, one of the few stories I had assigned ahead of time focused on khao soi, the beloved northern Thai curry noodle soup. What I didn’t know is that when I got to Chiang Mai, I’d actually end up falling in love with a different noodle dish, one the locals eat considerably more than khao soi, which they consider for tourists. The second dish is called khanom jeen ngam niaw—a sort of Thai bolognese popular for breakfast and lunch. It’s not widely known outside of the country, but it should be. Read more about it in my latest for Saveur. 

I’m back in NYC now, but that doesn’t mean I’m done writing about Asia: here’s the latest in my street food series for Serious Eats, a guide to Hanoi’s best street food (including that crazy black chicken in a can). 
Apr 9

I’m back in NYC now, but that doesn’t mean I’m done writing about Asia: here’s the latest in my street food series for Serious Eats, a guide to Hanoi’s best street food (including that crazy black chicken in a can). 

I spent my last week in Southeast Asia in the place I first fell in love with the region: southern Thailand. I swoon over the rich coconut-milk curries, fresh seafood and extra-spicy soups of the South, which is influenced by Muslim, Malaysian and Indian cultures.  It also doesn’t hurt that the area has some of the world’s most singularly stunning beaches—epic nature to the max.

At the morning market in Krabi, women wore veils over their heads and pork was butchered in a wholly separate building from the main area. I ate mashed fish curry steamed in a banana leaf with khanom jeen for breakfast, then picked up a very Indian-looking chicken biryani with turmeric and cinnamon-scented rice for lunch, to be eaten on the ferry to Koh Lanta. Two hours later, I was ensconced in my hammock, dangling precariously over the clear blue sea from the patio of the wooden stilt house I rented in Old Town, a tiny Muslim fishing village.

My last week was a quiet, solitary one, which I planned for intentionally. I rode my bike around the island, read and took meals alone.  One night I had the richest Massaman curry on this known earth, so aromatic I thought I was high. On another, I convinced the cook to make gaeng som, an ultra-spicy, sour curry soup with pineapples and fish, which, three months in to my trip, proved too much for me to handle. Scorched, I reverted to gossamer-thin roti flatbread, dipped into a mild chicken-potato curry—comfort food a million miles from home. 
Apr 9

I spent my last week in Southeast Asia in the place I first fell in love with the region: southern Thailand. I swoon over the rich coconut-milk curries, fresh seafood and extra-spicy soups of the South, which is influenced by Muslim, Malaysian and Indian cultures.  It also doesn’t hurt that the area has some of the world’s most singularly stunning beaches—epic nature to the max.

At the morning market in Krabi, women wore veils over their heads and pork was butchered in a wholly separate building from the main area. I ate mashed fish curry steamed in a banana leaf with khanom jeen for breakfast, then picked up a very Indian-looking chicken biryani with turmeric and cinnamon-scented rice for lunch, to be eaten on the ferry to Koh Lanta. Two hours later, I was ensconced in my hammock, dangling precariously over the clear blue sea from the patio of the wooden stilt house I rented in Old Town, a tiny Muslim fishing village.

My last week was a quiet, solitary one, which I planned for intentionally. I rode my bike around the island, read and took meals alone.  One night I had the richest Massaman curry on this known earth, so aromatic I thought I was high. On another, I convinced the cook to make gaeng som, an ultra-spicy, sour curry soup with pineapples and fish, which, three months in to my trip, proved too much for me to handle. Scorched, I reverted to gossamer-thin roti flatbread, dipped into a mild chicken-potato curry—comfort food a million miles from home. 

Mar 26

Snapshots of some of my favorite edible things in Burma:

Shan noodles: consumed daily, more or less The Shan are an ethnic minority with their own distinct culture and cuisine, separate from the majority Bamar, though it seems their noodles have been widely adopted across the country. Every version I had was slightly different: some vegetarian, some with pork; some almost brothy while others were dry and crumbly. Some constants remained: springy, dense rice noodles; a slightly chalky flavor from ground chickpea (or is it peanut?) powder, a gravyish tomato-garlic binder.

Fried things: The Burmese love their deep-fryers. Almost every street snack is a fried one, with a lot of Indian influence—samosas, pakoras, rotis, that sort of thing. Also, this one time at the morning market in Inle, a piece of battered white bread, topped with a handful of raw sugar post-oilbath Basically deep-fried French toast. Guh.

Home-cooked things: In an act of incredible, unexpected kindness, the receptionist at our hotel invited us to her house for dinner on our last night. On the menu: fish soup, eel curry, bitter melon/tomato/garlic curry, fried sweet chicken sausage, loofah salad, fried bean curd with tofu, fish paste, raw vegetables for fish paste dipping, fried small fish, yellow beans, and a gelatinous sesame blob called halawah for dessert. Did I mention TJ wore a longyi to dinner? 

This here is toddy, a craft microbrew if ever there was. We’d read briefly about toddy—fermented palm sugar juice, or palm wine—but weren’t exactly seeking it out, believing it to be a sort of back-country moonshine only discoverable in the rural depths of Burma. Cut to our day biking through dusty Bagan, where we unexpectedly saw a handmade TODDY SHOP sign with an arrow pointing down a dusty backroad. Boom.

A bamboo shack littered with eathernware pots and stray dogs: this was our toddy bar. At noon, we were a little early, but locals were trickling in, and we watched them carefully and managed to eke out some information in broken English. Every morning, the owner shimmies up the slender palm trees to collect a few gallons of juice. Under the scorching Burmese sun, pots of the stuff ferment quickly, frothing away for about five hours, at which point they have 3-5% ABV. The freshly fermented wine (not an oxymoron in this case) is served chilled, by the pot, with split coconut shells as cups and roasted peanuts as a snack.

The taste is light and sweet, slightly fizzy and citrusy, like a kombucha on steroids. I was impressed that the juice isn’t diluted in any way—this is pure stuff, strong but subtle in flavor. We didn’t quite down a whole pot, but the shopkeep nevertheless seemed impressed with our efforts. If there was a way to get this stuff to the States, barkeeps would have a field day. 
Mar 22

This here is toddy, a craft microbrew if ever there was. We’d read briefly about toddy—fermented palm sugar juice, or palm wine—but weren’t exactly seeking it out, believing it to be a sort of back-country moonshine only discoverable in the rural depths of Burma. Cut to our day biking through dusty Bagan, where we unexpectedly saw a handmade TODDY SHOP sign with an arrow pointing down a dusty backroad. Boom.

A bamboo shack littered with eathernware pots and stray dogs: this was our toddy bar. At noon, we were a little early, but locals were trickling in, and we watched them carefully and managed to eke out some information in broken English. Every morning, the owner shimmies up the slender palm trees to collect a few gallons of juice. Under the scorching Burmese sun, pots of the stuff ferment quickly, frothing away for about five hours, at which point they have 3-5% ABV. The freshly fermented wine (not an oxymoron in this case) is served chilled, by the pot, with split coconut shells as cups and roasted peanuts as a snack.

The taste is light and sweet, slightly fizzy and citrusy, like a kombucha on steroids. I was impressed that the juice isn’t diluted in any way—this is pure stuff, strong but subtle in flavor. We didn’t quite down a whole pot, but the shopkeep nevertheless seemed impressed with our efforts. If there was a way to get this stuff to the States, barkeeps would have a field day. 

I’m in Myanmar. A strange sentence to be sure. I’d be lying if I said I’ve harbored a lifelong dream to come here, but given that I’m in Southeast Asia and Myanmar’s been the recipient of lavish amounts of recent press recently, I’d be foolish to skip it. so I’m in Myanmar, which is the most foreign place I’ve ever been. It’s beautiful and dusty and dirty and gilded and utterly surreal.

 
After a few days in Yangon (aka Rangoon), which has the country’s best and most varied food scene, we traveled via bus to Bagan, aka Land of 1000 Temples, a dusty , mysterious expanse in the central highlands strewn with thousands of ancient Buddhist temples.

Few travelers come to Bagan for the food (leading to an unfortunate amount of Burmese-Thai-Western catch-all menus), but the region is also known as a major producer of pong gyi yi, a fermented soybean paste (and sometimes powder) used in curries and salads. On a lark, we found one small producer who makes their pong gyi yi several miles outside of town but packages it all by hand in central Nyang U.  After chatting with the owner for a while, we told him we wanted to see the pong gyi processing start to finish, so he pointed us toward a larger operation on the banks of the Ayerrwady River nearby.

Upon arrival, absolutely no one seemed to care that we were wandering around the active factory, so we spent some time poking around, getting the lay of the land. As far as I can tell, the entire complex is self-contained: farmers grow pigs and soybeans in large plots in the back. The beans are washed and their discarded shells saved as fuel for the open cooking fires [more on those later]. The washed beans ferment in warm water for two hours [we asked an English-speaking tour guide there with some French tourists about this], then cook over a high open flame in giant metal woks for about three hours, until they’ve reduced into a thick, rust-colored paste. When cool, the paste—which looks like clay—gets packaged into tiny individual bags by a team of nimble-fingered young girls.

Last night, we managed to find a restaurant in town willing to cook the traditional pork in pong gyi yi for our dinner. The sauce was tarry and black, almost like a Burmese mole, and the flavor—heady, earthy, and very rich—was almost too overwhelming for me. Nevertheless, I’m bringing home nearly two pounds, so experimentation will commence shortly! 
Mar 14

I’m in Myanmar. A strange sentence to be sure. I’d be lying if I said I’ve harbored a lifelong dream to come here, but given that I’m in Southeast Asia and Myanmar’s been the recipient of lavish amounts of recent press recently, I’d be foolish to skip it. so I’m in Myanmar, which is the most foreign place I’ve ever been. It’s beautiful and dusty and dirty and gilded and utterly surreal.

 

After a few days in Yangon (aka Rangoon), which has the country’s best and most varied food scene, we traveled via bus to Bagan, aka Land of 1000 Temples, a dusty , mysterious expanse in the central highlands strewn with thousands of ancient Buddhist temples.

Few travelers come to Bagan for the food (leading to an unfortunate amount of Burmese-Thai-Western catch-all menus), but the region is also known as a major producer of pong gyi yi, a fermented soybean paste (and sometimes powder) used in curries and salads. On a lark, we found one small producer who makes their pong gyi yi several miles outside of town but packages it all by hand in central Nyang U.  After chatting with the owner for a while, we told him we wanted to see the pong gyi processing start to finish, so he pointed us toward a larger operation on the banks of the Ayerrwady River nearby.

Upon arrival, absolutely no one seemed to care that we were wandering around the active factory, so we spent some time poking around, getting the lay of the land. As far as I can tell, the entire complex is self-contained: farmers grow pigs and soybeans in large plots in the back. The beans are washed and their discarded shells saved as fuel for the open cooking fires [more on those later]. The washed beans ferment in warm water for two hours [we asked an English-speaking tour guide there with some French tourists about this], then cook over a high open flame in giant metal woks for about three hours, until they’ve reduced into a thick, rust-colored paste. When cool, the paste—which looks like clay—gets packaged into tiny individual bags by a team of nimble-fingered young girls.

Last night, we managed to find a restaurant in town willing to cook the traditional pork in pong gyi yi for our dinner. The sauce was tarry and black, almost like a Burmese mole, and the flavor—heady, earthy, and very rich—was almost too overwhelming for me. Nevertheless, I’m bringing home nearly two pounds, so experimentation will commence shortly! 

Mar 9

After a hectic few days in Saigon and a few more exploring the backwaters and floating markets of the Mekong Delta, we ferried to the southernmost tip of Vietnam, Phu Quoc island. A tropical island with a relatively underdeveloped resort industry, Phu Quoc doesn’t have a lot going on, which makes it pretty much paradise. Especially for anchovies.

The waters around the Phu Quoc archipelago are home to the world’s finest black anchovies, which are in turn made into the world’s finest fish sauce in the island’s many fish sauce factories. The Phu Quoc name has become so synonymous with quality fish sauce that producers in Thailand have started sirruptuously

appropriating it, much to Vietnamese chagrin. For years, Phu Quoc was almost entirely isolated from the mainland, and today, outside of the hotels that have cropped up along Long Beach, it still retains a strong fishing village feel and economy.

We had the pleasure of spending four days with Cuong Pham, the founder of Red Boat Fish Sauce, a boutique label making big waves in the States. Cuong, a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant who splits his time between San Francisco and Phu Quoc, is beyond passionate about fish sauce. Spurred by childhood memories of Phu Quoc fish sauce from his uncle’s factory, Cuog left a lucrative career in tech to return to his family’s hometown and start Red Boat in 2006. Today, the brand is a darling of big-name chefs and the food media elite for its purity and taste, though Cuong is still only capable of producing a maximum of 40,000 bottles a month (a fraction of what the big boys can pump out).

Cuong took us to the fish market, let us try first-press year-old fish sauce straight from the barrel in his factory, and answered endless questions about the science and production of fish sauce. I’ll be writing more about the production elsewhere, but in a nutshell, Cuong carefully oversees every step of the process, starting with the fish themselves: he contracts with a handful of anchovy fishermen and pays them a premium to salt their fresh catch with a high-quality sea salt from a neighboring province. After transporting the fish back to the factory, he ages them in 20-foot wooden barrels for a year, carefully monitoring their nitrogen per liter level (more nitrogen = higher quality sauce). Despite the fact that they could easily age the anchovies less and press them more, Red Boat only sells the golden, viscous liquid from the first pressing. Of course, the entire process is subject to seasonal fluctuations and the whims of mother nature herself, which is part of the reason Red Boat is salso more expensive than the mass-produced stuff, which is often watered down and pumped full of preservatives.

Sure, fish sauce tourism isn’t everyone’s idea of a great vacation. And with the construction of an impending casino on the island (to say noting of the road work and hotel construction we witnessed all over), Phu Quoc is quickly modernizing. But Cuong sees a future in perfecting the amber-colored sauce, and I believe in him.