INLE LAKE, Myanmar — Though its architecture references the great monasteries of Europe, the scents wafting from the kitchens at the Sanctum Inle resort are predominantly Burmese, and becoming moreso as Executive Chef Saw Tin Lin Oo turns up the heat on a new menu.
In June, the Yangon-born chef introduced a menu that underscores the destination’s culinary appeal in a whole new way. It’s a culinary tradition that’s proving to be a rather fresh experience for many guests. While the wider world has had its fill of Thailand, Chinese and Indian food through restaurants from Athens to Zimbabwe, the Burmese diaspora is much slighter. And because Myanmar has been closed off for so long, it’s food is far less known than, say, the culinary delights of Vietnam.
Chef Lin is doing what he can to change that. And he’s starting at the Sanctum Inle Resort with salads, soups, curries, noodles, complemented by chili, garlic, spring onion and local herbs.
The Shan noodles, Chef Lin said, make for the most popular dish with locals generally and at the resort’s restaurant The Refectory, too. The dish is made of rice noodles garnished with spring onion, roasted peanut powder and chicken gravy made from chicken breast, tomatoes, onion, garlic, paprika, peanut oil and turmeric powder.
But Chef Lin applies a twist to the Shan staple. “I like to think outside of the box and experiment with my cooking, and so I cook the noodles the way pasta is cooked,” Chef Lin said. “My team know I’m not from Inle and thought my way of cooking Shan noodles would fail but it’s so far a hit with our guests.”
The key ingredients to Shan cuisine, which is similar to cuisine across the rest of the country, are grown in abundance locally. Made from plenty of fresh tomatoes, spring onions, onions, tea leaves, and baby potatoes, resultant salads, curries and soups are winning over travellers for their freshness and rich flavours.
“If you’re a fan of curry, Myanmar’s the place for you,” Chef Lin said. “Burmese cuisine boasts a large variety of curries including prawn, fish and pork curries. In the Shan State, visitors must try its array of salad and noodle dishes, such as Shan tofu salad, fish with rice cake salad, and, of course, the Shan noodles.”
Chef Lin, who started his career a decade ago as a Commis 3 chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s Lagoon Kitchen in Doha, Qatar, has quickly risen up the ranks, working in Maldives, Yangon and Bagan before joining Sanctum Inle’s 107-seat Refectory Restaurant. “I really enjoy making things for people,” he said. “I like seeing the guests go from being hungry and a little tired to full of great food and happy.”
What are some basic traits of Shan cuisine?
A starter salad is never complete without spring onion. A tomato base underscores curry, due to an abundance of fresh tomatoes grown locally, with liberal amounts of fried onion and coriander garnish a must. And rice isn’t just steamed rice. Sometimes it’s mixed with tomato, with potato, and even with fish.
What’s Chef Lin’s favourite Shan dish?
Spring onion fritters, made from spring onions, sticky rice powder, rice powder, onion, tomato, paprika powder, deep-fry oil and water, complemented with tamarind sauce, made out of fresh tamarind from Sanctum Inle’s garden, as well as hot water, sugar, ginger powder, chili powder and freshly chopped coriander.
What’s Chef Lin’s “guilty pleasure”?
“Fish paste salad, called nga pi htaung, though many people loathe it as its incredibly fishy. It reminds me of my grandma and my mom makes it for me whenever I visit home.”
Shan Tofu Salad
200 grams of fresh Shan tofu
Three cloves garlic
150 grams of chopped spring onion
100 grams of chopped coriander
60 grams of shredded white cabbage
1 teaspoon of fried chili to taste
2 teaspoon of garlic oil
Salt and pepper to taste.
Drain fresh tofu and slice into strips. Heat the oil in a wok and deep fry on medium heat for about 10 minutes and set aside. Transfer the half cooked tofu into a large bowl; add the white cabbage, spring onion, fried chili, coriander and garlic oil. Gently mix all ingredients by hand. To serve, place on a banana leaf and garnish with coriander.