All Dressed Up: Burma’s Condiments, Sauces and Spice

I mentioned  that the star power in any awesome Burmese dish comes from the condiments, toppings and little extras on the side, so today I’m sharing a handful of ways and recipes to best top off the dishes that are coming your way the rest of the week.

open book

It’s funny because in most things that I make, it’s all about the toppings. In college, Apple Crisp used to laugh at my “ice cream sundaes” and joke it was more like “toppings in a bowl.” My salads are 10% lettuce and 90% everything else. Oatmeal isn’t oatmeal without a bit of crunch, and no dish is complete without a sprinkle of cheese, and few sprigs of herbs or a final dollop of sumpin’ sumpin’.  I guess I never really thought to separate out condiments from main dishes in any other cuisine, but in Burma, it seems to make sense because these things don’t just go with one dish, they go with all of them.



The book that I’ve used sporadically as a reference book for this week I got, strangely enough from Tomato, who does not cook but likes pretty pictures of food.  It’s called BURMA: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid.  In it, there are dozens of tasty chutneys, sauces, etc. to try. I’m doing a few simple ones that take no time to prep and make a world of difference.


First, FRIED SHALLOTS.  These, along with shallot oil, are a staple in any Burmese pantry. Traditionally, Asian shallots are used, which are smaller and more purple in color than traditional shallots. Unfortunately, the bag of Asian shallots in the Asian supermarket the other day was chock full of mold, so I just used the everyday European variety.

The trick is to slice them thinly and fry them slowly as to ensure they do not burn.  Get ‘em nice and crispy to add some sweetness and crunch to soups, salads, etc. Or, you’ll probably want to just eat them straight like I did…

1 cup oil, preferably peanut

2 cups thinly sliced shallots

Salt to taste

  1. Place a wide, heavy skillet or wok over medium high heat and add the oil.  Toss in a slice of shallot.  As the oil heats, it will rise to the surface. When it’s reached the surface, add the rest of the shallots. Don’t splash yourself! That would hurt.
  2. Stir frequently and after about 10 minutes when they start to color, remove them when they reach golden brown.
  3. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel, and sprinkle with salt to taste.
  4. Once cool, transfer the shallots to a clean, dry jar and seal.
  5. Strain the oil and let cool. Store in a jar. You now have shallot oil.

fried shallots

Next, a tart and sweet chili sauce, or Nga Yoke Thee Achin . I don’t know about you, but I already have a the trust ginormous bottle of Sriracha so I wasn’t sure why I wanted to make this. However, the book sang its praises as being better than the Sriracha, so I figured I’d give it a whirl.

The result was tangy and spicy and delicious. It has a different enough flavor that I’m keeping my Sriracha…I felt like it was a spicy, condiment version of sweet and sour sauce…but I will be alternating its use with that, believe you me.

Adapted from the aforementioned book.

½ cup fresh red chilies

¾ cup water

¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh garlic

¼ cup fish sauce

¼ cup sugar

¾ cup rice or apple cider vinegar

1. Break the chilies in half, removing some or all of the seeds if desired to make the sauce milder. I did not do that. My sauce was HOT.

2.  Place the chilies in a small pot with the water.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer 3-5 minutes until the chilies are nice and soft.  Add the garlic for the last minute of cooking.

3.  Add the chilies and garlic, along with the liquid, to a blender or food processor along with the fish sauce and sugar.  Grind to a coarse paste.  Add the vinegar and process again.

4.  Transfer to a clean, dry glass jar and store in the fridge, preferably for at least a day before using it. It’ll keep for several weeks.

chili sauce

I stored mine in this flask-like jar. It made me feel like I was making Moonshine.


Lastly, an ONION SALAD.

This is my mom’s recipe and really is not much more than onions, limes, salt and pepper.

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 limes, juiced

Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix it up and let sit until the onions get all saucy.


Now that you’ve got these ready, stay tuned for the dishes the color…

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