Avocado vendor, Mandalay
“Karen, in your country, how do you eat avocados?” my newfound friend, Soe, asked me one day in Mandalay. I told him about guacamole with plenty of lime, chile, cilantro and salt. He laughed. “Here, we eat with sugar and condensed milk.”
His comment brought back memoriesâ€”fresh avocado slices sprinkled with sugar, served in a Shan State village; a sweet avocado shake I drank during a downpour in a remote Cambodian province. Many Asians view the avocado as dessert.
But not all. Last month, we ate a version of Burmese guacamole at a Yangon guesthouse that served it each morning for breakfast. (Daniel and Audrey have beaten me to this; they’ve already revealed the wonders of Burmese avocado.)
Two things of note: the Burmese make great salads, and they grow tasty avocados. Combine these two elements, and you have one grand guacamole.
Burmese salads tend to focus on a single vegetable, fruit, leaf or rhizome with several key ingredients for flavor, fragrance and consistency. As Mi Mi Khaing wrote in Cook and Entertain the Burmese Way, a salad should contain a balance of salty and sour flavors, moistness counteracted by a flour to sop it up; an oil for blending; and chile, onion, garlic, herbs and spices for aroma and color.
Our guacamole consisted of a typical Burmese salad, made with avocado. It varied slightly each day. How to make it? Mix avocado (sliced or smashed) with oil (peanut or sesame), chopped tomatoes, sliced shallots, garlic if you like, chopped cilantro or culantro, chopped fresh chile, fresh lime juice, salt and — this is key — ground, roasted chickpea or peanut powder. Add sesame seeds if you like, too. Very simple. I can’t wait to get back in my kitchen!
One more thing: the definition of salad in Burmese, lethok, implies that it is mixed by hand. So go ahead and have some fun with your guac. Get your hands messy.