What’s Cooking in… Myanmar

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 48 of the January 2019 issue.
Chef Myint Oo and a bowl of the Rakhine Hot and Spicy Chicken Curry with garnish. Photos by Sandra Scott

When the leaves start to turn red and yellow, my mind begins to think of winter getaways. My first thought is always of beautiful Ngapali Beach in southwestern Myanmar — my happy place.

In 2008, when my husband, John, and I first stayed at Amazing Ngapali Resort (Ngapali Beach, Rakhine State, Myanmar; phone +95 43 204201, www.amazingngapaliresort.com), there were virtually no tourists, and it was the only hotel on the 2-mile stretch of beach on the Bay of Bengal. The hotel, while beautiful and modern, had only a few guests.

Things have changed. On our last visit, in January-February 2017, we noticed there were a couple more hotels on the beach, but they were at the rocky end. Amazing Ngapali Resort is now fully booked most of the time. The beach is still virtually empty, however, and the people are still friendly.

I hope things don't change too much, but the local airport terminal and runway have been expanded. Ten years ago, there were only two flights a day; each was announced by a bullhorn, and people could walk out on the tarmac to meet their friends. No more. But the ground crew still lines up to wave good-bye as a plane departs.

On the plus side, Amazing Ngapali Resort now has Internet and accepts credit cards. We no longer have to take along pristine US dollars.

Ngapali Beach, itself, has no sand flies and no annoying vendors. John and I enjoyed our morning walks to the north end of the beach, where there is a rock topped with a small temple. Late in the afternoon, we would walk the other way to the mermaid atop a rock.

A bowl of the Rakhine Hot and Spicy Chicken Curry with garnish.

The sand is soft and the water is warm. During the day, we relaxed on the beach, read, refreshed with a dip in the small infinity pool or rode the gentle waves on an inner tube.

At the end of the day, we watched the sun set and waited to see the lights of the fishing boats that lined the horizon like a string of Christmas lights. Then it would be time for dinner.

The food at the hotel was great, often with a catch of the day. On our 2017 2-week visit ($180 per night, including taxes, airport/hotel transfers and breakfast), I asked the chef of the hotel's Zee Phyu Gone restaurant, Myint Oo, to show me how to make traditional Rakhine Hot and Spicy Chicken Curry. Rakhine, a state on Myanmar's west coast, is known for its spicy-hot cuisine.

This dish is quick and easy to prepare, plus it's versatile. It can be made, instead, with fish, and the spice can be adjusted to please anyone's palate.

Sandra Scott can be reached by email at sanscott@gmail.com.

Rakhine Hot and Spicy Chicken Curry

1 each red and green chili, diced (as desired)
2 tsp chicken bouillon powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp shrimp paste
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 chicken breasts
2 tsp tamarind juice
1½ cups water
5 hot (aka holy) basil leaves
1 tsp diced coriander leaf (cilantro) garnish

In a mortar, grind chili, chicken bouillon, salt, turmeric and shrimp paste. Heat oil in skillet. Add chili mixture and stir until it turns yellow. Drizzle mixture on chicken and rub it in. Cut chicken into one-inch pieces. Add chicken, tamarind juice, water and basil leaves to skillet. Cook over medium heat until chicken is done. Garnish with coriander and serve with rice.

View of Ngapali Beach and the Bay of Bengal.
Adding seasonings to the chicken.
Cooking the chicken curry.