Photos by the writer
Photos by the writer

Ask anyone in the Memon or Gujarati community and they’ll tell you that their way of making khao suey is the way to make it. This scrumptious noodle dish generates as many opinions as the best way to have a cup of chai — doodh patti or karrak; served with namkeen or meetha. Of course, for anyone and everyone, the right way is the way nani [grandmother] makes it.

While the dish is popular in Karachi, its origins can be traced back to the Myanmar noodle dish, ohn no khao swè, which is usually eaten as a hearty breakfast dish. While the Memon version is very similar, yoghurt is added to the curry in khao suey unlike it’s Burmese doopelgänger. The desi version also replaces the rice noodles with spaghetti. Similar noodle soups can be found in East Asia such as the laksa in Malaysia and Thailand’s khao soi.

The Burmese dish wound its way to Pakistan and Eastern India most likely through Memon and Gujarati traders who travelled to the country or set up businesses there in the late 1800s-early 1900s. Those settled in or visiting the country were influenced by the local food, resulting in a dish that fuses the two cuisines — khao suey is neither desi nor East Asian but a combination of the two.

Even today, there is a sizeable desi community in large cities such as Yangon (formerly Rangoon) since many moved there during the days of British colonial rule and also during the Partition. But this migration wasn’t one way — Myanmarese minorities, mostly Rohingya, moved to Karachi during the 1960s to escape persecution following a military coup. Areas such as Burmee Colony and Rohingyabad attest to this little-known history.

Of course, khao suey is and always will be a reminder of the intertwined history between the Memon, Gujarati and Burmese communities. Khao Suey isn’t merely another dish, it’s history in a bowl — and it’ll make you nostalgic with every bite.

Khao suey is the embodiment of two cultures fused together into one spectacular dish

Khao Suey

Nothing hits home like a nice, comforting bowl of khao suey. The preferred garnishes defer from person to person and from family to family. In our house, it’s simply not khao suey without the fried, shredded potatoes, but you can top the dish with boiled eggs, crushed paaparr, chips, finely chopped ginger, fried onions, coriander and mint. The list is endless — the key is to add a little crunch and chatpata [spicy or tangy] flavour.

Ingredients

For the Coconut Curry

400ml coconut milk
3/4 cup besan/chickpea flour
3/4 cup yoghurt
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon tumeric powder
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon green chilli paste
1 tablespoon zeera [cumin]
3-4 whole red chillies
8-10 curry leaves
Salt, hasb-e-zaiqa [according to taste]

For the Chicken Curry

1/2 kg chicken, cut into small pieces 1 medium onion, thinly sliced 2 tomatoes 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste 1 teaspoon garam masala 2 teaspoons coriander powder 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds 1 1/2 teaspoons red chilli powder Salt, hasb-e-zaiqa

Photos by the writer
Photos by the writer

Garnishes and Assembly

One packet of spaghetti
Fried spaghetti
Crushed paaparr or chilli chips
Fried shredded potatoes
Coriander, finely chopped
Mint, finely chopped
Ginger, finely chopped, julienne style
Garlic, finely sliced and fried until golden brown
Lemon wedges
Boiled eggs, diced
Chaat masala
Crushed red pepper flakes

Method

Add the coconut milk and chickpea flour to a big pot. Stir together for a bit before adding the rest of the ingredients except for the red chillies, curry leaves and the zeera.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and let the mixture simmer. Add water as needed — the curry shouldn’t be too thick. When the curry is done, set aside.

In a separate frying pan, heat oil till very hot. Add the red chillies, curry leaves and the zeera, and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the tarrka to the cooked curry. Set aside.

Make the chicken. In a separate pan, fry the cumin seeds and ginger-garlic paste. Then sautée the onions. When the onions are done, add the tomatoes and the rest of the spices and the salt. Stir well. Then add the chicken. Stir for a bit and then cook on a low simmer.

Boil spaghetti — around half a packet.

Make the onion and potato garnishes. Finely chop a medium onion and deep fry. Shred two-three potatoes and soak in a bowl of water and hasb-e-zaiqa salt for half an hour. Deep fry the shredded potatoes. Pat both garnishes dry with tissue or towel paper, and set aside.

Prepare all the other garnishes you’d like. Fry a clove of finely chopped garlic. Finely chop the ginger, and the coriander and mint leaves. Cut a lemon or two into small wedges. Boil two-three eggs and slice finely.

Serve the coconut curry, the chicken, spaghetti and the garnishes in separate bowls and plates. To eat, first put in the spaghetti, then pour over the curry and chicken. Add the garnishes at the end. Then dig in!

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 14th, 2023

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