‘Burma has some glorious noodle dishes’, says MiMi Aye, explaining her enduring obsession with this ubiquitous but underappreciated ingredient. As a child, MiMi learned to cook Shan and Burmese food from her mother who she describes as ‘a brilliant cook’, and enjoyed many holidays spent visiting family in Burma (also known as Myanmar), learning even more about Burmese food and culture.
MiMi remembers how difficult it was for her parents to source authentic global ingredients in London when they first moved here. ‘When I was little, we used to go to the docks at Tilbury and climb aboard a huge ship to see Burmese sailors who’d brought ingredients from home for us to buy! I miss doing that.’
One of MiMi’s favourite dishes was Mandalay Meeshay, but the mixian rice noodles it calls for were impossible to find and had no close substitutes. Her mum had to use spaghetti! She also made all the different garnishes from scratch – fried shallots, fried garlic, chilli oil and pickles.
MiMi has an appreciation of making things by hand but points out that ‘you can buy pretty much everything in Oriental supermarkets these days, so it’d be silly not to cheat from time to time’.
At university, a local noodle bar opened her eyes to noodle dishes from the rest of the world. As she started cooking for herself, she discovered a love for experimentation and quickly realised ‘how versatile noodles can be – different textures, different flavours, and you can have them in soups, salads, sauces, stir-fries and even as snacks!’
After writing about all kinds of food on her popular blog, Meemalee’s Kitchen, when it came to writing her first book MiMi focused on Asian noodle recipes with some modern twists and a little fusion.
As well as Burma, MiMi has visited Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and had strong ideas on noodle dishes from those countries that she was keen to share. For the rest of Asia, she did much delicious research. She picked the brains of chefs and food experts who specialised in each cuisine, read guidebooks, cookery books and the web and cooked many, many noodles. Narrowing down the list was hard, she explains, because ‘I wanted to cover the classics from each country, but I was also led by my stomach and the dishes that I loved!’
I ask MiMi to help me pick the best recipes for different occasions.
If you want to impress guests, she suggests Tonkotsu Ramen; ‘it looks amazing and tastes wonderful’ and of course, it’s not something many people will have made at home before.
If you are feeling poorly, MiMi recommends a bowl of Spicy Lemongrass Beef Noodles (Bun Bo Hue); ‘the spice and warmth will sort you out in no time’.
For quick suppers when you ‘are tired and want something really quick and easy’, Ham, Pea and Pea Shoot Noodles is ready in minutes.
If you’re in need of comfort food, look no further than Coconut Chicken Noodles (Ohn-No Khao Swè) which she affectionately calls ‘a hug in a bowl’.
If you’re stuck in the house and can’t go shopping for fresh ingredients, MiMi selects Persian Noodle Soup (Ash-e-Reshteh) as a great store cupboard recipe which can be made using dried herbs instead of fresh.
For novice cooks, the recipes for Teriyaki Salmon Noodles and Pork Patties with Noodles and herbs (Bun Cha) are both ‘super-easy and quick, but delicious and look like you made a real effort’. An added bonus is that neither use any unusual ingredients.
Noodle! also has much to offer the more advanced cook and those looking for something they haven’t tried before. Cheung Fun, which MiMi whimsically calls Chinese Prawn ‘Cannelloni’, and Lamb and Vegetable Soup with Hand-pulled Noodles (Laghman) both call upon you to make noodles from scratch and ‘require a bit of skill and a quick and steady hand’.
Providing a comprehensive selection of engagingly written, authentic and achievable recipes, beautifully illustrated with vibrant colour photographs, MiMi Aye’s Noodle! is definitely worth its salt.
Suppliers & Substitution
Several recommended stockists for specialist ingredients are provided at the back of the book.
If you need to make substitutions, MiMi suggests thinking about what the ingredients are doing in the recipe and compensating accordingly. If you can’t find tamarind, use lemon juice or rice vinegar for a sour note. If you can’t find dried shrimps, use anchovies for a similar salty, savoury flavour. If you can’t find palm sugar, use dark brown muscovado.