We are proud to introduce Keenobby’s new expertainer Eugene, the owner and chef at the cozy Burma Noodle Bar. Eugene was born in America but has his roots in Burma. He developed the passion for cooking at a young age and his dishes are inspired from his mom’s authentic, delicious and hearty recipes. His dishes are associated with the feeling of being at home with his family and loved ones. To him, Burmese food isn’t just comfort food, but food for the soul. We asked him a few questions about his story and passion for cooking.
Tell us a little bit about your Burmese origins and how you have become so passionate for cooking.
My parents were born and raised in Burma and moved to the United States 40 years ago. Growing up, all I really knew of Burma was the food my family made and the ‘secret’ language they spoke, which was neither Chinese nor English. The food was extremely comforting and delicious, but was unique and unfamiliar too. Every day I learned the ‘secret’ language – little by little.
My curiosity and love for food inspired me to learn to cook from my mother. She taught me a lot of dishes I make now. It is this spirit and hospitality I grew up with that keeps me going.
What does cooking mean and represent to you?
For me, cooking is about creativity and collaboration. Cooking is all about being inventive. It is about working with what you have in your pantry and your fridge right now and make something out of it. With a glimpse of creativity, anyone can create tasty and beautiful dishes. What matters is the act of cooking something. I’ve gone into friends’ kitchens and “Iron Chef’d” an entire dinner with whatever ingredients they had. The outcome can be surprising but it is always a good time. Food can never be bad when it is shared with friends, conversation, food and wine. It is the perfect recipe for a good time.
What characterizes Burmese traditional cuisine and what makes it different from other Asian cuisines?
Burma lies between India, China and Thailand. So you get curries from India, noodles from China and spices from Thailand. It all comes together in a distinct and exciting way. Sour, Spicy, Pungent, Bold, Rich. Fresh salads based on ingredients like: fermented green tea, pickled ginger, ripe tomato, juicy pomelo, egg noodle and even rice.
Burmese food is different because of how neighboring influences are adapted. For example, fresh egg noodles typically will go in soup. But, there are plenty of Burmese noodle dishes that integrate fresh egg noodles to their recipes. There is also a Burmese Noodle Salad that combines fresh egg noodle with a dozen ingredients: clear vermicelli, potato, cabbage, onion, fried shallots, shallot oil, toasted chickpea powder, pulverized dried shrimp, fish sauce, tamarind, cilantro and lime. All these items are usually hand tossed, and eaten with hand.
Did you have to adjust and adapt to New Yorkers’ tastes and preferences?
Yes but seldom. I try to keep rooted to my origin as much as possible. That’s how the authentic taste and flavor are most enjoyed and appreciated.
Do you have any signature dishes?
Yep, I have two main ones: Ohn no khao swè (Coconut Curry Chicken Noodles) and Khao Swe Thoke (Burmese Noodle Salad)
What kind of cooking experiences are you hosting on Keenobby?
I am sharing the secrets of Ohn no khao swè. This one bowl of noodles combines the warmth of home, the comfort of mom and the excitement of Burmese food. This is my comfort food and I am excited to share it with all. I show how simple it is to stir, toss and top one’s way to a beautiful bowl of noodles. After we’ve put together our comforting Burmese meal, we all collaborate and eat what we have created over a glass of wine and conversation. That’s the Burmese and Keenobby spirit!
Want to cook with Eugene? Check out his next session with Keenobby here