September is going to be an exciting month for Bryan Koh. The 33-year-old is officially releasing not one, but two cookbooks. The first of which is 0451 Mornings Are For Mont Hin Gar, a 603-page publication that centres on Burmese cuisine.
“I chose Myanmar because I’m generally drawn to the unknown. When I first started work on this project a few years ago, the country had just opened up and hardly anybody knew anything about its cuisine,” says Koh, who is also co-founder of cake company Chalk Farm.
It became his personal mission to uncover more. To ensure that his cook book would be as authentic as could be, Koh took his time writing, opting to travel extensively but intermittently throughout Myanmar over the course of two years. “Travelling to the extremities of the country for research was simply thrilling,” says Koh of his attempt to understand the local cultures and cuisine.
“The recipes and ideas for my book came from local cooks who I had the privilege of meeting,” he adds. “They fit the modern kitchen and are yet true to the Burmese palate.”
Koh’s dedication has paid off. Apart from gathering the recipes of well-known favourites such as laphet thoke (fermented tea leaf salad) and of course, mont hin gar (rice noodles with catfish soup), Koh also introduces readers to lesser known but equally delicious dishes. One example is sabuti, a soup with white corn kernels that is eaten with lime, crushed dried chillies and shreds of cured beef or pork.
“Recipes tell stories and I hope to share these stories of the country and its people with my readers,” says Koh.
This is the reason why the book is also bursting with photographs, mostly of the country’s vibrant markets, people and its iconic pagodas. Koh has also included a personal essay on his journey and a foreword on the Burmese kitchen.
While it hasn’t even officially hit bookstores, 0451 Mornings are for Mont Hin Gar has already triumphed at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, where it took the third spot for Best Asian Cookbook, in May. “I was elated. This is just my second book and for it to be recognised at such a huge event, with participants from all over the world, is wonderful,” Koh says.
The other publication due for release this month — which also has Koh all excited — is the second edition of his first cookbook, Milk Pigs and Violet Gold. Centred on Filipino cuisine, the tome, first released in 2012 was inspired by fond memories of growing up with Filipino nannies. “It looks entirely different, with a new cover, layout and more information on the cuisine. Expect to see additional recipes too, as I’ve travelled to more places since the first release,” he shares.
To me cooking is...an act of kindness.
A favourite food-related childhood memory...is of fried milkfish. My nanny would butterfly and marinate the fish overnight with black peppercorns, garlic and cane vinegar. The following day, she would coat the fish in rice and then deep-fry them to a crisp, golden turn.
One thing I don’t enjoy eating is...cold toast.
My most memorable dining experience is...in a small restaurant in Bhamo, Kachin State, Myanmar. It was run by a Jinghpaw couple who had their own herb patch and made their own rice wine. We had Kachin chicken curry with fermented bamboo shoots, grilled ox tongue and pounded spiced beef with black glutinous rice.
If it was my last meal, I would have...a Christmas lunch. Turkey, ham, goose, trimmings and a steamed marmalade pudding.
Success is...when work feels like play.