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“Malam’s in New Market made a fantastic khaukswey. During our university days, my husband and I often sneaked out for our fill. It is a pity the place no longer exists,” says Chanda Dutt, as we sit at one of the tables by the glass wall overlooking the street, at her quaint 14-seater specialty Burmese restaurant near Golpark. I struggle to hold back a silly smirk and the severe urge to hum anjana aami aar ashbona. I let my mind wonder, just for a moment – what was it like dating Anjan Dutta (yes the musician who gave us anjana, and Dutt’s husband)? Should I ask her? I decide against it and pledge to stick to discussing food.
I fiddle with the laminated menu – it is short with ten (or 11) odd dishes – mostly unfamiliar (the little notes explaining each dish help). One dish I can recognise is the ong no khaukswey, the house specialty highlighted in ochre. Khaukswey is of course the best-known Burmese dish and features on a few restaurant menus (Restaurateur Bibi Sarkar of Taaja’s fame was among the first ones to introduce the subtleties of this Burmese broth to the city in the early 90s, she still serves it a Bibi of Taaja's her current venture). Chanda Dutt’s Khaukswey however, is legendary (the city’s culinary enthusiasts had already had a chance to sample it at the pop-ups she has been organising at her Beniapukur home for a few years now); that she is born and brought up in Burma dissolves any doubt about the authenticity of the khaukswey she turns out. No wonder she calls her restaurant Chanda’s Khaukswey.
But the menu moves beyond the khaukswey and has everything from balachaung – a piquant condiment made with dried shrimp and ngapi chet, fermented fish paste (she imports it from Myanmar) spiked with garlic and red chilies to fritters made with Burmese tofu (which is different from the Chinese tofu, in the sense that it is made of chick peas instead of bean curd) and the khao pyin, a traditional dessert made with red sticky rice, jaggery and coconut cream (the only dessert on the menu). On a black board beside the small show kitchen the days specialties are written with chalk. There is a new set every day and you will be lucky if you land up on a day they make the la phet thoke, a salad made with picked tea leaves. "It is a rare treat," says Dutt.
But here, the must-try dish is the ong no khaukswey made with fresh coconut milk (ong no refers to the coconut milk). The thick, creamy noodle broth comes with toppings such as chilli flakes, boiled eggs, fried garlic, caramelised onions, crisp fried noodles and a wedge of lime. Or go for the red and gold pork curry. The curry is a fiery red in colour with a golden film of oil (pork fat actually) on top. The thing about this dish is that while it looks rich and spicy, it is surprisingly light on the palate. Served with steamed rice and sautéed greens, it is as good as the khaukswey.