Firstly a bit about me….

I should start by telling you about myself and why you might have reason to be interested in reading this blog. Any more than a brief outline will turn this into an altogether different blog, so for now, brief it shall be.

Gosh, how hard is this? Writing about yourself and trying to reflect on the past several decades of your life in an attempt to encapsulate how I arrived here as restaurant and private catering & events business owner, passionate food obsessive, avid traveller. There’s me thinking I’ll just knock out a brief outline, piece of cake (no pun intended), a couple of hours and second post will be in the bag! …No chance.

5 hours later……………

I was born in Burma but left at the age of 5 with my family and grew up in London. Dad was posted to work at the then named “Burma Trade”.

family 1975
Family portrait taken just before leaving Burma (that’s me front right)

Cooking and eating was the centre of everyday life and from what I recall we always seemed to have homemade Burmese food on the table (as well as the other usual 70’s fare, frozen cakes such as Sara Lee black forest gateau and fish fingers). We would visit Beejam in Shepherds Bush on Saturdays to stock up the freezer and dad had discovered this authentic Roman pizzeria next door which made fresh pizzas with spinach and a fresh egg cracked on top. Remember this was the ‘70s! Very ahead of its time. Alas, the place is now long gone.

I remember meals were probably simply rustled up during the week either by my mother or sometimes my eldest sister. However, weekends were more elaborate. And we would always eat at the table, generally all together.

I’m an all round food lover, who’s not entirely sure when it became an obsession, is starting to become apparent. I seem to have a brilliant memory regarding anything I’ve eaten (whether good or bad) as well as names of places I’ve eaten at, where in other subjects the recall is lacking.

Reflecting back on my first food memory in London, it was in those first few days arriving on a cold damp day. We were staying in the George Hotel, somewhere central, exactly where slips my mind. It was breakfast time, a bowl full of crunchy brown flakes, they tasted pleasantly sweet enough for a 5 year olds taste buds, and so I happily picked away. Then I don’t quite know what happened next, but someone around the table took the bold step to pour milk all over the crunchy flakes! All I thought was why on earth are we making something lovely and crunchy all soggy. Within moments it became a mush of squelch and yuckiness. As I type now, I can still taste that cloying mush to this day and, for the record I still dislike breakfast cereals. To be honest milk isn’t drunk much on its own in Burma anyway, let alone poured on cereal.

George hotel
First few days after arrival in London, Outside George Hotel (me on the left)

The following years involved attempts at baking cakes and other sweet things. I still have my first cookbook (I will insert photo later, it’s somewhere in the attic) which I pored over, reading again and again.

The annual Christmas cake, boy what a monster I was tasked with making! Let’s say it’s not the conventional one Brits would be most familiar with! Nevertheless it was our version and very nice it tasted too. Ask me to recreate it now, no chance! I do recall the mixture would always split but had no idea why until later in life when I understood more about cooking techniques, having watched Delia and with the  acquisition of more and more cookbooks which I would read again and again to understand.

All through University in Manchester I continued to cook enthusiastically and inventively , improvising and making do with whatever our paltry student funds could afford.

I’ll jump ahead a few years now, and will reflect back on the intervening years in future posts.  

After graduating from Manchester University I worked in the civil service in Manchester (for a very long time!) before taking a complete career change in 2015 to open a cafe and private catering and events business in Manchester, specialising in Burmese dishes. Occasionally I hold supper clubs and pop-up at street food markets & festivals.

Looking back it’s not entirely surprising how I ended up working in the food business.

I am a self-taught cook. During the years working behind a desk, in my spare time, I took several short courses; some were run for amateurs others more semi- professional, such as in baking and patisserie, pasta making and Italian cookery and in basic french cooking techniques (at the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London).

Simultaneously, as a young working adult I started travelling a lot (I think my choice of degree course in Geography has something to do with this love) to learn about other cultures through the food they eat. I have travelled and eaten greedily and extensively in Europe, Asia, East and West coast US, South America to Australia.

Asking me to name some of my favourite places to eat is like asking me to name my favourite song or album, it’s impossible. But if my life depended on it, I would highlight some of my favourite places, in no particular order; Chez Panisse in San Francisco, hands down everything there including the impeccable service and wine pairings were without fault (I have returned there several times over recent years) and Prune in New York (that warm simple Autumn squash dish was to die for. I ate it in 2010 and can still reimagine the taste to this day). Then there’s the lobster roll at the end of the summer season on Long Island, where they opened up for us the only customers there.

 

pruneme
Lunch at Prune, New York.
chezpanmains
Lamb, cauliflower & crispy onions at Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Oakland
chezpandesert
Desert at Chez Panisse, Oakland

Moving to Europe, Dos Palillos, a Japanese influenced Spanish restaurant in Barcelona …the raw local red prawns, served over smoking charcoal. In the British Isles, Crabshaak in Glasgow, Tom Kitchin’s in Edinburgh has superb grouse in season and the oysters 6 ways, and then there’s Boca di Lupo in London, outstanding every time. Over in Asia, a whole chicken grilled on BBQ coals at a night market in a (then) remote village in the northerly state of Kelantan in Malaysia, back in 1998, a sticky, smoky peanut coating, the taste and smell of which still lingers to this day. I could quite possibly write a whole blog on my favourite places to eat!.

My memory is not all that great these days but when I think about it food and dishes at places I’ve eaten at are always vivid.  

Reflecting back and writing this blog post I can now see that food and travel has always been a part of my whole life. But my passion didn’t emerge overnight. My mum asked recently, rather intrigued, “when did you become so interested in cooking, food and opening your own restaurant?” At the time I didn’t know how to answer and it’s been playing over in my mind ever since, until now. The answer is it has always clearly been there (but I didn’t know it) and that is probably down to mum and her own enthusiasm for food and cooking, which she never saw as a chore or inconvenience but something you just did with love to feed your children, family and friends.

My parents are sadly no longer with us; Dad died nearly 20 years ago and mum earlier this year. Maybe the recent loss in some way has been the impetus to get off my backside and do something more exciting and challenging to add greater interest to my restaurant and catering business.

So please join me on my journey!

 

9 thoughts on “Firstly a bit about me….

  1. I knew both your dad and mum and was sad that your mum passed away recently. The last time I met her was at last year’s Kathina ceremony at Chiswick Townhall and she was looking cheerful as usual. I was away when she passed away but will be attending a soonkyway for her at the Buddhist Vihara this weekend. My heartfelt condolences to you and your siblings.
    I also love travelling and like to try out local dishes wherever I am, but I’m afraid I’m not a good cook but would try and create something new when friends are invited. But I’ll be following your blog with great interest.

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    1. Thank you Aunty.
      Unfortunately, I’m unable to come to the soonkyway as I fly out to Yangon on Saturday. I hope you enjoy reading further instalments!😊 Thadu Thadu Thadu.

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  2. Really enjoyed your last 2 posts, looking forward to hearing more and reading more of this journey of food and travel!!

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  3. Great to see you doing this Nila. I really enjoyed reading your blog and looking forward to exploring more of Burma and all its traditional foods through your post!

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  4. Great post! Really enjoyed reading it. And quite the history you have. I can certainly relate to your experiences with travel and food. There’s no better way to enlightenment than through your feet (travel) and through your stomach (food). My condolences on your father and mother, respectively. With loss, I think one of the few consolations is that it brings forth the need for something new, a departure from the everyday, as an acknowledgement that something truly meaningful has changed in your life.

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