By Mishal Cazmi
Khao swe. It’s one of those lyrical food words I enjoy most. Like rooh afza, which is a rose syrup mixed with milk or water. Or sashimi and Darjeeling. Khao swe is a Burmese dish made with noodles and chicken in a spicy coconut milk broth. In my family, my mother and her sister make khao swe on special occasions. My mom’s is slightly spicier and her sister’s somewhat tempered, kind of like their respective temperaments. My mom’s is also always more pungent, which is the way I’ve grown to like it. They both garnish it with spring onions, cilantro and green chilies and drizzle lime for some added zest.
Khao swe always tastes better in the winter. On the kind of days where you’re over the Canadian winter. I like it best when I’m miserable because I live in a country where SAD is an actual ailment and I’m nostalgic for the summer breeze of a country I’ve never really known.
Because I’ve never traveled to Burma, that militia-ridden country that most writers and the media have ignored save for some (George Orwell being a particularly famous one), I can only imagine what it is through the stories my mother and grandfather tell me and the pictures my cousin and aunt show me. I read guidebooks but they’re often reductive. I watch documentaries but they’re too despairing.
When I eat Burmese food, I feel like my connection to Burma is genuine and unmediated. I imagine how my distant relatives must gather around the table to eat. What their conversations must be like. Whenever I eat khao swe, I feel like I have an intimate relationship with the country I’d one day like to visit, where I’ll be able to see things for myself.