by Vidya Balachander
Even though it has been more than five decades since her family uprooted its well-entrenched life in Myanmar and crossed the border to Kolkata, India, it is clear that Chanda Dutt has left some part of herself behind. Her longing for Myanmar animates her words: As she describes the bottles of balachaung (or prawn paste) and ngapi (fermented fish paste) that once graced her family’s pantry in Myanmar, it is hard not to experience synesthetic pleasure from her description. Among the many recipes that Dutt inherited through her family’s deep connection to Myanmar is one that has paved the way for her career in food: khauk swe. After retiring as a schoolteacher in 2013, Dutt started a small restaurant in Kolkata called Chanda’s Khaukswey, whose central attraction is ohn no khauk swe—the beloved Burmese noodle dish that has been widely embraced across India and Pakistan.
Due to her intimate bond with Myanmarese cuisine, Dutt is indignant about how loosely khauk swe has been defined, especially in Indian restaurants. Even though there are several interpretations of khauk swe, Dutt maintains that there is only one original. “Khauk swe means noodles, so you have to specify what type of khauk swe you want,” she told me in an email interview. “There can never be pork khauk swe or prawn khauk swe or fish khauk swe. Those who make these are kidding themselves; ohn no khauk swe is only to be made with chicken.”
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