It’s been a while now since our wanders through Burma/Myanmar.
We had our first taste of Burmese culture and cuisine in Yangon, the country’s former capital, staying in a tiny windowless guesthouse in the heart of the city’s Chinatown district.
At the time, it all seemed like an overwhelming hubbub of new experiences, sights, sounds, and smells.
The men hanging out the side of busses as they screeched to a stop at the side of the road, calling people to jump on board.
The murmur of vendors selling fresh produce, meat and fish at the marketplaces, and calling out their wares from the side of the road.
(Or sometimes taking over the entire road, when they and their stalls outnumbered the cars and busses and scooters zooming through the streets.)
The flutter and swoop of pigeons competing for morsels of food playfully strewn from passersby.
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Next stop was Bagan, and that’s where things calmed down, just a little bit.
Suddenly we were the ones zooming through the countryside on the back of an electric scooter, wind in our hair and ancient temples on our mind.
Rough bricks under bare feet alternating between stone cold and sizzling as we ventured to the top of immense brick temples, only to see thousands more on the horizon.
After a busy day of exploring, the humble Burmese Semolina Cake (Shwegyi Sanwei Makin) came into our lives in the middle of a soggy music festival, the latest afternoon downpour doing nothing to dampen the mood of the people in Bagan.
Despite muddy, flooded streets, we could hear the dulcet tones of Britney Spears blaring from the massive speakers outside our guesthouse, like a bizarre 90’s time warp.
It’s like she was calling us. We knew we had to investigate.
In minutes we were surrounded by people, street dogs and families on scooters also wandering the festival in search of deliciousness.
One stall immediately caught our eye. It was full of sweet desserts in brown, purple and green, just waiting to be dished out of the massive circular trays they’d been cooked in.
Of course we had to try one of each. I mean really, how can you choose? They probably cost us about 60 cents all up, but we felt far richer for the experience.
It was only later we realised we’d stumbled across a slice of Burmese Semolina Cake. It’s often served as a traditional dessert at Burmese weddings, birthdays and feasts, or served up at street stalls the way we found it.
That night it was freshly cooked and still warm from the oven, the poppy seed strewn top barely covering a soft and pudding-like middle. We took a bite and savoured the sweet, coconutty flavour, hoping we’d find her stall again one last time before we left Bagan.
Burmese Semolina Cake (Shwegyi Sanwei Makin)
In Burma/Myanmar you’ll often the Burmese Semolina Cake topped with white poppy seeds to give it a little crunchy goodness, but you can substitute with sesame seeds, chia seeds or even desiccated coconut at home if you prefer.
With a simple ingredients list it’s easy to make at home, although will see you stirring the mixture for 10 minutes or so as it thickens. We recommend bribing the person closest to you to help you stir.
Also, while it’s baking in the oven you might see a few bubbles rising to the surface – that’s the butter rising to the top, which is a mighty fine thing since it will give the top of your Burmese Semolina Cake a little extra delicious crunch.
And before you go, don’t forget to check out our other Burmese recipes. We had our very own little Burmese food week while we were out travelling the world, so you can find all the tasty details here, or skip straight to the individual recipes:
- Lemongrass Chicken Curry
- Green Tomato Salad
- Burmese Eggplant Curry (Khayan Thee Hnut)
- Mushroom & Watercress Stir Fry
- Green Papaya Vermicelli Salad
Burmese Semolina Cake (Sanwei Makin)
- 1 cup coarse semolina
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 400 ml can coconut cream
- 400 ml water
- 2 eggs whisked
- 4 tbsp butter
- pinch salt
- white poppy seeds
- sesame seeds
- desiccated coconut
First up, preheat that oven to 160˚ Celsius.
Pop your semolina in a large saucepan and stir fry until golden brown over a low to medium heat. This step will take around 5 to 10 minutes, so keep stirring until it's ready and be careful not to leave it unattended or it'll cook unevenly.
Once it's toasty, add in your brown sugar, coconut cream, water, eggs, and salt and mix well. You might need a whisk to break up any clumps, but apart from that it’ll be really watery at this stage so don't worry.
Now, bring the mixture to a boil over a medium high heat and stir continuously. It'll start to thicken quickly. Once bubbles start rising through the mixture you can reduce that heat right down to low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens and starts to pull away easily from the side of the pan. This step will take around 8-10 minutes, so feel free to call in another pair of hands to help you if you get a little tired! Hey, why not bribe them with the promise of fresh cake at the end? 😉
Once it's all clumping together nicely, transfer it into a pre-greased oven safe dish and smooth out the surface with an icing spatula or the back of a spoon.
Sprinkle with your poppy seeds, sesame seeds or desiccated coconut and pop in the oven. Bake for around 30-40 minutes until the top is golden-dark brown and the cake has set.
It's delicious soft served warm from the oven, but just as good at room temperature.