• Mike Sula
  • “Kyan ka,” or something like that

All summer long I’ve been wondering about the strange eggplant-tomato things that Pak Suan was growing. He’s one of the Burmese farmers at Albany Park’s Global Gardens Refugee Training Farm, which I wrote about last week. He has a lot of these plants, which he calls kyan ka, and says they are only eaten in Burma’s western Chin state, although some of the Bhutanese farmers are growing something very similar they call something like “bee”—only it’s purple. Furthermore, Friend of the Food Chain Leela Punyaratabandhu of SheSimmers reports that she’s seen them for sale in the open market in Chiang Mai in northwest Thailand, most often sold by Yunnanese Muslims, and some Burmese. But the only Thai term she’s heard used to refer to them is makhuea doi, or “eggplants (or tomatoes) from the mountain.”

Pak Suan finally had them out for sale on Saturday morning, and I grabbed a pound or so. He described making sort of a dip with them, boiling them, chopping them up with chiles, and eating them with rice. That’s pretty close to what Leela suggested—something like one of the many northern-style hot dips, or nam prik, in particular a roasted green-chile variant often eaten in tandem with pork rinds.

The kyan ka are a lot more like eggplants than tomatoes. When raw, they have hard white flesh with many seeds, and they taste slightly bitter. I decided to grill them rather than boil them, and working off a recipe from Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman for roasted eggplant and green chile dip (dtam makhya), I fired up some coals and blistered them, along with some shallots, garlic, and hot green chiles.

I pounded the garlic and chiles in a mortar, then added everything to the food processor, seasoning with a little fish sauce (I was fresh out of the pickled mudfish Eckhardt and Hagerman suggest). Then I tossed it all in a pan with a tablespoon of peanut oil and a pinch of sugar, and sauteed for a few minutes. The bitterness mellowed a bit, tempered by the smokiness from the grill and the sugar, and a squeeze of lime. I for one, will never eat pork rinds without an obscure, roasted Burmese vegetable again.

If you want to give this a go, or say chin baung kyaw, look for them at the Global Gardens Farmers Market on Thursday from 3 to 6 PM or Saturday from 9 AM to 1 PM, one block north of Lawrence at Sacramento and Gunnison.