BURMA TO GOA: A Chef’s Journey

Chef-Restaurateur Bawmra Jap, of contemporary Burmese cuisine restaurant Bomra’s  in Goa, speaks with Travel Purist about his culinary journey.

Bomra’s uses some of the recipes you grew up with at home in Burma. Could you tell us a little bit about your culinary influences?

In the Kachin province of Burma, where I grew up, a lot of local herbs are used in cooking – herbs like Vietnamese coriander, mango ginger, Kachin basil – as well as age old tribal techniques like steaming chicken or fish inside bamboo or wrapped in a banana leaf. I have brought these herbs with me to Goa, where we grow them in our restaurant garden, and we use the traditional steaming and roasting techniques as well. Ours is a modern take on flavours and techniques that were a part of my childhood.

Which is that one dish that tastes of home? 

Our Kachin chicken dish – boneless chicken pieces marinated with Kachin herbs, wrapped and steamed inside a banana leaf, and served with a chilli sauce on the side – reminds me of home.

From Burma to London and, finally, Goa, it’s been an unusual journey. How did Bomra’s come about?

I moved to London with Maryam, my wife, and started out in IT. However, food was always my passion and my strength. I began to work at different London restaurants, working my way up with lots of different kitchen jobs. Then we moved to Goa as a family because of a research project that Maryam was involved in. Goa inspired me to start a restaurant, and Bomra’s (the restaurant) is still here, 13 years later!

Which dishes would you recommend for a culinary journey through Burma? 

Lah pet toke, a pickled tealeaf starter, is a great example of a Burmese small plate with a great play of textures and unique flavours. However, if there is one dish that encapsulates Burmese food, it is Mohinga – a fish and seafood stew with rice vermicelli. Like a Burmese Bouillabaisse, the rich fish stock base is packed with flavours of the sea and variations of it are found throughout Myanmar.

How have you discovered India through its many cuisines? How has India influenced you?

I am drawn to the less discovered Indian cuisines because they remain distinctive, local, and unaltered unlike the more popular ones. Like Khasi food in Shillong, or even some of Goa’s less known dishes. Overall, the sheer variety of ingredients available in india has allowed us to create some spectacular contemporary food.

How has travel inspired your recipes?

I seek out local foods and techniques wherever I travel, from distinctive sausages in Slovenia to paddy straw-smoked mackerel here in Goa. We incorporate these techniques and flavours into local ingredients to make new dishes.

And what’s your recipe for travel?

To let the trip take you, rather than the other way around. The best experiences are chanced upon rather than planned. Pack light, with a funny book, and look for small local eating holes that serve regional cuisine.