After a week in Burma, we arrived in Mae Sot, Thailand, the border town just east of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side. We crossed on foot by a bridge that arched over a lazy, murky river. Sweat crept down my back, and my shoulders ached from carrying my bag. A woman sat in the middle of the bridge with a baby at her breast, and her eyes were flat as she held out her hand. Below, boats of a former era were packed to capacity, carrying people from one side to the next.
Getting to Thailand was a relief. The paved roads were more predictable. The traffic moved at a familiar pace, unlike in Burma where speed limits seemed to be arbitrary and drivers tailed the cars ahead, laying down the horn in an arrhythmic blast until the car in front gave the universal sign that it was safe to pass. Left blinker meant safe. Right blinker, not safe. We wouldn’t have to be careful about drinking tap water in Thailand. Cultural considerations seemed more predictable in Thailand because of the exposure we’ve had to Thai culture in the Western world. Of Burma, I had known next to nothing.
But as we settled into MJ and Matt’s home in Mae Sot over the next couple of days, I felt a yearning. I longed for the unfamiliarity, the unpredictability of Burma. For the shades of terracotta that colored the country: in the sand, in the Buddhas etched into the temple walls, in the dirt of the roads, and in the milky, sugary tea. So much of the trip was beyond our control, and that, if I think about it, is exactly when I feel like I’m truly traveling. Moments when the floor dropped out from under us, we were humbled by human kindness. Hospitality seems to be part of the genetic weave of the people in Burma. Again and again, we were invited into homes of strangers, taken by the hands and led to the table, no matter if the house had been swept.
The first day we were back in Mae Sot, MJ took us to her favorite restaurant called Borderline, with a menu of Burmese vegetarian recipes. We ordered a samosa salad, among other things. Diane, MJ’s mom, had her new purple scarf draped over her shoulders, and her dad Mark had ordered a strong ginger tea for his cold. I think I ordered lemongrass tea. Or maybe tamarind, I don’t know. What did MJ drink? Lime iced tea? The dishes came, we shared them all, and it was all very delicious. But I can only remember the samosa salad. It could have been the exhaustion of the weeks leading up to the trip, but after the first bite, I had to fight back the urge to cry. As if however affecting Burma had been, however short but consequential the previous week, it was all woven into that salad.
I don’t know the samosa salad’s origins, but I imagine them to be humble, as a way to use up leftover samosas like panzanella for leftover Italian bread. To me, it tastes like the perfect thing to offer when a friend pops by unannounced. It tastes like genetic hospitality.
Samosa Salad (adapted from Mo Mo and Bo Bo’s Kitchen, a cookbook by the owners of Borderline)
If you’re ambitious and feel so inclined, you could make the samosas from scratch. If you don’t insist, I recommend taking them out from a shop. If you decide to buy samosas already made, ask for some tamarind or sweet chili sauce, too. You’ll use it for the dressing.
And since Mo Mo and Bo Bo make vegetarian samosas, I made this salad with vegetarian samosas, but you can do whatever you want. Buy one samosa per person (or serving). The proportions here are written for 3 large samosas.
Cut up the samosas with kitchen shears. Mince one shallot or half a small red onion.
Shred half a cucumber and about one cup of pale green cabbage.
Add about two teaspoons of chickpea flour and one tablespoon of sweet chili or tamarind sauce.
Mix gently by hand, and eat right away. It will get soggy very fast!