Tomato Shrimp Relish


Tomato Shrimp Relish with raw vegetables

At traditional restaurants in Myanmar, every meal begins with a complimentary plate of raw vegetables paired with a pungent dipping sauce. It can be a brothy dip or a relish like this one, but it almost always contains shrimp paste and sometimes ground dried shrimp. Every cook has her own version, but the best of these condiments pack in an incredible amount of umami flavor. You can serve this as a dip with any assortment of crudites or go Burmese-style and eat it with tiny raw green eggplants, leafy bitter herbs, and half-moons of bitter melon. Instead of cleaning out the pot after making the relish, stir-fry day-old rice to soak up the flavor left behind. That’s what one of Desmond’s aunts likes to do.

Makes about 3 cups relish; Serves 10 as an appetizer


⅓ cup canola oil

3 cups finely diced yellow onion

¼ cup minced garlic

2 tablespoons shrimp paste (see page 238)

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne

¼ teaspoon tumeric

2 to 3 Thai chiles, thinly sliced crosswise

⅓ cup dried shrimp powder (see page 235)

5 cups diced Roma tomatoes (about 10 tomatoes)
1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon salt


Crudites (any combination of the following)

1 to 3 cucumbers, sliced on an angle for dipping

¼ head cabbage, cut into thin wedges

Handful of cauliflower florets, blanched

1 to 2 carrots, peeled and cut into sticks

½ to 1 bitter melon, seeded and thinly sliced (see sidebar)

Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Bitter greens, such as sorrel leaves or watercress

[ How to Prepare Bitter Melon ]

Like the other crunchy vegetables that come with the freebie relish plate at Burmese restaurants, bitter melon is a refreshing counterpoint to the rich relish. To prepare it, cut off the ends and slice it in half lengthwise. Scoop out any seeds or membranes and slice each half crosswise into half-moons. You can serve it as is or soak it in some water and a pinch of salt before serving to draw out some of the bitterness.


In a 4-quart pot or deep saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Stir in the onions, decrease the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often, until the onions have browned around the edges and softened, 6 to 8 minutes.