Lady GooGoo has just returned home to Yangon, Myanmar, after a month spent conducting supper clubs and pop-ups across Europe. From Burmese picnics in Paris to cooking at an organic distillery in Stockholm, the 39-year-old has been taking ethnic cuisine from her country to the world.
To begin with, she has been showcasing small plates with Burmese drink snacks, Karen-style pulled chicken salad, and different styles of lahpet thoke, or pickled tea salad. Popularly known as Lady GooGoo on social media or by her nickname Goo Goo, her real name is Phyu Cyn. She has also been one of the regular contributors to the Burma Burma social media page in India. “I plan to have a pop-up at Bomras, Goa and possibly at Burma Burma too. I hope it happens soon. During the covid-19 lockdown in 2020, I also did Instagram live sessions with the latter about Burmese street food,” she says. The response to her cooking in Europe has been encouraging. “I think the pop-ups chose me,” smiles Phyu Cyn.
She isn’t a trained chef but food remains the biggest passion for this public relations consultant. Phyu Cyn is an example, in fact, of how social media can open up windows of opportunity. The home chef, who says neighbouring countries like Laos and Vietnam have quite a few culinary ambassadors to take their cuisines to the world, now hopes to become an ambassador of Burmese food and showcase its diversity.
Also read: Indian home chefs go global
“A lot of people abroad have told me they crave authentic Burmese flavours. There is only one such restaurant, Lahpet, in London, a few in the US, and another in Valencia, Spain, which serve some Burmese dishes,” she says.
Raised by her grandmother, she has been cooking since the age of 12. During the seven years she studied in the UK, starting 2005, she would cook not only for friends but also fund-raisers. “During the initial months of the covid-19 pandemic, everyone was stuck at home. With some time on my hands, I started posting about Burmese food on social media. It has been great, making cooking from my country accessible to people across the globe.”
Before the pandemic, Phyu Cyn would also invite international chefs, who were travelling to Myanmar, host their pop-ups and cook Burmese meals for them. “They have been very encouraging in my quest to take Burmese food global. I think it works that I am honest about not being a trained chef,” she explains.
Cooking in the home kitchen is one thing, cooking large volumes in a restaurant is quite another. This is where her experience of cooking for more than 100 people in Buddhist monasteries has come in useful. Phyu Cyn remains determined not to compromise on the authenticity of flavours. “Maybe I will choose my dishes more carefully, which are not very hot and spicy. But whatever I cook will be true to my roots,” she says.
Last year, Phyu Cyn’s eclectic posts saw her invited to a food expo in Milan, Italy. She met diplomats, expats and chefs, who invited her to their countries for pop-ups. During her first pop-up in Stockholm, hosted by a Sichuan-themed restaurant, she was a little nervous. However, the diners were either familiar with different cuisines or prepared to try. “For the opening day, we had 120 guests, with a waiting list of 90. Twenty per cent of the crowd had been to Myanmar and missed authentic Burmese food,” she says.
Phyu Cyn now plans to travel more, showcasing elevated home-style food and dispelling myths about Burmese cuisine. “Our food is diverse. People think that the food of central Myanmar is too oily. Earlier, with no refrigerators, people would preserve their food in oil. The eastern part of the country is hilly and colder. The food is very fresh and features a lot of vegetables. Our curries have a lot of Indian influence. It is these vibrant sub-cuisines that I want to highlight,” she says.