Saturday 2 February 2008

burmese chayote soup

The word choko sounds more like the side effect of laryngitis than a tasty vegetable, but that's the word mostly commonly used in Australia for Sechium edule, known widely as chayote.

I have fond memories of chokos. I don’t know whether this is a true memory or something I imagined, but as kid I seem to recall a choko vine growing along our swimming pool fence and my parents getting more than they bargained for: so much fruit and a rampaging plant that couldn’t be tamed. I think they pulled it out in the end.

When I was a kid there was a great myth that McDonalds used chokos instead of apples in their pies. I love McDonalds Apple Pies and when I heard there were chokos inside, instead of being grossed out like the other kids, I remember thinking that chokos must be pretty wonderful things to taste so good.

This Burmese soup recipe uses chokos perfectly, playing on their natural sweetness and their chameleon ability to take on whatever flavours surround them.

Sweet and spicy, this soup is certainly a quick and easy crowd pleaser. The original recipe recommends serving this dish as part of a curry and rice meal.

Goorakathee Kyawjet Hin (Burmese Choko Soup)
Anna’s variation from Serves 2 as a starter.
1 choko, peeled and julienned
600ml vegetable stock
½ small onion, sliced very thinly lengthways
1 garlic clove, sliced very thinly lengthways
3 tablespoons, finely chopped coriander root
1 tablespoon dried shrimp
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
1 red chilli, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon oil
Fresh coriander leaves, for garnish
1. Heat oil in a saucepan, add onion and garlic and sweat until softened.
2. Add dried shrimp, shrimp paste and turmeric. Fry for a few seconds.
3. Add choko and toss together over medium heat for a few minutes.
4. Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.
5. Add stock and allow to simmer for another 10 minutes.
Variation: I omitted the dried shrimp, but I am sure this is a traditional element in the recipe.
Note: Liquid from raw chokos can be very harsh on your skin, so oil your hands in advance or wear thin rubber gloves when peeling and cutting.

The choko is a gourd originating in tropical America and it part of the family Cucurbitaceae along with siblings melons, cucumbers and squash.

The fruit, shoot, leaves and root are all edible and if the fruit is not too mature the seed will be soft and edible also.

When selecting choko fruits, look for those with soft spines as this indicates that the fruit isn’t very old. It’s also advisable to store the chokos at room temperature.

The fruits are usually pear shaped and have ridges and slightly wrinkled skin, ranging from pale yellow to dark green. They don’t have to be peeled and you can certainly eat them raw.

One of the largest exporters of choko is Costa Rica, as well as the Veracruz state of Mexico.

The chayote is an important part of the Mexican diet where they are stuffed, used in meat dishes and soups as well as eaten raw in salads. In Mauritius the fruits are boiled and turned into a spicy green salad while in Taiwan choko shoots are the most eaten veggies on the island.

According to Wikipedia, “choko leaves and fruit have diuretic, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties, and a tea made from the leaves has been used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis and hypertension, and to dissolve kidney stones. [The fruit] can also be boiled, stuffed, mashed, baked, fried, or pickled. Both the fruit and the seed are rich in amino acids and vitamin C.”

I’ve never seen a vegetable with so many different names! I just couldn’t believe it so I’ve decided to share some of the names I discovered.

In India it’s known as Seemae BaDhneKayi (Kannada); Katharikai (Tamil), Ishkus (Darjeeling) and DasGoos (Manipur).

In the rest of Asia it has many other names such as harp jeung kwa and fat shau kwa (Cantonese), goorakathee (Burmese), labu siem (Indonesian), hayato-uri (Japanese), labu siam (Malay), sayote (Filippino), fak mao and fak meo (Thai) and su-su and trai su (Vietnamese).

Meanwhile in Europe it goes by zucca centenaria (Italian), xuxu (Portuguese), čajota (Slovenian) christophene and christophine (French) and amcık kabağı (Turkish).

In English speaking countries it’s also called choko, pear squash, chouchou, custard marrow, sousous, chocho, mango squash, cho-cho, vegetable pear, mirliton and merliton.

Islands around the world have their own names too, including chouchou (Mauritius), chocho (Jamaica), militon (Haiti) and pipinola (Hawaii).

Most of the world seems to use the Spanish word, chayote, which originates from a similarly sounding word in Nahuatl, an indigenous language spoken in central Mexico. Apart from this, Spanish speaking countries have other versions such as tayota (Dominican Republic) güisquil, perulero and pataste (Guatemala, El Salvador & Honduras), papa del aire (Paraguay) and papa de los pobres (Colombia).

That’s a whole lot of aliases for one little veggie.

Funny enough that the country of origin for this dish also goes by two names: it’s official name Myanmar and it’s old name Burma. It’s capital Yangon is also known as Rangoon.

After reading the Wikipedia entry on Myanmar, it seems that many people still call it Burma. Most Australians my age seem to call it Myanmar, the name used by the Burmese people since the 13th century.

Myanmar is the largest country in mainland South East Asia, but it is also one of the poorest. It borders India, Bangladesh, Tibet, China, Laos and Thailand and has huge tracks of coast along the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. Its position between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator means it sits squarely in monsoonal Asia.

Myanmar has at least 108 different ethno-linguistic groups, showing considerable ethnic diversity among the population of 55 million (approximately).

Its wildlife is also very diverse, with tigers and leopards in the jungles and rhinos, buffalo, wild boar, antelope and elephants in the north.

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, this time hosted by Claudia from Fool for Food, a pretty blog with posts in a combination of German and English. Discovering her Karamellpudding recipe has really put my German language skills to the test.

References : [Map]



  1. In indian cooking we too use this vegetable.
    I always think the veggie looks weired.
    But the soup looks so hearty

  2. The veggie is my fav. I just dice it. Cook it. Add salt and mustard urud dal seasoning. A great veggie that can be added to Kootu and other masalas.

    My chayote soup is a little creamier. Your recipe is superb. I need to try this soon. In south India it's other wise called 'chow chow'.

  3. This is a beautiful, beautiful soup, Anna. I've just saved it to my delicious file.
    When I lived in the hot Sacramento valley, our neighbors had a huge chayote vine on their fence and they were always bringing me chayotes, which I didn't have a clue what to do with. I think I just sauteed them with other vegetables. Now I've been inspired by your recipe to do more! Thank you.

  4. I've never cooked this type of squash. I've seen it in the market a few times, but not too often. It sounds like it's very versatile, so I'll try it next time I see some. Your soup sounds just wonderful, and another fantastic post!

  5. I love chayote, I used to make it for lontong sayur, Chayote in spiced coconut milk served with lontong (long rice cake).

    Just a correction, Anna. In Indonesian, it is called as labu siam too just like the Malayisan. Labu siem is actually in Javanese.

  6. It's called chouchou on French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, where the fruit, the young shoots & leaves and the mature tubers are eaten in various preparations from salads, to stir-fry to gratins to cakes. And the water in which the fruit has been boiled has - reputedly - medicinal virtues for those who need a little "cleansing" of the liver.



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