I came across a vendor making these sweet street-side Burmese crepes one sleepy Sunday afternoon in Rangoon. She had two bowls—one of batter, the other of filling—and two small charcoal burners going. On each was a curved metal pan, like a miniature wok but much heavier.
She added a little of the thin batter to one of the pans, lifted it to swirl the batter around, and put it back on the fire. It crisped up almost immediately on the hot metal surface. Then she ladled some of the filling onto the center of the crepe and covered the pan with a lid. A minute later, she turned the confection out onto her work surface. It was beautiful and delicate and looked like a Sri Lankan hopper [Editor’s Note: This is a pancake of sorts] with its bowl-shaped curve of fine crisp crepe, but with a thickened bulge of filling at the base.
I thought she’d just hand it to me, but no, rather shockingly, she folded two sides over the middle, breaking the delicate structure, and handed it to me all flattened. At the first bite I was in heaven, the lush coconut-milk filling a perfect creamy complement to the fine outer shell.
With specialized ah-boh pans not available outside Burma, the best implement to use is a cast-iron skillet (a wok is not heavy enough). The heavy skillet gives the right texture, even though the curved bowl shape is missing. If you’re serving these for dessert, serve them straight from the pan with a scoop of sorbet on the side for a great contrast of texture and temperature.
By the way, the man who first told me the Burmese name for these blushed a little when I asked him what they were called. I didn’t understand his embarrassment until later, when I learned that ah-boh also means “vagina” in Burmese.–Naomi Duguid
LC Did We Mention These Burmese Crepes Are Gluten-Free? Note
Sorry if we’re just getting around to mentioning this now, but these Burmese crepes are gluten-free. By way of explanation, we like to wait and let you fall for a recipe based solely on its intrinsic goodness, and then be pleasantly surprised when you realize it just happens to also fall under some dietary confines. Don’t you love when that happens? Author Naomi Duguid, notes that she’s experimented with using all rice flour as well as a mix of all-purpose and rice flour, and while “both work fine,” she finds the resulting texture to be crisper with the mixture of flours. But we quite like the rice flour rendition. Suit yourself.
Burmese Crepes ~ Ah-Boh
For the batter
- 1 cup rice flour
- Scant 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (or substitute 1/2 cup rice flour)
- 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
For the filling
- 6 tablespoons canned or fresh coconut milk (not low-fat; shake the can before measuring or use the cream floating on the surface)
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons rice flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
For the crepes
- Peanut or vegetable oil, for the skillet
Make the batter
- Whisk the rice flour, all-purpose flour (or additional rice flour), water, salt, sugar, and baking soda together in a medium bowl until perfectly smooth. The batter should be runny. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Make the filling
- Mix the coconut milk, sugar, rice flour, and baking soda together in a small bowl until perfectly smooth. The filling should have the consistency of pancake batter. Set aside.
Make the crepes
- Heat a 7- or 8-inch cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Add a little oil to the skillet, wait about 20 seconds, and then wipe the skillet out with a paper towel. Place the skillet back over the heat and increase the heat to medium-high. Stir the batter. If necessary, add a little more lukewarm water to thin it so it will spread easily and stir again. Pour a scant 1/4 cup batter into the skillet and lift and tilt the skillet so the batter flows out to the edges. Cover and cook for 20 seconds or so. Spoon 1 generous tablespoon filling onto the center of the crepe, cover, lower the heat slightly, and cook for 1 minute. Check to see if the filling has set; if not, cover and cook a little longer.
- Take the skillet off the heat, fold the crepe in half, and transfer it to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter and filling, wiping the skillet with the oiled paper towel if needed between crepes to prevent sticking. Serve hot.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Not only is this Burmese crepes recipe truly seductive, but the seduction comes fast! No one would know from their heavenly taste just how easy they are! I was pretty much in love after the first bite. My recipe made about 8 crepes cooked in peanut oil in a cast-iron pan. I had no trouble making the crepes in an ordinary skillet without the rounded edges of the traditional Burmese pan. I used white rice flour, but next time I might try 50/50 white rice flour and brown rice flour. Each of the timings was perfectly accurate (the wiping of the pan after 20 seconds, the initial cooking time of 20 seconds or so, and the 1 minute cooking time after adding the filling). I didn’t need to cook it a single second longer than the recipe instructs to get the filling to set, though I added a little lukewarm water to the batter after the 30-minute rest time to create a batter that was thin enough to quickly flow to the edge of the pan. I served them straight from the pan. Transfer them to a plate?! Mine never made it there, although I do like the idea of adding the scoop of sorbet for a lovely dessert. (Tropical flavors such as coconut and/or mango are at the top of my list to go with the rice flour and coconut filling.) One quick note of caution: Be sure to keep the filling inside the crepe’s borders. Any that trickles out sticks badly to the pan and creates a gummy surface for the next crepe. An additional big plus is that these are vegan. If this is representative of Burmese food, take me to Rangoon!
A recipe reminiscent of Sri Lankan hoppers?! I love Sri Lankan hoppers, which are savory, thin, crispy crepe-like bowls traditionally served with curries. Made with rice flour and coconut water or milk and a little yeast, hoppers are addictive, to say the least. So I had to try these. The biggest difference here is the coconut milk is placed in the middle of the crepe as a filling instead of in the crepe batter. The addition of sugar also makes this more dessert-like than savory. I experimented and made some batter with water as the recipe suggests. I also made some batter with half water and half coconut milk, and the coconut milk elevates it, adding an additional layer of flavor. I also think the coconut milk in the batter helps make the resulting crepe crisper. The recipe did remind me of hoppers, although being partial to the Sri Lankan hoppers, I could actually do without the sweet middle layer of coconut, which I found to be a bit gummy in texture, though it was tasty. My tip is to experiment with adding coconut milk to the crepe batter in place of some of the milk. I’d also recommend keeping the paper towel used to wipe the oil in the skillet handy. You will need to occasionally reapply the oil by wiping the pan with the oiled paper towel; if the pan becomes dry, this will help prevent the crepes from sticking.
This Burmese crepes recipe is unique, surprisingly easy, and makes a lovely, thin pancake. For some reason, I’d thought the combination of rice flour and an old-fashioned cast iron skillet would be a recipe for extreme sticking. I was very wrong on that regard. The recipe instructions—covering the pan, especially—and timings produced crepes that never stuck at all. They had a delicate texture that was a bit crunchy—think thin caramel on a crême brulée—on the outside but gave way to a soft interior with a bit of stretch and chew. The filling provides a nice hit of sweet coconut and a very luxurious mouthfeel. My only criticism is that the filling was a bit sparse for the amount of batter. The last few crepes barely got any filling. You really, REALLY have to eat these as soon as they come out of the pan. The texture suffers a lot and turns a bit rubbery once they cool a bit. Buy Thai coconut milk that has no emulsifiers or stabilizers. (Usually the ingredient list has nothing more than coconut and water. Aroy-D is a good brand; Chaokoh is another fine one.) Let the coconut milk sit in the fridge and do not shake it. Open carefully and you should have the thick coconut cream on the top of the can or carton. Use that for this recipe. Right below it you’ll have thin coconut milk that you can reserve for another use.
These Burmese crepes are a little tricky, but definitely worth it if you like coconut. The crepes are crispy on the outside and luscious and creamy on the inside. I tried making the first couple of crepes in a cast-iron pan, but they kept sticking for me, so I switched to a nonstick skillet. I also found it worked better if I used about a teaspoon oil for each crepe and didn’t wipe out the pan with a paper towel, even in a nonstick pan. I used all rice flour and added a couple extra tablespoons water to the batter to make it easier to pour. For the filling, I didn’t shake the can of coconut milk, and I used the cream at the top so the filling was thicker, richer, and less runny. I used a ladle for the batter, picked up the skillet, poured the batter into the pan, and swirled it around to coat the bottom before putting it back on the burner. I cooked it about 20 seconds, added the filling, popped on the lid, and cooked for 3 to 4 minutes more to make sure the crepe was brown and crisp. I ended up leaving the temperature at medium-high the whole time to get the crepe crispier on the bottom. I don’t think we can duplicate what the vendor on the street makes in Rangoon, but we can come pretty close. Enjoy!
Originally published May 28, 2014