Pilot Abdul, Milwaukee

Grandmother’s Food

By Ryan Ward and Mike Baron | June 17, 2020


Pilot Abdul:

Food every day. You have to eat every day. Everyone eats food, yes, everyone eats food.

I miss the food I was young.

Grandmother food.

We are always taste grandmother food.

I keep trying to cook to get better and better, yeah.

When I’m cooking my family around, with me. They look at, “what dishes daddy? What dishes you are cooking?”. So I told them that this is from the Myanmar food and Myanmar dishes, yeah.

When I cook the food, my son also like it. Then my son bigger, he will remember this is my daddy always cooked for us. yeah.

So we like to share with like family friends. Yeah. In the community friend yeah, we can enjoy together.

Red Curry Beef With Roasted Potatoes

Pilot Abdul
Pilot Abdul and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 2015 and he brought with him the tastes of his “grandmother’s food.” Red Beef and Curry with Roasted potatoes is a dish that transports Abdul back in time to when his mother and grandmother would cook for him as a child. It’s a food tradition he hopes to pass along to his children. Abdul works in partnership with the global food collaboration program, Tables Cross Borders, where he brings his dishes to serve meals in local restaurants in Milwaukee. Burmese cuisine has its own district flavors with influences from its neighboring countries, including China, Thailand and India.
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Burmese
Servings 4 people


  • 10 ounces about 1 ¼ cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • 1 pound boneless chuck roast fat trimmed and discarded
  • 2 large potatoes Yukon Gold yellow or red, peeled and cubed
  • 4-5 tablespoons canola oil
  • ½ teaspoon vegetable seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ pack fresh cilantro chopped for garnish

Spice blend:

  • 2 tablespoons garlic & ginger blended
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • ½ tablespoon vegetable seasoning
  • 2 large shallots chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red chili powder
  • 4 whole dried red chiles such as Thai red or chiles de arbol broken in half
  • 2 stalks lemongrass chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper chopped
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seed
  • 1 stick cinnamon crushed
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 bay leaf


  • Preheat oven to 360 degrees.
  • Trim and cube boneless beef stew meat and set aside.
  • Mix spices (garlic/ginger blend, turmeric, salt, vegetable seasoning, shallots, red chili powder, whole red chilies broken in half, cinnamon, lemongrass, green pepper, poppy seed, whole anise) with yogurt.
  • Pour spice blend over beef and let it marinate for 30 minutes.
  • Heat oil and cook marinated beef on low flame for 45 minutes until tender. Stir every 5-10 minutes.
  • While beef is cooking, place potatoes on baking sheet. Mix ½ teaspoon vegetable seasoning, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon turmeric, then sprinkle mix over potatoes.
  • Put potatoes in the oven (360 degrees) and roast for 15 minutes.
  • Mix roasted potatoes with cooked tender beef and garnish with green bell pepper.
  • Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.


Lemongrass can be tough to chop. Remove the root end and skinny part of stem, then peel and chop it like a scallion (removing tougher outer layers). If you like, bruise it with a heavy utensil (such as a meat tenderizer or rolling pin) to release the fragrant oils. For stew meat, choose a cut that won’t take too long to tenderize, such as round.
Pilot Abdul cooking in front of stove.
Pilot Abdul stirring pot of red beef curry. (Ryan Ward/PBS Wisconsin)

For a lot of people, thinking of the food we ate as children brings fond memories. Smelling certain aromas coming from a kitchen can act as a sort of time warp, instantly transporting us home with recollections of the people who nurtured and cared for us.

Pilot Abdul calls this “grandmother’s food”.

“We are always tasting grandmother’s food,” he said.

Rolling out dough on counter.
Pilot Abdul rolling out the dough for Burmese flatbread. (Ryan Ward/PBS Wisconsin)
Plate containing various spices
Blend of various spices for seasoning. (Ryan Ward/PBS Wisconsin)

Abdul and his family immigrated to the United States from Myanmar, formerly Burma, in 2015. They soon found a home in Wisconsin, settling in Milwaukee. In Abdul’s mind, food is a global necessity that everyone can relate to.

“You have to eat every day,” he said. “Everyone eats food.”

It’s why Abdul enjoys cooking so much. The fact that we all need to eat allows Abdul the opportunity to share his culture and heritage with family, friends and the community around him.

“I like to share with my family, friends or community,” Abdul said. “So we can share, so we can enjoy it together.”

Friends and family gathered at dinner table
Pilot Abdul and his family enjoying dinner with friends. (Ryan Ward/PBS Wisconsin)

In November of 2019, Abdul was able to expand on that idea. The global food collaboration program Tables Across Borders chose Abdul to share his food inside a local restaurant, offering him a chance to bring back some of the food from his childhood.

Red beef curry with roasted potatoes is a dish that his mother and grandmother cooked for him often during his childhood.

“I miss the food from when I was young,” he said.

Now, Abdul is serving up a lifetime of memories with his food, introducing an entirely new community to “grandmother’s food”.

Plate of rice, chicken, flatbread, and veggies.
Abdul’s food is plated and ready to be served. (Ryan Ward/PBS Wisconsin)
Red Beef Curry
Red Beef Curry is served hot with fresh garnish. (Ryan Ward/PBS Wisconsin)

This story is part of Food Traditions, a multimedia project exploring food and culture across Wisconsin.

Ryan Ward

Ryan Ward

Ryan Ward is a producer for the “Wisconsin Life” project and can rest easy after he finally found the perfect jar of homemade dill pickles at the farmer’s market in Madison. … just like his Grandma Shirley use to make!
Mike Baron

Mike Baron

Mike Baron is a videographer and editor for the “Wisconsin Life” project and lives in a divided home of Packers and Vikings fans.

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