Noni, one of many vernacular names for Morinda citrifolia, is native to Indonesia and Australia and naturalized throughout the tropics. The fruit has many applications in traditional Pacific Islander medicine (and, purportedly, in contemporary medicine as well), and in Burma the unripe fruit may be cooked in curries or eaten raw with salt. The ripe fruit, however, is fetid and considered fit only for the local fauna.
For culinary uses, the leaves are more highly regarded. Young, tender leaves are added to stir-fries, while mature leaves — this one, when unfolded, was a foot long and half again as wide — are used as wrappers during cooking. When raw, the leaves are bright green; during cooking, they add a slightly bitter flavor to dishes such as this fish stew while darkening to the greenish-black color of kombu. The texture, too, is similar to that of kelp, I found after a nibble, and then another. I'd read that older leaves are too bitter to be eaten themselves, but a dressing of Burmese fish stew works wonders.
This annual fundraiser to benefit humanitarian efforts in Myanmar, first held in 2008, seems to get busier every year. For the 2015 event I arrived a half-hour before the scheduled starting time and found the joint already jumping. Given the paucity of Burmese chow in New York, my usual plan of action is to immediately snag a few take-home snacks, like the noni-leaf-wrapped fish stew, to help stretch out the experience of the food fair beyond a single afternoon. Shown below, from previous events: dried river fish, fried tamarind leaves with dried shrimp, coconut palm sugar candy, and sweet-sour roselle buds jam. The noni leaves were gathered in a Key West backyard; most of the other items, I believe, were shepherded from abroad.
For many more photos from multiple years of Burmese food fairs held by the Moegyo (Moe-joe) Humanitarian Foundation, see the slideshow.
Moegyo Burmese Food Fair
Aviation High School, 45-30 36th St., Long Island City, Queens
(The 2015 food fair was held on June 14)