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Posts tagged ‘Naomi Duguid’

What’s Cooking in Myanmar?

As the year winds down, it’s beginning to look a lot like … Burmese food! Call it Myanmar cuisine, or the old familiar, Burmese, but the tasty and underrated cuisine from this country is ready to take its place at the world’s culinary table. Yes, I love the food that I’ve tasted during my travels in Myanmar (everything from noodle dishes such as monhinga and mondhi, to the amazing fermented tea leaf salad), but I’m not the only one; before this year is out, there will be three excellent new books about Burmese food available in bookshops and from online dealers.


Just published this month is Ma Thanegi’s Ginger Salad and Water Wafers: Recipes from Myanmar. This is actually an expanded version of her An Introduction to Myanmar Cuisine that was first published in 2004. This new edition, published by Things Asian Press, includes gorgeous photographs by Tiffany Wan, showing you not only the wide variety of food featured in the book, but also many captivating sights from around the country. Chapters in the book cover: Soups, Main Dishes (various meat and fish curries, stews, steamed and grilled dishes); Soups; Salads (an incredibly diverse section, with recipes for Tofu, Grilled Eggplant, Pennywort, Long Bean, Green Mango, Ginger, Tomato, and Shrimp Paste salads); Vegetables; Relishes; Rice (there’s more to rice than you think: coconut rice, rice porridge, briyani, fried rice, rice salad); Noodles (don’t get me started, this is one of my favorite food categories in Myanmar cuisine, and Thanegi offers a wide range of recipes of the more popular dishes); Desserts and Snacks (fritters, pancakes, sauces). If you think that Burmese food consists of nothing but oily curries and greasy fried rice dishes, prepare to be enlightened!



And the first bookshop in the world to have the new Ma Thanegi cookbook in stock? No, it’s not my shop in Bangkok, Dasa Books, but Golden Bowl Travel in Nyaungshwe’s Shan State. Shop owner Ma Ma Aye is very proud to offer Ginger Salad and Water Wafers to travelers passing through town. She is also stocking other titles by Ma Thanegi, including Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy, Nor Iron Bars a Cage, and the fascinating alternative guidebook from Things Asian Press, To Myanmar With Love.



Earlier this year, Naomi Duguid’s latest cookbook, Burma: Rivers of Flavor was published. As in her past cookbooks, Naomi not only showcases the food of the country or region, but also focuses on the people and culture. Naomi spends a lot of time in each country she visits and Myanmar is no exception. She has a true appreciation and love for the country, and it shows in her book. Here is one very good description of her book that I found online:

Interspersed throughout the 125 recipes are intriguing tales from the author’s many trips to this fascinating but little-known land. One such captivating essay shows how Burmese women adorn themselves with thanaka, a white paste used to protect and decorate the skin. Buddhism is a central fact of Burmese life: we meet barefoot monks on their morning quest for alms, as well as nuns with shaved heads; and Duguid takes us on tours of Shwedagon, the amazingly grand temple complex on a hill in Rangoon, the former capital. She takes boats up Burma’s huge rivers, highways to places inaccessible by road; spends time in village markets and home kitchens; and takes us to the farthest reaches of the country, along the way introducing us to the fascinating people she encounters on her travels. The best way to learn about an unfamiliar culture is through its food, and in Burma: Rivers of Flavor, readers will be transfixed by the splendors of an ancient and wonderful country, untouched by the outside world for generations, whose simple recipes delight and satisfy and whose people are among the most gracious on earth.



Next up, scheduled for January 2014 publication is Robert Carmack’s latest food offering, The Burma Cookbook: Recipes From the Land of a Million Pagodas. Robert has travelled to Myanmar dozens of times over the years and knows both the country and it cuisine inside out. This is the product description of the new book:

The Burma Cookbook is a lavishly photographed cookbook and historic travelogue, tracing contemporary and colonial Burmese dishes over the past century. With its rich traditions of empire, The Burma Cookbook highlights the best of present-day Myanmar, including foods of its immigrant populations – from the subcontinent, down the Malay Peninsula, and Britain itself. The authors spent some ten years researching the book, while organizing and hosting culinary tours to uncover the country’s most popular dishes. The authors had exclusive access to The Strand Hotel’s collection of historic menus, pictures and photos, while contemporary photography by Morrison Polkinghorne portrays Myanmar street life.

By the way, Robert and Morrison continue to conduct their very popular “Food Tours” of various Asian locales. They have a Vietnam food tour scheduled from December 29 through January 5, and their next tour to Myanmar will revolve around the annual water festival in April next year. For more information, check their website:

And the common denominator connecting these three cookbook authors? Not only are they are all avid travelers, ones who give back to each country that they visit, but they have all shopped at my bookshop in Bangkok. I can confidently say that they are all good people with good taste — in both food and books!


Yangon Ladies

On Tuesday a woman walked into my bookshop and while scanning the shelves, told me that “a Burmese friend recommended your shop to me.” “Really? Who was that?” I asked. “Ma Thanegi” was her reply. That of course led to more conversation and introductions. She told me her name was Naomi, was from Canada, but spent a lot of time in Thailand each year. She had also been making frequent trips to Myanmar to do research for a Burmese cookbook she is writing. She ended up buying a bunch of books (including every title we had by Alan Furst) to take with her to Toronto the following day.


I wrote an e-mail to Ma Thanegi later that evening, telling her that I had met a very interesting friend of hers. Thanegi wrote back and said: “Google her name — Naomi Duguid. She’s a lovely person.” I took her advice and did an online search, revealing that Naomi Duguid is quite the traveler and also a highly regarded cookbook author. She has written several cookbooks with Jeffrey Alford, including Flatbreads and Flavors; Hot Sour Salty Sweet: a Culinary Journey through Southeast Asia; Flavors of Rice; Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels through the Great Subcontinent; and Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China.


From the reviews I’ve read, Naomi’s books appear to be much more than ordinary cookbooks or collections of recipes. Her books combine food, travel, and culture, immersing the reader in the lives and customs of the people of the country or region that she is visiting and writing about. In an interview she did with Artsmania, Naomi said:

“I try to work against our natural tendency to pigeonhole other people or other cultures … I see all these books as tools for helping make the “other” less “other.” The stories can do that for some people, and then if they make the recipe, maybe the story echoes with the recipe and gives them more dimensions. And so it’s no longer just a place they’re never heard of on a map, or a place they think is weird and foreign.”


The new book that she told me about is tentatively titled Rivers of Flavor: Recipes and Travel Tales from Burma. Publication is scheduled for September 2012 by Random House Canada and Artisan Books in the US. I can’t wait to read it!


Paula Helfrich, another resident of Yangon — and also a friend of Ma Thanegi — was in my shop the previous week for some book buying and conversation. Paula is American but has been living in Myanmar for several decades (in fact, she was born there!), teaching English to monks and children. Paula recently co-wrote a novel, Flying, with Rebecca Sprecher. It’s published by Author House in the USA. Described as “an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the airline world,” Flying traces the lives of two young women, one of whom (like Paula) was raised in Southeast Asia.


And I have to put in a plug for Ma Thanegi’s books while I’m at it. Last year, Things Asian Press published her travelogue Defiled on the Ayeyarwady, a fascinating and funny account of Thanegi’s trip down the famous river. In addition to being a detailed account of her trip, it serves as an excellent primer for those wanting to know more about Burmese culture and customs. Her conversations with fellow passengers, and observations of what’s happening around her, are marvelous. She is currently working on a new memoir of her life in Myanmar, and Things Asian also plans to reprint her excellent cookbook, An Introduction to Myanmar Cuisine later this year.



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