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Posts tagged ‘tea leaf salad’

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

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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:

http://globetrottinggourmet.com

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!

 

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Fast Food Freedom in Myanmar

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Thanks to various reforms that the Myanmar government has enacted in the past two years — not to mention the elimination of Western sanctions — many Western companies are now eager to do business in the long-isolated country. Yes, plane-loads of get-rich-quick capitalists are practically having orgasms at the thought of access to a new untapped market. Coca-Cola has opened a new bottling plant, car manufacturers are eyeing the country, there is a bidding war going on for lucrative telecommunications concessions, and credit card behemoths such as Visa and MasterCard are belatedly making their presence known. It’s all both exciting and frightening. How will the humble people in Myanmar deal with all these sudden big changes?

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As you would expect, in the wake of such new commerce, we will be sure to witness the arrival of Western fast food franchises. An article in the Myanmar Times last month announced that Kentucky Fried Chicken would be opening up outlets in Myanmar this year. Just think: Colonel Sanders rubbing shoulders with Aung San Suu Kyi. On second thought, let’s not think too much about that. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t rank KFC on any list of fine dining establishments. And yet, based on the write-up about KFC in the Myanmar Times, you would think they were reviewing an upscale restaurant. Here is what the very excited writer for the newspaper had to say: 

“This time it’s the real thing, not a lookalike like the place that recently sprang up in Dagon township. To set local mouths watering on May 11, KFC held a tasting session at Inya Lake Hotel.

My friends and I arrived at 4pm, which just happens to be the time we normally stop work for a snack. So after listening to the welcoming speech of the vice president and chief marketing officer of Yum Restaurants International, Vipul Chawla, we were ready to sample the goods.

First I went for the original recipe: attractively aromatic, crispy without excess oil. From my first bite I found it pleasingly crunchy on the outside and juicy and moist within. But it was quite salty, so I think it will go well with rice.

Then I turned to the hot and spicy version. I believe many Myanmar will find this most palatable, along with other similar dishes on the menu, though perhaps the original recipe is preferable for children.

In other countries, KFC adapts its fare to local taste. In Thailand, for instance, you can get chicken with rice and green sauce. Here in Myanmar, they are already busily researching local eating habits to craft a product aimed at Myanmar taste buds.

When KFC does officially open, their menu will feature fried chicken, sandwiches and salads, along with various drinks.

This month’s tasting session represents KFC’s first attempt to survey local demand and assess consumer needs in Myanmar. Now they are going to decide where, when and how many KFC outlets they will open.”

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Well, obviously someone is excited about the advent of KFC coming to town. And I suppose when you’ve been denied such treats your entire life, discovering the Colonel and his buckets of crispy chicken breasts must seem terribly unique and exotic. This news brings back memories of the KFCC outlet that opened in Mandalay about three or four years ago. Yes, K, F and a double C. As you would suspect, it was a total KFC ripoff, complete with a Colonel Sanders logo on their sign. Alas, it didn’t last more than a year or so. Perhaps the pizza they were plugging didn’t captivate the local diners.

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I have no doubt that the younger generation of Myanmar consumers will be drawn to Western fast food franchises like KFC, judging by the popularity of donut shops and local attempts at fast food that have sprung up in shopping malls in Yangon and Mandalay in the past decade. Who needs Kentucky Fried Chicken when you have Tokyo Fried Chicken!  But I can see the younger generation in Myanmar forsaking local institutions such as the Burmese teashop, in favor of shiny and mesmerizing fast food joints. Some people would say that it’s all about choice — freedom to choose, baby! — and that you can’t deny people the right to eat where they want. Yeah, that’s true. But in a country that has gone for so many decades without the blight of Western fast food franchises, it saddens me to see such “progress” spoiling things. Then again if Pizza Hut opens and offers a Pickled Tea Leaf topping, I’ll be first in line to try it.

http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/lifestyle/dining/6829-kentucky-fried-chicken-comes-to-town.html

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Food Bliss

There are a lot of myths, misconceptions, and misunderstandings about Myanmar — and that’s without even touching on the touchy topic of politics or even the “correct” name of the country. Suffice to say, the “Union of Myanmar” is a diverse country composed of many different states, and within those regional divisions are dozens — over a hundred, actually — different ethnic groups, all possessing a slightly different culture, cuisine, style of clothing, and language. Shan, Kachin, Wa, Karen, Intha, Bama, Pa-O, Padaung, Mon, Naga, Chin, and Rakhine are only a fraction of what can be found.

 

The cuisine found in the country is also a diverse and multi-faceted thing, so much more than the stereotypical oily Burmese curries and greasy fried rice dishes that most travelers expect to find. Noodles dishes such as monhinga, ohno kauk swe, and mondhi are great choices for breakfast. I often find that one bowl is not enough! There are also a wide variety of savory soups (everything from lentil and pumpkin to gourd and roselle leaf) and salads to sample. The salads, in particular, are some of my favorite treats, sometimes a meal in themselves. But don’t go thinking the salads are mainly composed of iceberg lettuce or some other drab ingredient. Among the many creative concoctions, my favorites include the famous fermented tea leaf salad, ginger salad, tofu salad, tomato salad with peanuts, and the leafy pennywort salad. There is even a spicy rice salad that I’m quite fond of eating for lunch.

 

If you are ever invited to a meal at someone’s house, do yourself a favor and accept the invitation. I’ve found the home cooked meals to be among the best ones I’ve had in the country. But one warning: your hosts will insist that you sample everything on the table and gorge to point where it feels like your stomach is going to explode (try not to think about that hilariously gruesome restaurant scene from the Monty Python movie). Thus is Myanmar hospitality!

 

On my most recent trip, by far the best meal I had was at a rural village school near Nyaungshwe in Shan State. The village was celebrating the third anniversary of the school’s founding (I’ll be doing a separate post about this school next week) and they held a special lunch for the donors after the morning ceremonies were over. The vegetarian spread they served us was incredibly delicious. I’m not sure who prepared it, or even where it was prepared (there is no electricity in this village!), but it was as close to a food orgasm as I’ve ever experienced. The very next day I was invited by my friend Ma Pu Su to her house for lunch and she dazzled me with another awesome spread of salads and fruit. She’s talking about offering a cooking class to our travel clients, and I think she should go for it. She definitely knows what she’s doing in the kitchen.

 

If you are travelling in Myanmar, throw away that useless Lonely Planet book (okay, rip out the maps and keep those) and start sampling as much local cuisine as you can. Personally, I think Shan State has the best mix of food, although I have a soft spot in my heart (and stomach) for those Mandalay noodles. And people wonder why I looked fatter when I returned to Bangkok!

 

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