Dec 2012: The scenery is spectacular, the people are sweet; but, what about the food? the local food for travellers is just developing! I was very fortunate to go with my friends, Nina and Don, on a pretty standard two-week tour that Nina arranged. All I had to do was show up!
We stayed in four places and had local guides in each. I recommend seeing “The Lady” (available from Netflex) and scanning Naomi Duguid’s new cookbook on BURMA before you go; and, reading THE RIVER OF LOST FOOTSTEPS by Thant Myint-U on the trip.
The big pagoda in Yangon that Obama made famous is a must, and I can send you Farina’s restaurant list for Yangon if you ask me to. I just loved Inle Lake where people live in bamboo houses on stilts in the lake and get around in long boats. The best thing about Mandalay is getting out of town, perhaps to a hill station; And, Bagan is a “mecca” for tourists. There are over 2,000 temples, pagodas, and stupas there. The sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. On the whole, Myanmar is very safe and there is no evidence of military control.
You may ask, why did I want to go to Myanmar? The answer is that I love to see how people live, where they shop, and what they cook. I was very fortunate in Inle Lake to have an intelligent well-informed guide. He took me to lunch at a home on the lake; to a private cooking class; and to his parents (and brothers) home, who are tomato growers. Here’s what I learned–because few people have electricity, the homemaker shops almost every day at a local market for fresh vegetables and maybe fish or chicken. They may eat refried rice (from the night before) for breakfast; have a larger meal–also of rice–for lunch; and a light supper of one course (probably rice) for dinner.
The cooking is done in a corner of the main room of the house on a brazier of wood (or charcoal). The cook may have two or three braziers at different temperatures. All the food is served at the same time family style, with each person getting a plate of rice. There is generally no dessert. There may be a large container of potable water for cooking in the corner; but the dishes are washed with the lake water. At one restaurant they served us green tomato salad with chopped peanuts and a curry with rice and the eating utensils came in a bowl of boiling hot water to show they had been sanitized.
It is amazing how good the cooks make the food taste with very little resources. Many cooks flavor the food with a granular chicken stock from Thailand. They may use a spice mixture from China; and a fish sauce from Vietnam. Almost all the meals we were served consisted of fish, chicken, or pork curry, served with rice and stir-fried vegetables. They undoubtedly reduce the amount of oil and the heat (spiciness) for the travellers; thoroughly cook the protein (for fear of contamination); and serve fresh fruit for dessert-also for the travellers. On the whole, the food was delicious and healthful. It is easy to see the influences of nearby countries on the food now in Myanmar and it will be really interesting to see how it evolves in the future.
If you go to Myanmar be sure to eat the Tea Leaf Salad – it’s delicious and not as easy to make at home!
So, when I return from a trip such as this I like to prepare meals for friends of what I learned and play my slideshow of the trip on my little travel computer to the background of music from the country. My menu from Myanmar consists of first–cocktails of fresh squeezed lime juice, sugar syrup (one part sugar melted with one part water), a spash of rum, and lots of sparkling mineral water over ice. I serve this with roasted peanuts. Then, my Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger; followed either by Coconut Soup with Chicken over Wheat Noodles; or Mohinga over Rice Noodles; (both of these dishes are traditionally served for breakfast.) For dessert I serve fresh pineapple with the Coconut Soup or coconut sorbet with the fish Mohinga. Here for you are the two typical Myanmar recipes. Have fun with them!