Myanmar Meals Basics

In which I try the fundamentals, mostly successfully

I thought it best to start with a basic overview of what a traditional Myanmar meal might entail – bearing in mind the cuisine here changes rapidly from province to province. That being said the dishes featured in this post are more on the universal side. I have attempted (I imagine rather poorly) to record how to say each one phonetically. The Burmese script is also included; though if you know that you’re probably spending your time reading the wrong blog, but thanks for the support!

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The view from the top of Mandalay Hill

After triumphantly managing to wrangle the help of one of my former students who a) speaks impeccable English and b) used to be a chef (win win) we sped through Mandalay town on his motorbike – me delicately riding side saddle, summoning my inner Victorian genteel woman. On his recommendation we were dining at an upmarket, well-known traditional Myanmar restaurant, Daung Lann Gyi (see address at  bottom of page).

I’ve visited this restaurant a number of times and apart from its impressive food, it also boasts translated menus, AC, WiFi and excellent service. Even though I’d prewarned him I wasn’t in possession of the largest appetite, it was decided we would sample the Royal Set Menu, priced at 12,000 kyat (around $9.80). And I have to say it ruled – bad pun I know.

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We were presented with a raised dais containing 7 different dishes, as well as a steaming bowl of soup, various dips and vegetables. Our rice was on a nearby table in an embellished silver container, served to us throughout the meal. Upon my friend’s instruction I tried each dish individually, putting a little on my plate eating it with rice, but he said to bang all the dishes on the plate at once would be totally acceptable too.

“The resulting dish (Sait-tha-hin) is reminiscent of an aromatic ragu, with deep, resplendent color and flavor”

The first dish, and an all-time favorite of mine, was the mutton (N.B mutton in Asia tends to indicate goat as opposed to lamb). Until living here, I hadn’t known the joys of this rich, stronger tasting meat – now I can’t get enough of it. After frying garlic, chili, ginger, onion and turmeric the meat is browned in the pan, then covered with water and diced tomatoes. The resulting dish (Sait-tha-hin, ဆိတ္သားပာင္း) is reminiscent of an aromatic ragu, with deep, resplendent color and flavor. We followed this with the chicken curry (Chet-tha-hin – hin means curry in Myanmar -ၾကက္သားပာင္း) which is made in much similar fashion, except the chicken is poached beforehand which allows it to fall apart in the sauce and stay deliciously juicy.

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The Royal Set Menu: (from above L to R) mutton curry, tofu salad, prawn, shrimps, Indian gooseberry, bean salad, chicken curry and tomato salad. Soup  centre.

We then moved onto the two salads on offer. Tomato (Kha-yan-chin-tee-tho, ခရမ္းခ်ဥ္သီးသုပ္) and tofo (Toe-who-tho,တိုပာူးသုပ္). Both are made by mixing coriander, sliced onion and cabbage, chickpea powder, chili, peanuts, peanut oil and lime by hand. The sliced tomato or tofu is then added, with crispy fried onion on top.

“the tofu is made from ground chickpeas, giving it a vibrant yellow color, smooth texture and subtle flavor”

I found the later dish especially enjoyable; the tofu is made from ground chickpeas, giving it a vibrant yellow color, smooth texture and subtle flavor – something I find un-fried tofu can lack. They both had a refreshing effect on the palate and contained a small kick of heat – though as mentioned in my last post I’m a wimp when it comes to spice, so you can request more to suit your taste.

 

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Vegetable side dish with bamboo, cucumber, chili and Ngapi sauce (shudders)

We continued our meal with fresh, fried prawns and bean salad (Pae-sayn-nat, ပဲစိမ္းနပ္ ). The later was a simple but tasty dish, made by boiling green beans in a frying pan with chicken powder, oyster sauce and turmeric.  There was also a dish of fried shrimp (Ba-la-chong-jor, ဗလာေခ်ာင္ေၾကာ္ ). For me this was a little too pungent containing a fair helping of the local fish sauce, otherwise known as Ngapi. Ngapi is a kind of fermented paste made from very small salted fish or prawn. It has a very distinctive, strong taste that I unfortunately haven’t gotten to grips with yet. It features heavily in Myanmar cooking, especially soups.

“Ngapi is a kind of fermented paste made from very small salted fish or prawn. It has a very distinctive, strong taste”

There was an additional sauce of Indian gooseberries, boiled and crushed with Ngapi – due to my strong fish avoidance, I only tried a little of this. We completed our meal with some small cups of tea and sugary palm sweets (Htan-nyat, ထန္းညက္) which no doubt rotted my teeth but were wonderful. Suffice to say, we didn’t finish it all, but the staff were happy to box it up for us to take home.

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Intensely sweet palm sugar sweets 

Next week, I’ll be heading to the market to give a low down on the local fruits available, as well as visiting a Shan (a region in Myanmar famous for its food) restaurant. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions please comment and I will happily answer/find someone who can.

“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity” – Louise Fresco

Daung Lann Gyi is located on 68 Street, between 33 & 34, Mandalay

 

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