What's Cooking in... Myanmar

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 55 of the November 2012 issue.
Myint Soe, Executive Chef at Amazing Ngapali Resort, with curries on a lacquerware platter.

My husband, John, and I have been to Myanmar several times. The country has a plethora of interesting sites, including Bagan, Mandalay and Lake Inle, but it is beautiful Ngapali Beach on the Bay of Bengal that draws us back year after year.

Ngapali Beach is a 40-minute plane ride from Yangon, the former capital. As long-stay, returning guests at the Amazing Ngapali Resort (Ngapali Beach, Rakhine State, Myanmar; phone 011 95 43 42011 or fax 95 43 42033), in January 2012 we paid a special rate of $80. The rack rate is $190, but I would suggest contacting the hotel by Internet to discuss price, as they may be able to offer a better rate.

A couple of things to keep in mind — the Internet does not work all the time in Myanmar, and, when it does, sites like Yahoo are not easily accessible, so people contacting the resort should keep trying if they don’t get a response on the first try.

Also, all transactions must be made in pristine US dollars. There are no ATMs, and credit cards are not accepted.

Ngapali Beach, lapped by the warm and gentle sea, is a long, sandy stretch that is virtually deserted.

One of the things that endears Myanmar to us is the kind, gentle people, who are warm and welcoming. Also, in part due to international sanctions which have limited foreign influence, they have retained much of their culture.

Most men and women still each wear a longyi, the long, wraparound skirt that is perfect for Myanmar’s hot and humid weather.

Left to right: At the resort, Kyaw Swar Maung Maung (Resident Manager), U Myint Soe (Executive Chef) and U Myo Lwin (Sous Chef) displayed lacquerware serving dishes.

People often have a yellowish-white paste called thanaka on their faces. It protects them from the sun, absorbs moisture and is a skin softener.

The locally made lacquerware, including charger plates, pagoda-shaped serving dishes and even the sink in our accommodation, is beautiful.

There are no fast-food chains in Myanmar, but the chef at Amazing Ngapali Resort quipped, “All Myanmar food is fast food. It takes very little time to prepare.”

The food at the resort is great, and the staff is more than willing to share their recipes and meet special requests.

Chicken curry is one of my favorite Myanmar dishes. It is a thick, comforting stew usually served with rice and tomato salad.

I find the tomato salad, which lends itself to interesting variations, to be one of those recipes that is easy to make when I am home. And it is fast to prepare.

TOMATO SALAD (Rakhine-style)
2 tsp chopped cilantro
½ tsp salt or to taste
½ tsp pepper or to taste
4-6 large leaves of lettuce
4 tomatoes, seeded and diced
½ red onion, julienned
½ cup finely shredded cabbage (optional)
2 tbsp peanut powder (or finely minced peanuts)
1 tbsp peanut oil or sesame oil
Tomato salad, Rakhine style. Photo: Sandra Scott

Just before you’re ready to serve, mix all ingredients except the lettuce in a bowl and toss. Place ½ cup of the salad mix on each lettuce leaf and serve.

Options — this recipe can be spiced up a bit with a few finely sliced red chilies. Other ingredients can also be added, such as diced chicken.

In northeastern Myanmar, the Shan people make the salad using green tomatoes.