What's Cooking in... Myanmar

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 53 of the June 2016 issue.
Yan Myo Aung, our guide, buying fried butter beans in a market in Bagan. The cost? About 50¢. Photos by Sandra Scott

One of the things that I love about Asian food is that the preparation is so easy. 

I once mentioned to a Myanmarese, “There are no fast-food restaurants in Myanmar.” The reply was, “All food in Myanmar is fast food.” 

Indeed, with many Myanmar recipes, once you have the ingredients, creating the dish is quick. In addition, simple alterations to many recipes can create equally delicious dishes. Such is the case with Myanmar Ginger Salad. 

I took a cruise in Myanmar on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River from Mandalay to Bagan in March 2016. This was aboard the RV Kindat Pandaw of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (Great West House, Great West Road, Brentford, England, TW8 9DF, U.K.; phone, in the US/Canada, 800/729-2651, www.pandaw.com).

Pyramid of julienned ginger in the market.

For the one-week cruise, all-inclusive of food, local libations, tours, site admissions and tips for the crew, my husband, John, and I paid $1,750 per person for an upper-deck cabin. (On some departures, if you book by a certain date, you can get a cabin to yourself without having to pay a single supplement.)

During the week, there were several onboard cultural presentations, such as how to apply thanaka (the pale yellow makeup commonly worn in Myanmar), how to wear a longyi (the wraparound garment worn by men and women), a puppet show and a dance performance.

Also, every day there were shore trips to temples, pagodas, handicraft shops, villages and other fascinating places. 

Mixing the Green Tea Salad.

Near Amarapura, one excursion was a rowboat ride on Taungthaman Lake for a close-up look at the picturesque U Bein Bridge, thought to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. One of the crew brought along sunset cocktails. How’s that for service?! We sat in the rowboat sipping our cocktails while watching the sun set. Beautiful!

One of the shore trips was to a market in Pakokku, where Yan Myo Aung, our guide, pointed out all the ingredients needed to make Green Tea Leaf Salad and Ginger Salad. Many of the items, like ginger, were already julienned and ready to use. 

My favorite salad was the Ginger Salad, which is usually served as an appetizer or salad in the United States but in Myanmar is often a dessert or palate cleanser. 

Adding nuts to the Ginger Salad.

In a cooking demonstration on board, Chef Wai Myo Ham showed how to prepare a Ginger Salad, with Mr. Yan translating.

Mr. Yan related, “The simplicity of the recipe defines Myanmar cuisine, which is a blend of textures and flavors utilizing available items from the market or locally farmed.”

He also noted, “Pickling and salting of vegetables is widespread due to the lack of refrigeration.”

There was one awkward moment during the lesson. When the salad was ready to serve, Mr. Yan asked our group of 10, “Who is the oldest? The oldest gets served first.” 

One woman in our group said, “You never ask a lady how old she is.” 

To avoid an embarrassing situation, I volunteered that I was the oldest. Who knows? Maybe I was.

Myanmar Ginger Salad (Jinn Thoke)
½ cup thinly sliced or julienned fresh or pickled ginger
½ cup thinly sliced crispy fried garlic
½ cup skinless roasted peanuts
½ cup fried chickpeas (or 1 tbsp chickpea powder)
10 whole dried shrimp (optional)
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
½ cup fried butter beans
3 tbsp peanut oil
½ cup julienned cabbage
½ cup julienned tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
GarnishMinced chilies or chili sauce (optional)
Toss all ingredients in a bowl.
Serve with a side dish of chilies for those who want to add some spice.
N.B.: To make Green Tea Leaf Salad (Lah Phet Thoke), substitute ½ cup pickled tea leaf for the ginger and eliminate the chickpeas.

Sandra Scott can be reached c/o ITN.