One of the things I love about Asian food is that the preparation is so easy. I once mentioned to a woman in Myanmar, “There are no fast-food restaurants in Myanmar.” Her reply was, “All food in Myanmar is fast food.” And by that she meant fast in preparation, not fast in flavor.
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.
I took a one-week cruise in Myanmar on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River from Mandalay to Bagan aboard the RV Kindat Pandaw of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company . The cruise was all-inclusive with food, tours, local libations, site admissions and tips for the crew included.
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 presentation. Also, every day there were shore trips to temples, pagodas, handicraft shops, villages and other fascinating places.
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 on this excursion 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 Ginger Salad. Usually served as an appetizer or salad in the United States, in Myanmar is delicious dish is often presented as a dessert or palate cleanser. In a cooking demonstration on board, Chef Wai Myo Ham showed us how to prepare a Ginger Salad. Mr. Yan (with Mr. Yan translating) told us, “The simplicity of the recipe defines Myanmar cuisine, which is a blend of textures and flavors utilizing available items locally farmed or from the market.”
He said, “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
Minced 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.
Note: To make Green Tea Leaf Salad (Lah Phet Thoke), simply substitute ½ cup pickled tea leaf for the ginger and eliminate the chickpeas.