Culinary journey in Bagan
Once every travel adventure we post a food blog entry. Today is the day. We are wrestling with twondays rain in Bagan and what better way to spend it than to eat!
Over the course of the trip we already sampled a variety of snacks, some delicious like the sticky rice some rather questionable like palm sugar balls called jaggery. At the festival market in Bagan we had the chance of not only strolling through rows of interesting looking food items and spices but also to sit down, eat with our fingers or a spoon or grab a bag of something and just eat and enjoy while taking in the sights (and listening to a cacophony of loud vuvuzela blasting that just came in from China).
Everything is cooked right on the spot in front of our eyes. Our favorites were freshly cooked quails eggs with fried crispy rice and chick peas. Esther loved the vegetarian crispy pancake with coriander, sprouts and other vegetables. Chris always likes the many interesting noodle soups with rich broth and all sort of stuff swimming in them. And the sweet treats of course!
Burmese Germknödel with coconut and palm sugar in them. Or Puff rice bally with palm sugar and caramel, just delicious. We will certainly not loose weight on this trip!
The Burmese eat three times a day: Breakfast (usually fried rice or fish soup), lunch (usually curries, but only one meat choice) and dinner (usually with soup and more curries with two meat choices) . The concept of dessert is unknown and the sweet treats are usually eaten as snacks rather than desserts after a main meal.
Burmese cook every meal fresh and eat mostly with fork and spoon, and curiously they only use the fork to push food into the spoon, not to directly eat with the fork. Increasingly you will find chop sticks as well.
It is not common here to talk while you eat. You just sit at the table and enjoy the food. Often green tea is drunk with the meal but local beer is also enjoyed a lot.
While on Day 6 we ate our way through the Ananda festival market on day 7 we decided with all the rain coming down, what better way to spend it than learn how to cook those meals ourselves!
This required shopping for fresh ingredients first. We drove to a local market and picked out a lot of interesting looking vegetables and condiments to make local dishes. It helped that our guide was a great cook herself and knew all the English terms for them.
We bought well known vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, ocra and onions but also unusual ones like gourd (kind of pumpkin), prickly cucumber, mustard leaf and fermented tea leaves. At the butcher’s section the dogs already waited all around for some scraps to fall off. The German ‘Lebemsmittelamt’ would have had a hissy fit, looking at the butcher’s stalls here, with all the dogs milling about and how meat is handled. It looked fresh, but we are eating more vegetarian dishes here than meat.
At the restaurant where our cooking class was about to happen, we were the only ones and were put to work as sous chefs ;o)) We prepared out own multi dish lunch consisting of :
Burmese lentil soup (Katen Joshi)
Chicken curry with gourd
Fish curry with potatoes
Sautéed vegetables (Ocra and Mustard leaf)
Cauliflower and egg
And several salads:
Spicy avocado salad,
Tomato salad with green chilies
Cucumber salad with peanuts
And the most traditional the tea leaf salad (leqpeq, made with fermented tea leaves)
As sous chefs, we got to chop and watch and it was amazing with how few condiments those dishes were cooked. Everything was seasoned with just a few spices:
Salt, pepper, chick pea powder, garlic, ginger, curcuma, chili powder and – of course – fish sauce.
The cooking always happens in fresh air and with little stoves heated by charcoal. There are always several stoves going at the same time. And each has a little baking chamber on the bottom where vegetables get pre-heated/ grilled as needed.
It took a good two hours to prepare and cook all the food with three people and it was of course the best meal we had since arriving in Myanmar, but of course we are biased in this case!
One thing to note as well is that we did not see a single supermarket of any big chain, no McDonalds, no Starbucks, no Subway or the like outside of Yangon. Local markets and small shops are the norm here for shopping. We hope it stays that way for a long time ;o))