Asian Traditional Food Diary: Myan Mar (Burma)

Serving the meals and dining even in a poor man’s house in Myan Mar, as in most ancient countries in Asia, is an art.

Journey with this mother-daughter team each week as they explore various vegetarian diets from all over the planet. By looking at the nutritional habits of cultures from Sri Lanka to Nepal to India, we can learn as much from various attitudes as we can from the recipes. This week’s focus is on:

Myan Mar (Burma)

There was a time when this country was named “Burma” — it being the name of one of the tribes. The country is made up of several tribes, namely: Kayin, Kachin, Shan, Burmese, Chin, Kaya and Yakky. When Burma was the name of the country, the other tribes didn’t like it because they felt that it meant only the Burmese owned and controlled the land. So they fought and insisted that a common name be chosen. Thus, in 1988, there was a military take-over and the name “Myan Mar” was chosen to be the name of the country because it means “every tribe cooperate.”

Myan Mar is a country that is best seen on foot in order to savor the country’s reflection of the glorious past and most authentic relics. It is an ancient land, washed by the gentle embrace of the Indian Ocean. Its neighboring countries are India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos and China. One can see the Sulamin Temple in Bagan, where century-old murals can be seen. Also the unfinished massive Pahtotawgyi Pagoda. Of all the wats, temples, shrines and stupas in the Far East, none are more glorious than MyanMar’s Shwedagon Pagoda. Sheathed in gold, it is encrusted with thousands of diamonds and semi-precious gems. But even more remarkable than the glittering golden pagodas and many huge temples is the country’s traditional food.

Myan Mar is a Buddhist country, as 90% of the inhabitants are Buddhist. As such the philosophy of non-violence towards animals is prevalent. Even if there are no existing government laws against meat-eating, still the cultural attitude is always to be very gentle, soft and compassionate towards the animals. This behavior has hardly changed all throughout Myan Mar’s long history. The supreme law of the land today is still: DO NOT KILL THE ANIMALS AND THE BIRDS. It is one of the few countries in the world where there is extreme reverence for the animals’ rights. In Myan Mar beef and other meat products are very expensive. It has never been an easy place to make a living as far as selling meat or running a slaughter is concerned.

Myan Mar’s traditional food is characterized by the use of rice and beans, particularly pebuk (soybeans). Our friend Morris Chit, an Education Specialist, recalls sipping tea in the morning and sitting down to a breakfast of steaming hot Mok-Hin-Ga, a delicious noodle and gravy preparation made of Mok-Ti( rice noodle) and a gravy made of either dahl, soy or any kind of nutritious bean. The gravy is cooked in oil, onion, garlic, ginger, chili and some spice. Truly a healthy way to start the day!

Serving the meals and dining even in a poor man’s house in Myan Mar, as in most ancient countries in Asia, is an art. Several bowls are laid on the table, each for a particular dish, appetizer or side dish, for each member of the family. Meals are never a noisy grab-and-munch riot . They are a hushed, gentle, meditative ritual where each diner relishes the taste of the food and thanks THE One who provided them.

At lunch, again there is Mok-ti and gravy, then pebuk (soybeans). Soybeans are boiled, dried and pounded. Then cooked in garlic, onion and chili. There will be some vegetables dish, with one or several forms of soybean product like yuba, tempeh, tofu or pe-bwa (tokwa) and on separate bowls lemon, soy sauce, oil and garlic. Then tea and fruits — slices of mangoes, papayas, pineapple or bananas. At dinnertime, usually noodle soup is served, a main dish called Paw-San-Mwe, made of beans, fresh vegetable salad, a little fried food or curry, fruits and tea.

The Buddhist monks have a very strong influence as far as preparing vegetarian food is concerned. The monks are very good cooks and they prepare delicious food in very artistic and creative ways. In the mornings , the monks promptly set out to go around the towns and villages for daily alms. In Kayin state, there is a monastery known as Tha Ma Nya. There the monks serve vegetarian food to thousands of people daily for free!

Having grown up on these nutritious village food that are not only delicious in taste but also very nice to look at, Morris has naturally developed set values for proper diet. He says, “There are so many vegetables, fruits, and beans that can be grown and eaten. Most people just don’t know how to cook them. Therefore one should simply learn to cook and have respect for the animals.”

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