I purchased a book titled “Cook and Entertain the Burmese Way” by Mi Mi Khaing, published in 1978. This book is very valuable since it was the first attempt of a Burmese woman to write about their culture in English.
This book is very interesting! I expected it to be just a cookbook, but the context is enhanced in Burmese cooking culture and the way of life. For example, there are some stories on the use of fire and cooking vessels as the introduction to the cooking recipes. I would like to introduce some of the stories here in this blog.
List of Flavours
She lists the kind of flavours in Burmese food. According to her, obviously there are “salt”, sour, and sweet”. there are also “hot” as fresh ginger and chili, “aromatic” as in high quality rice and dark-roasted chili powder, bitter as in vegetable soup, and “tangy” for refreshment. Interestingly she includes “heavy or full-bodied”, “light”, and “surfeiting” into a kind of taste.
–In Myanmar, I often come across tastes that I never tasted in my life. In those cases I usually don’t know what word to put or how to describe the taste.
A mortar and pestle
“A mortar and pestle is most essential in Burma.” You can hear the sound of pounding from the kitchens when dawn breaks. This creates the thickly flavored tastes in the Burmese dishes. Chili, onions, garlic, ginger are daily pounded, and curry spices, dried shrimps, sesame, soybean are also pounded.
–Spices and poundings go together. Thus such pounding scenes wound’t exist in a Japanese life where the food is not spicy at all. I remember pounding sesame was the only similar thing I have done when I was a child to help my mother cooking.
The common heating tool is open wood fire. Thus after cooking, the chef is covered by black soot. Then you often see women taking bath before meal in a country side. Because of this smoke and soot, kitchen is usually outside or in an open lean-to in modern houses with sufficient air circulating system.
“Good cook is kept aware of planting, cropping, and year’s good or bad yield all over her area.”
Meat, fish, vegetable have their suitable season to be cropped and eaten. For example for pork, it is fatty and tasty when new peanuts and discounted lard oil come around. Poultry is cheap in monsoon when it is difficult to keep them alive. Shrimps are good between monsoon and winter. Burmese prefer to eat in right seasons not only because it tastes right but eating in right timing of a year is also efficient to stay healthy. Thus good chef should know what to eat all year around in her living area.
–the “chef” is referred to housewife in this book. Such high skills are required to be a pro of it.
Those interesting stories are written as introductions to cooking recipes. I was amazed by this author who looked very closely at the way of life around her and put them into words and succeeded to introduce Burmese culture to the rest of the world.