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Off-Beat Myanmar Foods
Local Specialities
     Myanmar, as any other country, has many varieties of foods. Things grow freely and easily and there are products that are only available in particular localities. Many times, the Myanmars themselves are surprised by unfamiliar foods.
     People often speak rather vaguely of 'Upper Myanmar' foods and 'Lower Myanmar' foods. Roughly, the area round Mandalay, Sagaing and Bagan are considered Upper Myanmar, and Yangon and delta towns are Lower Myanmar.
     Food stuffs of Upper Myanmar, rich in products like seasmum, groundnuts and beans, have an entirely different character from those of Lower Myanmar where fish and prawns are plentiful.
     Though born in 'Upper Myanmar' I spent a good many years of my growing up in delta areas. I am more accustomed to the cuisine of fish and prawns.
     It is therefore a treat for me to have a taste of local delicacies on our trips to Mandalay. They awaken happy memories of childhood, like for instance, peanut crispies, phee-gyan bananas, (those with corners) fried soft and tender in cooking oil-the never-fail goodies I often saw in my grandmother's many-tiered lacquer casket she carried on her head on sabbath day trips to the monastery.
Sesamum curd sour
     My one favourite food is hnan-phut-chin, sesamum curd sour. It is made from lumps of oil cakes left over after cooking oil has been extracted. It is allowed to ferment with a dash of rice-water to give a sour taste. This curd or paste is served with onions, garlic, celery and lemon leaves, all shredded fine and a sprinkling of cooking oil. This dish goes well with thin vegetable soup. Once, on one of our trips to Mandalay, I expressed a wish for this dish to my brother who was our host. He was surprised that I should care that much for 'that common plebian food, poor man's fare'. I had with me a dear friend, an American lady at that time, and to everyone's surprise, she enjoyed the dish. Then only, I learned from her that a similar kind of food is popular in Middle East contries: they do not put as much sesamum and the stuff is mostly bean curd with only a flavouring of sesamum. Ours is hunderd per cent sesamum, richer and tastier, I could not help remarking with a glow of smugness.
How to make sesamum curd
     Since this delicacy is not available in Yangon markets, I had to prise out the recipe from the people up there. It is sample, fool-proof. Even I could do it! Oil cakes are sold at any dry grocery store. They are heaped on baskets, and you can have them by the ton, if you like. They do not particularly look attractive, those black misshapen lumps. The shop-keeper starers at you, wondering why an elegant well-groomed lady should want them. You will feel even worse when the shopman asks, "Do you keep cows? These are cattle-fodder. "You buy them all the same, thanking him for his unwelcome information. Now comes the actual preparation of the nectar. Put the cakes in a sieve and pour boiling water over them, and lo and behold, they are white and clean like driven snow! Put them in a basin and again pour another kettful of boiling water and let it soak for an hour or so until the water cools off. Now using your hands, stir it throughly crunching any lumps ther might be. Sift out by handfuls, letting the stuff go through the water, so that any dust or particles may washed away. This action is often compared to the 'sifting' of gold in Northern Myanmar areas. You have the paste of curd; put it in a cloth bag and let the remaining water seep through. Some let it fement by leaving it overnight but you may not care for the flavour. So, just add some lemin or lime juice to taste and mix with finely shredded onions, garalic, celery and lemon leaves and a dash of cooking oil. This dish is frankly plebian, made from cattle folder. People call it na-phut-chin which means 'cattle folder turned, sour,' insted of its real name hnan-phut-chin, 'sesamum curd sour'. At any rate, the rose by any other name will smell as sweet and this dish is simply delicious!
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