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Food for Thought
Talking and writing, Not cooking
     I never did realize the truth of the saying, "He who can does; he who cannot teaches," until I started writing articles on food. Before it is too late, I must confess that I only like collecting recipes and enjoying the dishes others cook and of course, talking and writing about them.
     Next to eating, talking or writing about food is one of the most enjoyable pleasures of life. I like to inspire people to create toothsome delicacies by telling them how tasty a certain food is, and how easy it is to make.
     Don't you dare say, it is propaganda; because it takes a consummate artist to make mouths water by a picturesque description of the goodies and make people run to the market to buy the stuff and to be back in the kitchen to cook.
     One thing about the Myanmar rice meal is that it can be simple . . . . . just cooked rice and a dish of sesamum oil and salt or a sumptuous one with curries and relishes. There is a way for lazy cooks to arrange a makeshift meal; just cook the rice and run to the street corner and by gourd fritters or ba-yar-gyaw, peas soaked in water and pounded into paste and fried deep in hot oil.
Fritters and crispies
     These fritters and crispies are sold together with lettuce leaves, spring onions and a sauce made of tamarind pulp and crushed chillies and garlic. You dip a bite size bit of the crispie in the sauce and put it in the morsel of rice and top it with lettuce leaf and spring onion. Then chase down the mouthful with hot plain green tea.
     There are two varieties of ba-yar-gyaw. . . . the one made of yellow lentils and the other made of matpe, small round peas. The matpe crispie is much tastier then the one made of yellow lentils.
     Matpe crispie is an Upper Myanmar product and some years ago it was not available in delta towns like Yangon. Even though it is sold in crispie kiosks here, those of Upper Myanmar towns like Mandalay are far more tasty (That's an Upper Myanmar speaking!)
     To me this matpe crispie is associated with happy memories. Decades ago, long before the Inwa bridge was built, we made a boat trip from Sagaing (the town on the other side of the river opposite Mandalay) to Mingun, where the great bell is.
     We left in the small hours of the morning when a heavy November mist hung low on the wide brimming waters of the Ayeyarwady. We huddled in the sampan, a flat-bottomed boat and dozed. As the sun's rays broke through the mist, we saw small sandy islets interlaced with rippling waters.
     On some of those islands we saw palm-leaf huts brested with curls of filigree smoke and what is more, the smell of deep frying crispies stole into our nostrils.
Snacks on the sandy isles on the Ayeyarwady
     By unanimous consent our boat was moored to the sand bank. We had fun paddling in the shallow water, it was just deep enough to reach our knees. It was wonderful to be able to have a paddly pool right in the middle of the wide river. We played until the grown-ups called us to have our morning meal.
     We had, of course, matpe crispies straight out of the sizzling oil, and there was yeimohn, which is a kind of pan-cake made by spreading rice batter over the heated griddle. It was sprinkled over with peas and shredded spring onions. These pan-cakes go well with crispies.
     By the way, you might see similar pan-cakes here in Yangon, but not exactly the same; they are fried crisp. The real yeimohn is not fried; it is just spread over the griddle and pasted with oil so that it is soft and pliant like a piece of cloth. It melts in the mouth.
     I wonder if they still have those huts on the islets which festooned the Ayeyarwady river in the months of November, December, Much as I wanted to, I never had a chance to go boating along the river and have a go at paddling on the sand pools this time with my grand-children, and enjoy those crispies and pan-cakes.
     The matpe crispies here are not as good as those sold on the sandy islets. Something is lacking, maybe, it is those palm leafhuts, paddling in the pools, and all the things that once went with the crispies. Maybe, but no, let's face it, it is YOUTH, that is sadly lacking.
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