Cooking in Myanmar

 

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Hong Kong apartments do not seem to be kitchen centric. I recently stayed in an Airbnb here for a week, and the kitchen was nothing more than two burners and a sink.  There might have been a microwave, but I'm honestly not sure. 

Back home, my kitchen is the place where I spend most of my time.  The table there is my workspace, my favorite place to relax, and the center point of my social circle.  It is probably the piece of home I miss the most. I’m writing this from a desk in a sparsely decorate dorm room (I don't even have the luxury of living in an apartment.)

As a replacement, I’m paying people to let me use their kitchens.  This is also known as a cooking class.  (Doesn’t it sound way weirder when I say it the first way?) Look at this beautiful kitchen-like space I got to use in Bagan, Myanmar a few weeks ago.

 This is pretty different from my home kitchen.

This is pretty different from my home kitchen.

The company we did this cooking class through is called Pennywort Cooking Classes.  It is run by a woman who has lived in Bagan her whole life and started the company as a way to raise money for the local library which she runs out of her house.  The classes cost USD$20, and part of that is a donation to the library.  We cooked outdoors over these fun little charcoal burners.

Many cooking classes are done in professional or semi-professional environments.  This class was held in our host's backyard.  It was, in some way, incredibly intimate to be cooking a meal in the space where she lives her life and eats her food and hosts children from the local community.  In Myanmar, where I lot of people have pretty limited language skills, this class was one of the best opportunities we got to ask questions and connect with a local. 

 Only slightly more smoke and fire than my home kitchen.

Only slightly more smoke and fire than my home kitchen.

We made traditional Myanmar foods - several curries and several salads. The cuisine in Myanmar is a really cool mix of Chinese, Thai, and Indian cooking. It is fresher than Chinese, earthier than Thai, and lighter than Indian.  Who knew all of these countries balanced each other out so well? (Myanmar.  Myanmar knew.)

 Vegetable curry beginnings.  Burmese eggplant and green beans.

Vegetable curry beginnings.  Burmese eggplant and green beans.

Remember what I said about how I'm not living in an apartment?  Yeah.  I'm not including a recipe in this post because I have no materials - I have neither food to cook nor pots and pans to cook in.  But stay tuned, because I'm intending to recreate a lot of what I ate in Myanmar when I return to the US of Kitchens this summer.  I also have this cookbook, which you too can buy if you're thinking that you'd rather just go straight to the source instead of listening to me prattle on.  For North Carolina friends, check out Transplanting Traditions community farm, which is run by Karen  refugees from Myanmar and can provide you with lots of kitchen inspiration!

 Beef curry with lemongrass bundle.

Beef curry with lemongrass bundle.

All the food we made was based on building blocks - meat or fish braised in chicken stock, with various spices - garam masala, spicy chili powder, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, salt and pepper. They were similar enough that the meal prep was easy, but tasted completely different.

 Fish curry base:  onions, garlic and tomato.

Fish curry base:  onions, garlic and tomato.

The salads were also based on building blocks - chickpea flour, peanut oil, crunchy fried shallot and garlic, tamarind leaves, sesame seeds, crushed peanuts.  We combined these in different mixtures with fermented tea leaves for the classic tea leaf salad, as well as with wing beans, tomatoes, green mango, or shaved cucumber.  It reminded me of the importance of simplicity in cooking, and that there's so much we can do, even with limited ingredients.

I have rarely actually left a cooking class with a better understanding of a country's cuisine, but this class was educational as well as delicious.  It was a great reminder that even on literally the opposite side of the world, cooking is largely the same - we chop, we braise, we boil, we sauté and then we share food with our friends.

 How it will feel to get back to my kitchen.

How it will feel to get back to my kitchen.

What do y'all think?  Have you ever taken a cooking class while traveling?

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