An Introduction to Myanmar Cuisine by Ma Thanegi
I had a great opportunity to meet Ma Thanegi, the amazing lady who authored this book, while in Myanmar (Burma). She is full of the spirit of adventure and has had some amazing experiences in her travels that she shares with vibrant energy. She has also written other books and articles that are also definitely worth reading.
This cookbook is the best I have come across so far about Burmese food. It focuses mainly on the food of the Bama people and not the other ethnic groups around the country. It lists the main ingredients used in Burmese food and describes how to use them, and it teaches you clearly how to make a wide variety of Burmese dishes. Absolutely fantastic book and worth every penny. I highly recommend it.
The following is from her introduction, which she has given me permission to post, and really shows the spirit of Burmese hospitality:
In Myanmar, to be Ei Wuk Kyay which means to be hospitable, is the criterion of perfect social behavior. Our food culture is based on sharing: with monks to whom many of the Buddhist Myanmar offer food on a daily basis and on special occasions called Soon Kyway and sharing lunchboxes among school friends or colleagues at work. Food and drink are offered free on special religious days in a ritual known as du Di Thar. Travelers stopping by a village would be welcomed to share a meal at the monastery if not at someone’s house. It gives not only joy but great merit to feed others with a generous heart, and this Buddhist concept rules the social life of the people.
In the past, there were few restaurants where people could entertain, so it was up to the housewife to cook everything at home for invited guests. When guests are expected, even if they were close friends, the dishes must be varied enough to cover the entire dining table. Desserts, normally not eaten after meals, must be as many as the cook could manage to bake or steam. When friends drop in unexpectedly they are eagerly invited to join the family in a pot luck meal but to be sure the wife will hurry to the kitchen to whip up an omelet or a stir-fry.
The social life of the Myanmar Buddhist centers around the Soon Kyway ceremonies mentioned above, that often commemorate weddings, novitiation of sons, ear-borings of daughters, birthdays or rituals in the name of deceased family members. Then breakfast or lunch is served to the monks. The guests, often numbering in the hundreds, are usually served easier-to-prepare fare such as noodles. If not being catered, such festivities are occasions for the neighborhood cooks to show off their skills, as everyone helps out at these affairs.
There are 135 officially-recorded ethnic races living in the country.
A Myanmar proverb says: You most remember your loved ones when you are eating something good. I hope the sharing of our recipes, if not the actual dishes, will generate the same feelings of warmth and friendship, which are the inborn traits of the Myanmar people.
Myanmar meals are based on several dishes eaten together with rice. Thus the soup, curries, salads, cooked vegetables, relish and accompanying raw or blanched vegetables are served and eaten at once. The most important aspect of the meal is the harmony of the dishes served together to balance the basic flavors of sweet, sour, savory, creamy, bitter, astringent, salty and hot, as well as to create interesting differences in the textures of chewy, smooth, crunchy, crisp, tender and bitey. Each mouthful of rice is as different as one wants to make of it, with different combinations of tastes and textures.