A bite of Yangon

From July 5 to July 19, the undergraduate team of the School of Journalism and Information Communication of Huazhong University of Science and Technology went to Mizzima, a famous media group in Myanmar, for a 15-day internship. During the internship period, 10 undergraduate students formed three teams to conduct research in different directions according to their own interests and hobbies.

Our team “Fried Rice 2800” adhered to the principle of “The most important thing for everyone is food.” and with the unlimited yearning for Myanmar cuisine, opened a surprise and an unforgettable culinary journey.

As the old saying goes in ancient China – “We can’t say what is the Tao.” The philosophical thoughts of the “Discourse does not fully express meaning” always linger in ancient Chinese philosophy. For this reason, the culture of a nation is always difficult to describe in words. They may exist in the National Museum, may exist in the classrooms of primary and secondary schools, and are more likely to exist in the small restaurants in the streets. This time, we are focusing on the motif of all human thinking – food, expecting to explore the cultural connotation of this ancient country Myanmar through food.

We decided to delve into Myanmar food, including visiting restaurants to taste it in person. The aim was to adhere to the idea that “practice is the sole criterion for testing truth.” During the half-month period, we traveled through the streets of Myanmar, ate in different types of restaurants, and tasted traditional food and exotic food. In the process of experience and learning, we finally focused on laphet and pork stick.

On the afternoon of July 9, we had a chance to come to the School of Foreign Languages at Yangon University. Professor Poe warmly welcomed us. Regarding the cuisine of Myanmar, Professor Poe tells us that many of the foods that can be eaten in Yangon are improved, and the tastes are in line with the tastes of people from all over the world, such as various curry foods with Indian taste, Korean kimchi and rice cakes, Chinese hot pot and vegetables, and so forth.

After being in Yangon for four days it was difficult to tell whether the food we bought was of authentic Burmese taste. In the exchange with Professor Poe and the locals, it is known that the taste of the Burmese is sour, spicy, light, greasy, similar to the taste of Sichuan in China. And it is usually required to put chili oil on the table. Burmese love chicken, duck, fish, shrimp, shrimp paste, fish sauce, and they love eating curry, usually asking for a little sweet. It is best to mix with tomatoes. In addition to eating ordinary vegetables, people like to use fruits to cook. For example, cut the mango into pieces, mix with soy flour, shrimp pine, shrimp soy sauce, onion and fried pepper seeds. It tastes sour, salty, spicy and fresh.

What surprised us and moved us was that Professor Poe gave us two authentic Burmese cuisines. One sound is like “tani”, which is a local specialty palm sugar, and the other is called “laphet”, which is a kind of pickled tea products. While enjoying the delicious pickled tea made by the professor, I can’t help but think of Chinese tea. Tea in China is usually used to soak in water, and the tea culture has a long history. The literati enjoy tea for self-cultivation. The tea is also used to show your open-handedness and hospitality. The tea ceremony is used to express respect and admiration. We usually also achieve inner peace by drinking tea. The love of tea is the same as that of China and Myanmar. As the local proverbs in Myanmar say: “Mango is the best among all fruits; pork is the best among all meats; in all the leaves, laphet it is the best.” But is this kind of pickled tea similar to China in terms of cultural connotation and food etiquette? Can “laphet” also represent Myanmar food to the world like Chinese tea? We have many questions.

With all kinds of questions, on the afternoon of July 12, Mr. Lei Yun, the Chinese Dean of the Confucius Classroom in Fuxing, Myanmar, introduced our three squad members to visit Mr. Deng Huaqiang, Secretary General of the Myanmar Restaurant Association, and Mr. Su Xia, President of the Myanmar Fujian Youth Association. Through this contact, we further understood the historical origins of the three traditional foods in Myanmar, Mohinga, Laphet, and pork stick, as well as the adjustment and changes of traditional food in Myanmar’s internationalization process.

We simply shared the Chinese tea culture with Mr. Deng and suggested the differences between Chinese people drinking tea and Burmese eating tea. Mr. Deng said, “Burmese like to eat laphet, sometimes as a snack, sometimes as a dinner, almost every family has a laphet at home.” As for courtesy and hospitality, when you come to visit Myanmar friends, they will also offer you a fresh laphet, which is a welcome to you.” In terms of “self-cultivation”, “laphet” is closer to “normal family” than “Literati”. At first, the “laphet” method was invented by the royal family members, and then became a dietary trend in the normal family. The Burmese people regarded “laphet” as an indispensable dish in their lives instead of nourishing things.

On July 10, by chance, we met a Burmese girl Xiaoli who has lived in China for more than ten years. When we saw Xiaoli, she was eating pork sticks at the ferry. When she heard that we were talking in Chinese, she greeted us with great enthusiasm to taste the specialties of Myanmar.

“This is called pork stick, which can only be seen in Myanmar. It is delicious,” she said.

Xiaoli proudly introduced the pork stick to us. Under her leadership, we investigated local markets, snack streets, and ferries in Yangon, tried street food, and learned about the cultural implications and interesting stories of many street foods, and deepened the recognition of Myanmar food culture.

When we asked Xiaoli for her views on the food of the two countries, Xiaoli said that she could cook Chinese food, and her husband also loved it, but she still couldn’t forget the food of her hometown of Myanmar.

“You are Chinese. It is very novel to come to Myanmar. I grew up in Myanmar and it is my home.” Even after spending so long in China, which is famous for its food, Xiaoli has not changed her preference for Burmese food. When she set foot back in Myanmar again, she said she fondly returned to her country’s street food.

Culture is national and global, and so is the food. With the increase in international exchanges, Yangon has more foreign restaurants, and some local restaurants have also adjusted the food flavour to meet the preferences of foreign travelers. The Feel Restaurant near the French and Indonesian embassies is a highly successful example.

On the afternoon of July 15, our group came to Feel Restaurant in Yankin Center, which was recommended by Mr. Deng Huaqiang, Secretary General of Myanmar Food and Beverage Association. The foods here are compatible and include Chinese, Western, Burmese and Thai dishes, modified to a certain extent. The restaurant mainly has two modes: Self-service and ordering. The dishes here are varied and the American fast food such as French fries, burgers and fried chicken are quite satisfactory, suitable for fast-paced dining people. Chinese noodles have the taste of curry as a soup, which has a unique taste.

What we noted was there were tourists from all over the world. And they were happy to praise the restaurant hidden in the first floor of the mall.

Myanmar is moving towards internationalization. As a country of thousands of Buddhas, we can feel its simplicity and peace from the food in the streets and lanes. Burmese food has its own distinctive features, such as the “laphet” pickled tea is the only one in the world.

After walking through hundreds of streets, we found the taste of Myanmar that belongs to us. This country has given us a warm welcome and a sincere smile.

We hope that one day we can reciprocate.

We hope that one day, our friendly and kind Myanmar friends can come to China – We will give the greatest sincerity to entertain you. And we will endeavour to provide you the best of our delicious Chinese cuisine.

Source: Mizzima

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