Written a few days ago, when we were without internet:
Happy New Year!
The past few days we have been relaxing at Ngwe Saung Beach in the southwest of Myanmar. Lonely Planet describes Ngwe Saung as having ‘a palpable abandoned aura.’ Although this may be a slight exaggeration, there is so little to do on this strip of sand that one is forced to relax. It has been a breath of fresh air after hectic non-stop travel. We have taken plenty of downtime while traveling, but this is the first opportunity to do so without a smidge of guilt. There are no pagodas that we should be seeing, no one-day-only markets or limited museum hours that we could be missing. Each day begins when the electricity stops and the fan in our room grinds to a halt at 6am. It ends around 9pm when every restaurant in town closes. There is not much nightlife anywhere in Myanmar. I feel confident that when we leave on January 2nd, Zev will have fully mastered the art of relaxing.
Zev’s birthday was on the 29th, which we celebrated by picking crabs drenched in curry powder, gorging on Tiger Prawns and having a spa spree, and of course blowing out a candle atop a slice of chocolate cake.
So maybe we have been doing a few things while relaxing at the beach…. I learned how to drive a geared motorscooter (big thanks to Zev for his bravery as a passenger and instructor), this is a big deal because I have been terrified of driving one ever since I tipped over and nearly squished my sister, the passenger at the time. (Perhaps she can elucidate the unfortunate incident in the comments section, as I recall she has a particularly vivid recollection of what happened.)
We also went snorkeling twice with only once getting scrapped against some sharp rocks. Marine life spotting has been limited to small fish of different types, a grouper, and an eel! I wouldn’t say that the snorkeling here is great, but the very clear water and thriving coral reefs make it engaging enough for a few hours. And personally, I enjoy seeing the tiny brightly colored coral fish flitting about.
Upon arrival at the beach I embarked on a coconut water binge, vowing to consume at least one coconut a day. So far, so good. I looooove the super cheap coconuts here ($.75) and the vendors will even hack it open when you’ve drunk the water so you can scoop out the translucent flesh. Delish!
Earlier this week in Bagan we took a Burmese cooking class at ‘Flavor of Myanmar.’ Bagan is known for its ancient stupas and temples, but sometimes you can get templed out. The food here has been tasty, lots of mild (and sometimes greasy) curries, and unusual salads including the ubiquitous tea leaf salad which is tart and bitter with pickled fermented tea leaves, fried lentils, sesame seeds, and an assortment of other savory tidbits.
The class began early in the morning with a market visit. Unlike previous cooking classes in which the instructor walks you around and shows various local fruits and veggies while giving the name and purpose, this one had a much more interactive element! We were each given woven bamboo shopping baskets, containing a parasol, a shopping list and 2,000 kyat ($2.40). The grocery list gave phrases in English and Burmese that would come in handy while navigating the marketplace. We learned how to ask the vendors whether or not they had an item, how much it was, and to bargain down the price. With our allotted budget, we each set off to haggle our way around the marketplace acquiring ingredients for the course. It was delightful to interact with the vendors and joke and laugh with all the ladies in the market as they tried to understand our attempts at Burmese.
We returned to the cooking school and received a booklet which had all of the recipes typed out with detailed instruction. After watching a demonstration of the first dish, the ubiquitous ‘Myanmar Chicken Potato Curry,’ we retreated to our individual stations and attempted to duplicate what the instructor had created. It is always funny to see how disparate the final result can be from the demo.
Of all the dishes we made, the Chicken Potato Curry was the most typical and also our personal favorite.
Chicken Potato Curry
Method of Preparation: Sauté/ simmering in 2inch deep sauté pan
80g chicken, cubed (ed. dark meat preferred for tenderness and best flavor)
1 medium potato, par boiled until just tender and quartered
1 teaspoon turmeric powder (1/2 tsp for marinade, remainder for cooking)
80g shallots, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, grated or minced
1 tsp red chili powder, or more depending on level of spiciness
2 tsp fish sauce (1 tsp for marinade, remainder for cooking)
2 heads lemon grass, crushed
½ cup water
handful cilantro leaf chopped roughly, for garnish
salt and pepper, to taste
Marinate the chicken:
Wash the chicken and cut into medium pieces. Mix thoroughly with salt, pepper, turmeric powder, and a bit of fish sauce. Marinate for 10 minutes to 1 hour.
This recipe cooks quickly, so be sure to have all ingredients prepped and at hand.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the turmeric, and just as it begins to turn color, but before it burns (not more than 30 seconds), add the shallots and sauté until golden brown. Add garlic and ginger together, sauté until fragrant. Add 1 tsp fish sauce. Add red chili powder and stir; almost immediately (count 5 seconds) add chicken, potato, and lemongrass. Add ½ cup water to avoid sticking and cover tightly.
Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove lid, reduce heat, and simmer until liquid has evaporated and the chicken is tender, adding more water as necessary.
When the oil separates from the gravy, remove from the heat. Season with salt pepper, and additional fish sauce, to taste. Discard the lemongrass and serve, garnishing with the cilantro leaves. Serve with rice.