Myanmar’s Culinary Delights
Myanmar's rich and varied cuisine is a direct reflection of its fertile land, variations in climate, and ethnic diversity. Having been fairly isolated from much of the world until recently, the country's culinary influences have come almost exclusively from neighbouring countries like India, China, and Thailand. While the spice levels are toned down when compared to its Southeast Asian neighbours, traditional Myanmar fare proudly stands on its own with strong flavors like ngapi (shrimp or fish paste), unique offerings like laphet thoke (a salad of pickled tea leaves), and its rich mix of spices such as turmeric, lemongrass, tamarind, and cilantro.
A Typical Meal
Rice and noodles are staples nationwide and are normally served at every meal. However, lunch is generally regarded as the main meal of the day. A typical Myanmar meal usually consists of a main dish of curried meat (often mutton or goat) or seafood depending on location and availability. Curried vegetables and salad often accompany the meal. A soup is a requisite part of a Myanmar meal, but plays the role of beverage, as wine and water are not customary. And when soup is not available, green tea is the next best thing.
During the rest of the day, people snack. Savory snacks like Myanmar's unofficial national dish mohinga (fish broth with rice noodles) and ohnnoh khaukswe (coconut noodle soup with chicken or fish balls) are typically enjoyed at breakfast. The most popular Myanmar sweet snacks like shwe yin aye (coconut cream sherbet) are made from rice and/or coconut sweetened with sugar or jaggery (palm sugar). Some unusual and delicious varieties of fruit are available as well, especially at the local markets.
While most people outside of Myanmar would not consider pickled tea leaf salad a dessert, laphet thoke often finishes a meal. Thagu (tapioca pudding sweetened with coconut jaggery) may provide a sweet finish to a typical meal, while shwe kyi (semolina pudding) and kyauk kyaw (seaweed jelly with coconut milk) are sweets reserved mostly for special occasions.
Eating is an important social activity to the Myanmar people. During meals, dishes are placed in the middle of the table to share among the group. Eating with the hand is commonplace; however, it is always with the right hand and never with the left as this is considered unclean. Noodles are eaten with chopsticks. And it's not completely uncommon to be offered a fork, spoon, and sometimes a knife. When using a fork and spoon, the spoon is used to eat from while the fork is used to push food onto the spoon.
Myanmar has been isolated from most of the world until very recently and so has remained untouched in many ways, including its culinary influences. But as this Southeast Asian nation continues to open its doors to tourists and diplomatic relations, the culinary landscape will no doubt shift as global food brands and other international influences slowly seep into the cultural zeitgeist as they have everywhere else. And on the other side of those doors, as Myanmar begins to showcase its rich culture to the rest of the world, there is no doubt that its flavours will also begin to bear influence on the international culinary scene.
This article was written by Marianne Comilang, an adventurer filled with wanderlust. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she traverses across continents and can proudly say she has set foot on every one (except Antarctica). If she isn't writing, editing, and strategizing to make others look good, she is probably teaching yoga or posting on her blog MoveStillFree.com.
Journey to the Shipibos of the Peruvian Amazon
Tara Leigh has traveled extensively in South America, where she had a wonderful time enjoying the food, taking in the sights, and meeting the people of that fantastic continent. This article was written on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned Amazon jungle lodge. As my plane took off from the Lima airport, I watched the Pacific Ocean sparkle below in the summer sun. I was on my way to Pucallpa to meet my Shipibo friend Wilder, who'd invited me to participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony in his community 15 hours up the Rio Ucayali in the Peruvian Amazon. I was super-excited about this amazing opportunity, but a little pensive as well, not knowing what to expect on this journey so deep into the Amazon! The immense, snow-covered peaks of the Andes pierced the clouds below the plane, and dipped down into rolling hills that gave way to the flat, green expanse of the Amazonian rainforest. Descending onto the tarmac, I marveled at how the trees completely blanketed the earth, interrupted only occasionally by a muddy river snaking through their midst. Wilder and his friend, an anthropology student from Argentina, met me at the Pucallpa airport. After stopping at Wilder's house to pick up a few more people, we took moto-taxis to the tiny, bustling Pucallpa dock to find a place on the crowded boat that would take us to our destinatination. We climbed onto the rusty, electric green barge by way of a precarious gangplank and strung our hammocks up together near the middle of the boat, where they levitated over crates of pop, packages of toilet paper rolls, and bags of rice destined for the villages up river. Passing tugboats hauling garbage and lanchas ferrying passengers to neighboring riverside communities, our boat left the harbour for the open river. A bit stifled by the crowd below, we climbed onto the roof of the boat and watched the green riverbanks roll by for hours, enjoying the river's breeze on our faces. As the sky began to turn pink with the sun's departure, the mosquitos chased me back down to my hammock for the night, where I tried (with little success!) to catch a bit of sleep before our arrival. We arrived at the muddy riverbank of the community at 4:30 a.m. Wilder's mom, a diminutive but strong Shipibo woman who wore no shoes, greeted us there with boys who quietly ferried our luggage into the waiting moto-truck. We piled into the back of the truck and drove to the village, as Wilder's mom good-naturedly cawed driving instructions him in Shipibo while he navigated the pot-holed dirt road. Mindful of the need to fast for the ceremony that evening, Wilder's cousins prepared us a small breakfast that morning of plantains, sugar cane, and tea. We literally hung around in our hammocks for a few hours, chatting and drinking maté until Wilder returned from some errands and drove us to the local creek to swim. We stopped to pick guavas and guanabanas on the way, which we feasted on for the rest of our jolty ride. After a few hours of swimming in the creek's clear, cool waters, we rested until it was time to head to the moloka for the Ayahuasca ceremony that evening. The Ayahuasca ceremony was a powerful healing experience. Wilder and his mother's Shipibo Icaros were incredibly beautiful, and their loving presence made me feel healed and protected. I woke up the next day feeling elated and clear-headed, full of gratitude and love for these wonderful people. Soon, though, it was time for me catch the boat to Pucallpa, and after a quick lunch and some warm hugs from Wilder's mom, I was ferried off in a community boat to wait for the "barco rapido" in the nearby village. The boat never stopped for us, however, as it seems an earlier rainstorm delayed its departure, causing it to fill up faster than usual! With few other options for transit, Wilder offered to take me, and the other would-be passengers, all the way to Pucallpa in his little boat. We gladly took him up on his offer, and piled in! Wilder hung my hammock up inside the boat, and I stayed there until we reached Pucallpa, watching the river scenery slip by as we motored along. A perfect end to a perfect trip!
What To Eat In Singapore: Lunch Under $5
This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for Asiarooms.com, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. It is undeniable that Singapore is known for great food. For all the talk about how the city-state is sterile, expensive, and without flavour, naysayers have to concede that this tiny Southeast Asian country, known as the Little Red Dot for its placing on the world map, is chockfull of strange and wonderful tastes. The dishes here may not be as famous as Thai food and not as intricate as Japanese cuisine, but they pack a certain punch. Those who have tried them won't forget in a hurry. The second in a series of what to eat in Singapore, here is a list of local lunch choices for under $5. Visiting a new country can get a little daunting and tiring as you traipse up and down the sunny streets—still, look forward to lunch, for you will always be able to find something that will perk you right up. Mee Soto AyamPronounced: Mee So-toe Ah-yum (for the picky eater)Cost: $4This dish of yellow noodles in a mildly spiced chicken broth is the perfect choice for a fuss-free meal. Topped with shredded chicken (ayam means chicken in Malay), beansprouts, and fresh coriander, it tastes fresh and clean. The dish is also a major crowd pleaser—everyone from young kids to grandpa and grandma can appreciate this light and flavourful soup. Mee Soto Ayam is also a common breakfast dish, if you feel like loading up first thing in the morning. Hainan Chicken RicePronounced: Hai-Nan-Jee-Faan (for every single visitor)Cost: $3.50This is hand's down Singapore's most famous dish, no matter for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This dish of sliced poached chicken served atop fragrant white rice was even on the royal menu when Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton visited the city-state two years ago. Properly executed, the chicken meat should taste springy, and the skin smooth with a thin layer of gelatine that makes the dish all the more sinful. The star of the dish is always the rice—cooked with pandan leaves, garlic, and chicken broth, it's fragrant, silky, and delicious. It's the perfect meal that won't leave you breaking out in sweat on a hot day. Minced meat noodle (for the pasta lovers)Pronounced: Bak Chor Mee (Bahk-Chore-Mee)Cost: $3.50Skinny yellow noodles go surprisingly well with morsels of minced meat, silvers of pork liver, braised mushrooms, and the tastiest of all guilty indulgences: crispy pork lard. Usually served with a small bowl of fish ball soup and a leaf of raw green vegetable, this dish relies heavily on a well-made sauce. Various options include: dark (sweet black soya sauce), chilli or tomato sauce (depending on whether you want it spicy) or white (sesame oil). The first few are heavier on the palate; those who love aglio olio would love the last preparation method. Nasi Briyani (for the adventurous spice lover)Pronounced: Na-see Bree-yarn-neeCost: $4 to $6.50 depending on what you addExtremely fragrant, highly exotic, and perfect for when you're in the mood for a hearty meal. Basmati rice is cooked with a variety of herbs such as cinnamon, saffron, and lemongrass, and the result is a plate of orange-and-yellow grains that look like the sunset and tastes just as glorious. Its slightly spicy tang goes great with a side order of fried chicken. If you're bent on having this, order a cold drink to bring down some of the heat. Lontong (for the vegetarian)Pronounced: Long-tongCost: $4.50Vegetarians and meat-lovers alike should check out this traditional Malay dish. Rice is tightly wrapped in banana leaves, boiled, cut into small pieces, and drenched with a mild vegetable curry. The vegetables—usually carrots, beans, and potatoes—are cooked until extremely tender. Sometimes, hard-boiled eggs and bean curd are also added into the mix. Together, they form a whole meal in a bowl of delicious curried stew—especially perfect for rainy days.
What To Eat In Singapore: Breakfast Under $5
This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for Asiarooms.com, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. It is undeniable that Singapore is known for great food. For all the talk about how the city-state is sterile, expensive, and without flavour, naysayers have to concede that this tiny Southeast Asian country, known as the Little Red Dot for its placing on the world map, is chockfull of strange and wonderful tastes. The dishes here may not be as famous as Thai food and not as intricate as Japanese cuisine, but they pack a certain punch. Those who have tried them won't forget in a hurry. The first in a series of what to eat in Singapore, here is a list of local breakfast choices for under $5. You won't be able to resist them even after stuffing your face with your hotel's breakfast buffet. Kaya Toast (for the sweet tooth)Pronounced: Kar-yah breadBudget: $1.50 to $5 depending the set you orderKaya is a jam made from coconut milk, pandan leaves, eggs, and sugar. It is sweet, sticky, and extremely fragrant. Kaya is typically served between two slices of toast, squashed in between with a slab of margarine. The margarine is not presented as a mere spread; it shares the centerstage with the kaya jam with its smooth richness balancing out the grainy texture of the kaya jam. They go surprisingly well with two soft-boiled eggs you can order from the same stall. Roti Prata (for the pancake lover)Pronounced: Row-tee Pra-taBudget: Around $1 per pieceA savoury pancake made of flour and vegetable oil, Roti Prata can be served with curry, sugar, or plain. Some may like the 'egg prata' which is thicker and chewier. Your best bet is to order one plain and another with an egg, and try them out over curry and sugar. The humble piece of fried dough also comes in spruced up variations: with cheese, chocolate, or even ice-cream, for the adventurous. Nasi Lemak (for the hungry ones)Pronounced: Na-see Ler-makBudget: Around $2 to $5 depending on the ingredients you addWhite rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves yields a fragrant, almost sweet rice. While the ingredients involved sound similar to the Kaya toast, the taste is much different. This is a traditionally Malay dish. Commonly served with fried ikan bilis (fried anchovies), a boiled egg, and sambal—a sauce made of shrimp paste and other spices—it makes a fortifying meal for any time of the day. Popular accompanists include fried chicken, fried fish, or stewed beef. Chwee Kueh (for those on a diet)Pronounced: Chee-wee-Kayh-ayeBudget: Around $1.50 for four piecesSteamed rice cakes that essentially taste like gruel in a viscous, jelly-like form, this simple dish can get strangely addictive if done right. The plain cakes are topped with preserved chopped radish and a chilli sauce that add an instant zing. Those who cannot take the heat can cautiously ask for chilli on the side. Chwee Kueh is best when served piping hot from the steamers. Vegetarian bee hoon (for the vegetarian)Pronounced: Zhai-mee-feenBudget: $1.50 to $4 depending on the ingredients you addWhen Singaporeans opt to go vegetarian due to religious festivities, the vegetarian beehoon stall sees a huge boom in business. Brown vermicelli lightly fried forms the body of the dish. Other items such as vegetarian char-siew (a sweet, red mock meat), stewed potatoes and peas, or vegetarian curry, are popular add-ons. There are countless vegetarian side dishes to accompany the vermicelli, so if you are unsure, ask the stall owner to choose two or three of the most popular for you.
Paradise on a Budget: The Gili Islands
Imagine a remote tropical island paradise with warm turquoise waters, white sand beaches fringed by coconut palms, and coral reefs teeming with marine life. Three tiny islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia, are a veritable lotusland for backpackers, beach lovers, and serenity seekers alike. While not easy to get to (the only way is by boat), once you arrive at the Gili Islands, there's nothing to do but relax and enjoy the scenery. Of the three islands, Gili Trawangan is the largest and most populated. Known as the "party island," it has a flourishing nightlife while simultaneously maintaining a laidback bohemian vibe. Closest to the mainland and the second smallest of the islands, Gili Air offers a mix of solitude and service. The smallest and most secluded of the islands, Gili Meno, is known as the "honeymoon island," attracting fewer tourists than the other two islands and thus making it the ideal place for those seeking peace and quiet. Originally a backpacker mecca, the Gili Islands (or simply the Gilis) are gaining notoriety with tourists of all budget levels, with increasingly more luxury options, particularly on Gili Trawangan. However, these remote islands are still an affordable destination, remaining a popular stop on the backpacker circuit. Limited budget? No problem. There's plenty to do (or not do) on the Gili Islands for little or no money. Do nothing at allIdyllic beaches, crystal clear water, and no motorized vehicles on any of the islands make it easy to do nothing at all. Relax on the beach, splash around in the water, or spend your days swaying in a hammock with a Bintang beer and a good book. Walk, bike, or cidomoAs motorized vehicles are not permitted on the island, the only ways to get around are by foot, bicycle, or cidomo (horse and cart). You can easily walk or bike around any of the islands in a few hours or less. However, it might take a little longer if you add beach time, swimming, and snorkeling stops to the agenda. Bicycles can be rented from numerous beachside kiosks and cost around Rp. 20,000 (only $2 USD!). If you're looking to do as little physical activity as possible, a cidomo tour around Gili Trawangan costs around Rp. 150,000 ($13 USD). Dive and snorkelSpend the day enjoying the Gilis' impressive marine life. Come face to face with green sea and hawksbill turtles, bumphead parrotfish, manta rays, Napoleon wrasse, and blacktip and whitetip reef sharks. With more than 20 different dive sites around the islands, there is something for every level of diver. For something different, muck dive and explore the islands' macro life, deep dive a Japanese wreck, or freedive without an oxygen tank. There are plenty of dive operators on the islands, and a price agreement across all the islands ensures you will get a fair price. All divers pay a one-off reef tax of Rp 50,000 (about $5) to the Gili Eco Trust, which works to protect the reefs. For those who want to remain closer to the surface, rent some snorkel gear and explore the coral reef straight off the beach. Masks and fins can be rented from numerous places along the beach for about Rp 30,000 ($3 USD). If you'd like to go further afar, contact one of the dive shops to arrange a boat trip to snorkeling spots nearby. The cost ranges from Rp 60,000 ($6 USD) to 150,000 ($13 USD). Be prepared to negotiate. Enjoy a magical sunsetAt the end of a long day enjoying tropical island scenery, head to the west side of your preferred island, pick a comfortable spot on the beach (in the sand or at the bar), sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacular view of the sun setting on the horizon. And after the sun goes down...For night revelers and merrymakers, the fun begins at sunset. Parties abound, especially on Gili Trawangan. After watching a glorious sunset, head to one of the many beachfront bars playing chilled-out live or electronic music. As the night progresses, let your ear guide you to the action. Dance under the stars at Surf Bar's monthly Full Moon parties. Or, if you're lucky, you might even catch a world-renowned DJ playing a free set at one of the island's many venues. And don't worry, it's always free to enter. This article was written by Marianne Comilang, an adventurer filled with wanderlust. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she traverses across continents and can proudly say she has set foot on every one (except Antarctica). If she isn't writing, editing, and strategizing to make others look good, she is probably teaching yoga or posting on her blog MoveStillFree.com. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, experts in providing off-the-beaten-path travel tours to Indonesia and all over Southeast Asia.