#34 Date selected: 30/5/16 Date completed: 13/6/16
Country selected: Myanmar (Burma)
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu/recipe addresses:
- Burmese Chicken
- Picked Tea Leaf Salad (Laphet Thote)
Monday 13th June 2016, 2.50pm
Myanmar is situated to the west of Thailand, also bordered by Bangladesh, India, China and Laos with one third of the country’s perimeter (some 1930km) forming an uninterrupted coastline along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
For most of its independent years, Myanmar’s myriad ethnic groups have been involved in one of the world’s longest-running ongoing civil wars. Human rights have been violated consistently and systematically throughout much of this time and there is consensus that the military regime is one of most repressive and abusive of its kind in the world. Human trafficking, forced labour and child labour are common as is sexual violence perpetrated by the military. Child soldiers have and continue to play a major part in the Burmese army and rebel movements.
The Rohingya people are the target for many abuses with the Burmese regime refusing to acknowledge them as Burmese citizens (despite some of them having lived in Burma for over three generations. They have been denied Burmese citizenship since the enactment of a 1982 citizenship law and approximately half of the 800,000 Rohingya have been forcibly expelled. They have been described as among the world’s least wanted.
The name of the country itself is continuously under dispute. The military government officially changed the English translations of many names in 1989. Some dating back to the colonial era or earlier. Burma became Myanmar though the renaming remains a contested issue with many political and ethnic opposition groups and countries continuing to use Burma because they do not recognise the legitimacy of the ruling military government or its authority to rename the country.
Since transitioning to a new government in 2011, the human rights record in Myanmar has been improving with the government assembling a National Human Rights Commission and the relaxing of reporting laws (though these remain highly restrictive).
With a diverse range of indigenous groups, the Burmese culture is varied though the majority is primarily Buddhist and Bamar. The monastery is the centre of cultural life in traditional villages and Monks are venerated and supported by the lay people. Superstition and taboos are commonplace in many villages.
Elements of Western culture were introduced via British rule and Burma’s education system has been modelled after that of the United Kingdom.
Fish products such as fish sauce, ngapi (fermented seafood) and dried prawn are used extensively throughout Burmese cuisine. Meat and poultry are more common in landlocked cities though freshwater fish and shrimp have been incorporated into inland cooking as a priary source of protein.
A variety of salads centred on one major ingredient are also common in Burmese cuisine and this is one of the inspirations for one of the dishes I’ve chosen for this challenge.
Laphet Thote, or pickled tea leaf salad is apparently one of the most popular dishes in Myanmar and is often eaten as a snack or a palate cleaner at the end of a meal. I’ve never even heard of pickled tea leaf and it intrigued me. I decided I needed to try it.
Using an internet search on the train on the way to work I found a couple of places in Australia that stocked Burmese food and, not really knowing what I was ordering, selected a couple of laphet packages. It turns out I was in luck as one of these seemed to be specifically designed around the salad and contained half a dozen individual packages holding all the dry ingredients for it, along with the golden prize – picked tea leaves.
Note: The second pack also contained a ‘hot and sour’ version of the tea leaves along with some of the dry ingredients but I am yet to try that one and will have to report back on the difference (if any) at a later date!
The dry ingredients (including fried yellow split peas, roasted sesame seeds and roasted peanuts) and tea leaves are mixed with romaine/cos lettuce or Chinese cabbage (I used the lettuce for this trial) and green capsicum. Traditionally you also use tomato, however I substituted red capsicum instead as I am not a fan of raw tomato. You squeeze fresh lemon juice over everything and toss together.
The taste is incredibly difficult to describe. It’s very crunchy with a dry, savoury taste but there’s a zing from the lemon juice and the tea leaves that hits your saliva glands at full speed. There’s a slight pungency from the tea leaves that’s a little reminiscent of Japanese nori mixed with the crispness of the fresh salad items. It’s like a punch in the face from your food, but in a good way.
I enjoyed the salad and would definitely eat it again but would probably make a smaller serving. I found it a bit too much of an onslaught to eat the large serving that I had made. It’s definitely one to eat as a course all of its own too. I’m not sure what you could serve to compliment it with though perhaps it might go quite nicely with fish or some other kind of white meat.
As I was entering completely unknown territory with the Laphet, I decided I would also try something a little more familiar for the challenge – a curry – though I prepared and ate it on a different day. Burmese chicken is super easy to make and really tasty to eat.
Onion is cooked in ghee until it is soft and then a multitude of spices mixed in – bay leaves, turmeric, chilli powder, cardamom, cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, lemongrass, garlic and ginger are thrown into the pot before adding the chicken pieces (I used chicken breast for this but I imagine you could use almost any type of chicken for this recipe). You add some chicken stock, cover the pot and simmer until the chicken is tender.
This is such a beautifully fragrant curry – very earthy with a lightness from the lemongrass. It goes beautifully with rice though there’s not a lot of sauce so be wary of going overboard with the starch. The chicken was tender and the dish has a lovely golden colour to it. I’d definitely cook this one again and my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Time to select another challenge though. Wonder where we’ll head to next time….