Brisbane to Burma

It’s all going too fast already and we’re only at Brisbane International Airport beginning our trip. Normally we have some time to poke around for some last minute duty free and trinkets, but this time only a chance to get Australian product gifts for my Burmese friends. Who doesnt love Tim Tams right?? Today they seem to be boarding so early, one hour and a half before hand.

We have a two hour stop over in Changi and of course we spend it in our customary hangout – Hari’s Bar.

Getting ready to board for Rangoon, it finally dawns on me that I am sharing this trip with my husband. My trips to Burma thus far, have all been solo voyages. My Australian husband, who is also a seasoned traveller of Asia, because of business, has never been to Burma, so I am very excited to be sharing this with him, and for me to also experience Burma through his eyes.

As we step off the plane in Rangoon, the humidity hits me. Its late and I know what awaits us after clearing customs.. taxi drivers and local baggage handlers grabbing and pushing. With a Iittle patience, understanding and realising its probably only a dollar or two they will have after carrying the suitcases the ten or twenty steps, its not really a big deal. Its not one of my favourite parts but everyone has got to make a dollar. I’m used it to it now but maybe for the new traveller this would be quite confronting. Its midnight by the time we reach our hotel, Clover, in the Bahan township. We’re tired and ready to shower and rest because we know we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.

Thorughout my blog there will be bold sections which are the snippet views from my travelling companion, trusty sharer of adventures and husband Steve.

STEVE: My first impression of Burma as I looked out our hotel window at 6am, was how quiet it was. Apart from the small street stall setting up for the breakfast rush, there was very little movement. But as each minute ticked by the street came to life. The food stall filled with patrons, women with baskets of bread and other wares balanced on top their heads,went door to door delivering the daily orders and periodically, loudly advertising their wares.  But in general things happened at a more leisurely pace than I have experienced in neighboring Asain countries. 
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As we are so time poor, we dont want to waste a minute, so after breakfast and breathtaking views of the Shwedagon Pagoda in the distance, we freshen up and discuss our days plans with our host Phyo, who is also a writer for the Myanmar times and a famous cook.

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We have time to make our way out and up the street before Phyo and her driver collect us, to take some pics of the locals and generally immerse our selves in the quiet, but busy local culture that presents itself. It is there that I feel excited to be back and immersing myself in this wonderful country, smiling faces and food, glorious food everywhere. Steve is equally as absorbed in it all, and as I wander about taking still photos he is roaming about doing some videoing. We are already grinning at each other like crazy kids, and I am nodding a ‘gday’ at the folk who are loving that we are so interetsted in it all.

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STEVE: A quick bite to eat and away we go. No real plan just follow our nose . We wander a local street filled with local stalls selling fresh produce and breakfasts to go. To many, this would be a sensory over load, both visually and olfactory, the freshly killed chickens and pork and fish still flopping around in baskets,  the smell of durian fruit is pungent in the air, and the smoke from the charcoal stoves wafts into the street. We are surrounded by monks collecting any offering the stall holders can spare. Although they make a meager existence their generosity is overwhelming

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I am really excited to be meeting Phyo. I knew her husband when I was living in Burma many years ago and when he heard I was travelling back to Burma, he so kindly suggested I meet with Phyo. So kindly she organised to collect us from our hotel and then to the supermarket to collect the ingredients we would need to cook the Rakhhine and Shan food that I am so eager to learn.

We went to Ocean Supermarket,  an extremely modern and well appointed chain of supermarket, full of national and international foods, white goods and other products akin to our version of Kmart but complete with a pharmacy and a cafe. It was here that Phyo explained that all the local foods were now packaged and able to be taken home. Mental note to be grabbing a handful of these tidbits for the friends and family back home.

After this we were starting to have stomachs that were grumbling, after seeing and smelling so much of the snack fare that was going on in the supermarket. Moulasoun, cripsy quail eggs in a riceflour batter known as mini couple cake or Moun.lin Mayar, Lotus Fringe Cake, rice pancake with poppy seed or Hsan bein Moun and all sorts of wrapped steamed sticky rice treats. I wanted to try one of everything but sadly we then would not have enjoyed our lunch which was to be had at a at famous Rakhhine and Shan seafood restaurant.

We started the lunch with Rakhinne Mohingar, two types – one, the typical soupy version I am used to and also a Mohinga atho, much drier. With this we also had a mixed plate of akyaws or ‘fry up in batter’ – onion, yellow split pea, gourd and a morning glory type leave with a crispy prawn on top, we also had some fresh water squid which was stir fried with crispy garlic with the customary skin on, Shan fish curry, a softer and soupier version but with a lovely hint of what I thought was kaffir lime but Phyo informed me was miyandthee, add to all this a longer rectangle shaped mussel which was flash fried in garlic oil, a clear broth soup with tamarind leaves, rice and a chilli tamarind dipping sauce and we were eating like royalty.  Of course as Aussies do, we certainly couldn’t enjoy this without a couple of bottles of Myanmar draught.

Superb, flavoursome, delightful, tasty, excitingly diverse and varied..I loved it all.

Back to Phyo’s house to discuss all things food and to take a little rest. It was here she began to show us how the flavours and items we had bought earlier were to be used to create Shan and Rakhhine food. For me, as someone who has predominantly been creating Burmese (Bamah and Mandalay) style food it was heaven sent to be taught and explained exactly how to achieve and create these new flavours which I fully intend to bring home to the very receptive market of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

Market was extremely busy being that it was a pubic holiday. The youth were all about eating and drinking and hanging out, so to speak, not dressed in their traditional clothes like I was used to seeing,  now jeans and dolce and gabbana tshirts were common place. Im not sure what my travelling companion thought of the crazy colour and sound of the market, but I loved it and did not want to leave. There we purchased fresh fish, prawn heads, more fresh vegetables, and other various items to be utilised.

On our return to Phyo’s house after the markets we began to plan the cooking process. This deserves a blog post of its own so stay tuned till the next one which will be complete with pics and an overview of a recipe as well.