Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Government (NUG) has urged the public to refuse to work for businesses run by the family of coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
The NUG’s Ministry of Commerce declared in an October 18 statement that 15 companies owned by the junta chief’s family should be boycotted as they are supporting violence against civilians.
Anyone who doesn’t abide by the NUG’s statement risks being listed as a collaborator with the military regime, as Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is benefiting personally from the companies.
Citing an investigation by the NUG’s Economic Intelligence Unit, Daw Khin Ma Ma Myo, the NUG’s Minister of Commerce, said that “Min Aung Hlaing, the perpetrator of the state rebellion and war crimes, is abusing the military’s power and running many businesses for the benefit of his family.”
His family’s companies include medical supplies, hospitals, construction, hotels, transportation, film production and entertainment, insurance, telecommunications, an art gallery, restaurants and a gym, according to the Ministry of Commerce’s statement.
The Myanmar military also owns two conglomerates – Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation – which operate in almost all sectors of the economy.
Daw Khin Ma Ma Myo told The Irrawaddy that people supporting the pro-democracy movement are already boycotting military-affiliated businesses. However, some people are still working with military-backed companies, which allows the junta to raise funds to continue their lethal crackdowns on civilians.
“We have to uproot the culture of having military-owned businesses and companies owned by military leaders’ families,” she said.
“If you don’t want to be on the list of people supporting violence, this is the time to retreat. We urge the public to refuse to use the services these companies provide and not to act as proxy directors or owners or allow their names to be used to register military-backed companies,” added Daw Khin Ma Ma Myo.
The NUG said that people who did collaborate with the businesses, whether as partners, directors, board members, shareholders, staff and legal advisers, risked being punished by the law.
“Action will be taken in accordance with international law and procedures,” the NUG said in its statement.
Of the 15 businesses listed by the NUG, the Mytel Group Company, part-owned by the military, and the Seventh Sense entertainment company, led by the coup leader’s daughter, were listed as ‘suspended’ when their status was checked October 19 on the Directorate of Investment and Company Registration (DICA) website. Information on some of the other companies listed by the NUG was also unavailable on the DICA website, the source of company information under the ousted National League for Democracy government.
The list of companies affiliated to Snr. Gnr. Min Aung Hlaing and his family, as issued by the NUG, is as follows.
A & M Mahar Foods and Medical Products Company
Sky One Construction Company
The Yangon Restaurant, Yangon Gallery for art exhibitions
Everfit Company Limited, gym and fitness in Yangon
Seventh Sense Company Limited, film production and entertainment
Stellar Seven Entertainment Company (Limited)
Azura Beach Resort in Chaung Tha, Ayeyarwady Region
Myanmar is a country riddled with strife and mass killings.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights organization based out of Thailand, more than 1,100 people have been killed in Myanmar (Burma) since the military took over in February.
Families sit inside their homes — many of them makeshift — and know bloodshed is just outside, said Jane Williams of the Logansport Art Association (LAA). Williams has been working with a group of Burmese artists, many of whom are either in refugee camps in Myanmar or have been released from the camps but lack freedoms available in the U.S.
The unrest of this Asian nation could dispel any notion of happiness, but this group of artists refuses to let that happen, she said, acknowledging that Fort Wayne-based Burmese artist Saw Kennedy, who was once in a refugee camp, has brought nearly 20 artists together for a cultural experience at the LAA at 424 Front St.
“He is bringing us these artists out of Myanmar to show us the better times,” Williams said of the 42 pieces on display at “The Soul of Myanmar” exhibition, which runs through Saturday, Oct. 2. While the majority are from the Asian country, others are living in Norway, Iowa and Fort Wayne.
Getting several of these pieces to Logansport was not easy. In fact, along with a variety of “creative ways” to transport them overseas, Williams said that some were smuggled out of Myanmar through PVC pipe. Many hands played a role in bringing the artwork here, she said, explaining that local resident Sunday Htoo was one of those individuals.
Showcasing the culture, history and rich beauty of the land and its people is that important, she added.
Kennedy agreed, stating in a release that “Even though we were once refugees, if we try and have confidence, if we have a strong vision of the future, and if we are passionate about our dreams, we will receive the most precious opportunity to continue working on our goals.”
His goal is to share culture and history while selling some work for the people in Myanmar. Proceeds from sales will benefit the artists who dared to share their visions of a country where peace seems constantly out of reach.
But whatever may take place in the next few days, Williams said these artists are more concerned with spreading their personal vision of a land divided.
Ko Sid’s series called “Stranger Face” depicts anger, innocence, vanity and struggle. The Yangon, Myanmar, resident stated in a description of his work that pieces are based on his emotions of the current events where people “feel less worth and kindness and more aggression.”
Those feelings are emblazoned across canvas through color highlights and strokes.
Another artist, Min San Shar of Mawlamyine, Myanmar, said that “art shapes him as a free man.”
Even as war rages on, Hei Ar Heison of Myanmar claimed that war, which has been a major part of his life, damages people. And through his art, the desire for everyone to work together has arisen.
Despite the devastation, it’s important to recognize that good can come of bad, said Williams. “Something beautiful can come out of devastation.”
That’s a lesson artist Ar Thet Oo discovered. Residing in Yangar, Myanmar, he said in an account of his work that as he paints the “beauty of poppies, (liking) the moving and dancing of the poppies … (he) realizes beauty is laced with the opium drug, and sometimes beauty contains ugly.”
And currently, that adequately describes his country.
But where bad lives, good triumphs, which is what Kennedy believes, said Williams. “Wherever you live, love what you do, try your best and you will succeed,” she said quoting her friend, claiming that’s exactly what artist Satt Aung T.T. has done.
Along with submissions for the LAA exhibit, Satt Aung T.T. also is competing in a juried show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called “Art Prize.” If he wins, he could collect $50,000.
“People need to see this (LAA) exhibit,” Williams said. “People need to see the view through the artist’s own eyes…to see the artists’ visions.”
Artists participating in the exhibit include the following: Ko Maung Win Hia, Mg Kywa Khaung, Ar Thet Oo, Co Thiee, Soe Aung, Ni Po U, Soe Htay, Ko Sid, Satt Aung T.T., Su Eaindra, Win Win, Saw Eh, Saw Poe Dah, Hei Ar Heison, Rah Nay Kaw Htoo, Ku Paw, Min San Shar and Saw Kennedy.
A new Paris exhibition is shining a light on seven artists using their work to resist Myanmar’s military junta. FRANCE 24 interviewed Bart Was Not Here, one of the artists featured.
“I’m not an activist, I’m an artist,” says Bart Was Not Here, categorically rejecting being portrayed as a political dissident. However, since the army’s coup in Myanmar on February 1 this year, the 25-year-old artist has been using his art to campaign against the country’s military junta.
He is one of seven Burmese artists whose work is on display at the Place du Palais-Royal in Paris, as part of the exhibition Fighting Fear: #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar, organised by the international NGO Human Rights Watch and running from September 18 until October 17.
Just a few steps from the Louvre, the month-long exhibition shows a series of works created in response to the political situation in Myanmar. Bart Was Not Here’s colourful paintings are displayed alongside photographs of the demonstrations that erupted after the army took power. Pop art’s influence on his work is clear, with a political bent: they mock the religious extremist monk Wirathu, released from prison earlier this month by the junta; the former president Thein Sein; as well as leaders from the country’s intelligence services.
“I made some of them before the coup d’état,” Bart Was Not Here told FRANCE 24 in an interview the day before the exhibition’s opening. “But now I think the satirical pieces are more important than ever. They show that I’m not scared of the military, I’m not scared of mocking them or humiliating them. What’s the worst that could happen? They could kill me,” he says with a simple shrug.
“I don’t consider myself as an artist-activist,” he insists. “For me, it doesn’t matter what happens – art comes before everything.”
Before the coup, Bart Was Not Here painted in his studio in Yangon, Myanmar’s economic capital, with his girlfriend, a florist, who worked alongside him. The self-described jack of all trades had just started experimenting with sculpture. The rest of the time, he was working on a series of drawings called ‘The God Complex’.
“I wanted to depict the world that I imagined inside a genie’s lamp,” he says. “Far from politics…”
‘I’d never produced so much work as in this period’
The day before the coup, the artist was working on an immense mural artwork with a friend.
“We were supposed to paint the façade of a factory in Yangon,” he remembers. “It should have taken about two days. On January 31, we went to bed, happy, thinking that we’d finish it off the next day, chatting over a barbecue.”
But the mural was never completed.
“When we woke up, the internet was blocked, the television was down and the radio just played the same headache-inducing traditional music over and over. We immediately realised that something was wrong.”
In the days that followed, Bart Was Not Here joined the massive peaceful protests that filled the streets of Yangon. When doctors, teachers and workers went on strike, he decided to use his art as protest.
“I’d never produced as much work as during this period,” he laughs. “What can I say: it was inspiring! I wasn’t making my usual art, but at the time it just felt natural to me and the right thing to be doing.”
Every day, with dozens of other artists, he would sit near the start of protest marches and, with pens and paintbrushes at the ready, would paint protest signs. His series ‘The God Complex’ and his sculptures were abandoned in favour of painting the three-finger sign – a symbol of peaceful resistance – over and over, slogans and drawings of the protests. His goal was to motivate and inspire the people making up this new civil disobedience movement.
In the evenings, he continued to draw, creating digital illustrations to be shared online. One of them went viral – a simple graffiti tag saying ‘Disobey’ on a red background.
“This period brought about a real explosion of creativity for young protesters,” Phil Robertson, the Asia programme director for Human Rights Watch tells FRANCE 24. “Art was really a major tool in the resistance to the coup. It was a way for protesters to express themselves and the messages they were all rallying behind.”
Artists as army targets
But after several weeks, the military junta’s violent repression of protests transformed the peaceful gatherings into urban warfare. More than 6,500 people have been arrested since February 1, and 1,108 people have been killed, according to the daily count kept by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar.
“Artists, just like journalists, directors and other public figures, are the first to be targeted by the military. It makes sense, because the military wants to silence anyone who it considers to be leaders of the civil disobedience movement,” explains Robertson. “Many have had to go into hiding, while others have fled to Thailand. Some of the lucky ones have been able to go abroad.”
A number of celebrities in Myanmar’s culture sector have been arrested over the past few months, particularly those in the film industry, like the actor and producer Lu Min, the director Christina Kyi and the actor and model Paing Takhon, all of whom are openly against the junta.
Four poets have been killed, among them K Za Win, who was killed with a gunshot to the head at the beginning of March. A few days after the coup, he had published a poem titled ‘Revolution’ that was widely shared and which ended with this verse: “It will be dawn/For it is the duty of those who dare/To conquer the dark and usher in the light.”
Bart Was Not Here says that he himself wasn’t specifically targeted by soldiers, but he spoke about the atmosphere of fear that filled the streets of Yangon before he left.
“One day, the police came and blocked off my road for no apparent reason before firing off real bullets, aiming at no one. We found a bullet lodged in my mother’s car.”
Helping from abroad
Bart Was Not Here says that it wasn’t the violence and political instability in Yangon that made him leave.
“I was originally supposed to leave Myanmar in 2020 to go to the US where my sister lives,” he explains. “But then I couldn’t because of Covid-19.”
Instead, in March he applied to join an artists’ residence in the Cité des Arts in Paris: “When the opportunity of the artists residence in France came up, I jumped at the chance.”
He arrived in June, and since then has been trying to adapt to his new life in France. But while FRANCE 24 is talking to him, his phone almost never stops lighting up with a new message from a family member, friend or acquaintance back in Myanmar, a constant eternal reminder of what is still going on back home.
“Sometimes, I’ll be walking around, thrilled to be exploring this city and all of the opportunities that it offers. And then a message will remind me of the ongoing violence in Myanmar. In moments like that, it’s hard not to feel guilty for having left,” he admits. “But despite that, I still think I can be more useful here. I can work non-stop, while staying safe.”
The artist hopes that he will sell more work here, the proceeds from which will go to help the resistance movement in Myanmar.
“I was born under a dictatorship and then I experienced democracy. It wasn’t all perfect with Aung San Suu Kyi, far from it, but at least the future was bright,” he says. “We had hope. Now we have to fight so we don’t fall back into the darkness.”
Paing Takhon, 24 — a star in both Myanmar and neighbouring Thailand — has been active in the protest movement both in person at rallies and through his massive social media following.
A leading Myanmar actor, singer and model who has backed the country’s anti-coup protests was arrested on Thursday, his sister said, as the junta hunts more than 100 celebrities for supporting the movement.
The country has been rocked by daily protests since the military seized power on February 1, and the authorities have launched a bloody crackdown on dissent, with hundreds killed and more than 2,500 arrested.
Paing Takhon, 24 — a star in both Myanmar and neighbouring Thailand — has been active in the protest movement both in person at rallies and through his massive social media following.
“Some 50 soldiers with eight military trucks,” came to arrest him from his mother’s home in the North Dagon area of Yangon early Thursday, his sister Thi Thi Lwin posted on Facebook.
“As he’s seriously ill, they arrested him calmly without violence. We do not know where he’s taken,” she added.
According to recent posts on his social media — where he had more than a million followers on Facebook and Instagram — Paing Takhon has been in poor health.
“I haven’t been in good health for many days. I used to pray whenever I worshipped Buddha for good health and to get peace in Myanmar as soon as possible,” he wrote on Wednesday.
In February he posted pictures of himself in a white tracksuit with a megaphone, hard hat and a white fluffy dog strapped to his chest at a protest.
“Help us stop crime against humanity,” he posted on Instagram in February.
His social media pages have been taken down, though it is not clear whether he did this himself.
Paing Takhon is also famous in Thailand and has appeared in TV commercials and shows.
In January, he shaved his head and briefly joined the Buddhist monkhood, posting pictures of himself in burgundy robes.
The Myanmar authorities have published a list of some 120 celebrities wanted for arrest, including singers Lin Lin and Chit Thu Wai, actors Phway Phway, Eaindra Kyaw Zin and Pyay Ti Oo and model May Myat Noe.
The celebrities are facing accusations of spreading dissent against the military, an offence that carries a three year jail term if convicted.
The Tea Tribes are integral to the cultures of Assam and West Bengal, and it is this amalgamation of cultures that gives the modern day its distinctive richness. After three years of success, in this fourth year of celebration, it is a moment of pride as the cultural uniqueness of the community is brought forth through the vibrant festivity of ‘Sirish Mahotsav’.
Sirish is the answer to the calling for preservation, promotion, and propagation of the various cultural forms of the TeaTribes. The contribution of the Tea Tribes to the culture and economy has been immense, and Sirish is a medium to enhance and propagate the art, dance and drama forms of this very integral fiber of Assam. We need to use Sirish as a landmark to strengthen the bonds between people and allow the hearts of the community to express this unique cultural heritage that we are so blessed with.
Since the 1830s and over 8 generations, the Tea Tribes have been fundamental to the scaffoldings of Rural Assam;creating bright futures in these remote but breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. It is in our best interest to promote the creation of sustainable futures in these rural locales through the Rural Futures programme of our sister-concern, the Balipara Foundation.
Our collaborative efforts can bring dynamic changes in upholding the traditions and integrating a sense of pride in the culture of the Tea Tribes and lead to the development of holistic, self-sufficient and empowered communities.
Sirish Mahotsav is a successful example of fostering Rural Futures in the Eastern Himalayas. Through the ‘Rural Futures Framework’ launched at the Eastern Himalayan NaturenomicsTM Forum in 2017, we aim to catalyze conservation efforts through the designing of holistic models for human-centric, community-based conservation to create social-environmental and economic interdependence.
By Ranjit Barthakur,
Lying on the banks of the mighty Irrawaddy river – 150 kilometers south-west of Mandalay, the vast plain of Bagan is a home to thousands of Buddhist temples that combine to form one of the richest archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and an extraordinary testament to the religious devotion of Myanmar’s people and rulers over the centuries.
Along with offering views quite unlike anywhere else on the earth, one of the beauties of spending time in what is now officially called the Bagan Archaeological Zone is that, once you have paid your K25,000 entry fee, you have the freedom to explore this fascinating area at your own leisure. Bagan is in general more-touristy and possibly less of the ‘real Myanmar’ than other parts of the country, but despite obvious sales ploys such as a multitude of children selling hand-drawn postcards, you will rarely suffer the hard sell – and the locals remain warm and friendly.
An Ancient Kingdom
Bagan (formerly known as Pagan) was the capital of a large influential kingdom from the ninth to the thirteenth century. This kingdom was the first to unify the area that is now Myanmar, establishing the Burmese culture and ethnicity as well as Theravada Buddhism in the region. Over this period of rule, as the city and kingdom grew in stature, over ten thousand temples were built on the surrounding plains.
Mongol invasions eventually led to the fall of the Kingdom of Pagan, the city was reduced to a small settlement, never to recover its past glory. The area did, however, remain a destination for Buddhist pilgrimage. A few hundred temples were added between the thirteenth and twentieth century, but the extensive earthquake damage over the years meant only 2,200 temples remained, in differing states of repair.
Indeed, over the last five hundred years, many of the existing temples have been renovated – a process continuing till date, has yielded mixed results. Many say that Bagan has not attained the UNESCO World Heritage site status due to the Myanmar government’s insensitive updates in the 1990s, although it is once again being considered. However, the area is large enough and there remains so much of what is original still to see, that none of this stops the area from being a unique wonder to behold.
A Vast and Diverse Area
Each of the 2,200 plus temples, stupas and pagodas has its own unique story to tell, and many can be freely explored inside and out. Some are locked, but even if you are traveling around without a guide, you can sometimes find a friendly local nearby to open them for you. The most spectacular time to see the temples is when the sun dramatically rises and falls over the plain at dawn or dusk.
A large earthquake hit Bagan in 2016 and caused significant damage to some of the temples, but ironically, much of it was to the more modern additions to the then ancient structures. Many believe that the quake may actually end up encouraging more sensitive development in the area, and the vast majority of temples are now once again free to be explored.
Exploring the Temples and Plain
There are a number of ways to explore the area:
This is the cheapest way to get around, and allows the most freedom to do as you choose; the plain is too large to explore by foot, but getting around by bike allows you to get to most of the temples. Almost all hotels and guesthouses offer them for hire, as do various restaurants and shops on the popular ‘Restaurant Row’ in the town of Nyaung U.
You can also cheaply hire an electric bike – through on the flat plains of Bagan, the advantages over a bicycle are minimal (tourists are not allowed to use motorbikes in the area).
You can pick up a free tourist map showing you the main points of interest; although you are unlikely to get seriously lost, it is worth planning your trip in advance to make the most of your time. Bear in mind that it can get hot and dusty when cycling, particularly during hotter times of the year, so carrying water is essential and helps you beat the heat. You can pick up refreshments at the many restaurants and tea shops in the area.
Horse and Cart Guided Tour
This is the most romantic way to tour the temples. Most drivers can speak minimum English and have the profound knowledge of better routes around the temples along with few hidden gems. However, horses have to follow more well-trodden tracks than bicycles, as there are areas they cannot reach. Prices range from K15,000 to K25,000 for a day, depending on the season.
If you want to avoid the heat and dust completely, take an air-conditioned taxi or minibus. This is naturally the most comfortable way to get around, and most drivers speak some English. Cars will usually cost between $20 and $50 per day, depending on the season and how far you travel.
By Hot Air Balloon
The most exotic and spectacular way to see the temples is to head to the sky. Trips cost USD285 per person and offer a unique view of the plain and temples. You should always book well in advance, particularly at popular times of the year such as Christmas and the New Year (the ballooning season runs from October to April).
Taking two or more days and using different forms of transport can be the best way to explore the plains. If you see the highlights by horse and cart or hot air balloon, then following it up with a bike ride can be the ideal way to find the specific temples that have taken your fancy.
A Guide to the Top Temples
The best approach to explore temples with a guide, but you can also get some advice from a friendly local and start exploring on your own. There are some sites that should not be missed, which include:
The large and the beautifully maintained Ananda Pagoda – A huge festival takes place here in late December, which celebrates the traditional lives of farmers in the area; locals come from surrounding villages in their decorated bullock carts and camp on the plain. Theatrical troupes provide entertainment, and on the final daybreak, there are formal alms given to monks who live in the nearby monastery.
The Gawdaw Palin Pagoda which sits on the banks of the Irrawaddy River
The Myoe Daung Monastery – a beautiful teak-built structure and the imposing Tharabar Gate in Old Bagan.
The distinctive red brick Dhammayangyi temple, covering the largest area of all the temples in the area.
The tallest structure on the plain, The That Byin Nyu temple.
Amazing sunrise and sunset views from the Shwesandaw Pagoda and Pyathada pagodas. As of the new season starting in October 2017, there will also be a number of new hilltop viewpoints to stop overcrowding on the temples, and hopefully climbing on the temples will be restricted.
Of all the pagodas in Bagan, the Shwezigon Pagoda in Nyaung U is a traditional Myanmar temple complex.
Away from the towns and most famous temples, exploring off beaten tracks can be a lot of fun; the pagodas that can be found east of Nyaung U, along with the banks of the Irrawaddy, are a good example. Here you will find open temples with beautifully preserved interiors, from the top of which you will see fantastic views over the river – and hardly other tourists.
For more background, history and more impressive collection of artifacts from the region, head to the Bagan Archaeological Museum, located off the main road near the river bank in Old Bagan (entry$5).
Content and Photo Courtesy – Marcus Allender, Founder, Go-Myanmar.com
Shan State is one of the most popular States in Myanmar for tourists, not only because of its cuisine, but also because of the different attraction it offers. It is located in the Middle Eastern part of Myanmar, and its capital Taunggyi is famous for the Hot-air Balloon Festival.
It is also famous for the beautiful Inle Lake, where the floating gardens, the fishermen village and the unique way of one-leg paddling will fascinate you.
For adventurers, Hsipaw and Kalaw are two great cities to be in touch with nature and do trekking while Kakku Pagodas are a must visit the religious site.
If Asian food is one of the best and most varied in the world, imagine a country with its own delicious cuisine plus a healthy dose of Asian ingredients and cooking styles. Burmese cuisine is also very healthy, favoring fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as fish products like fish sauce and fish paste and fermented seafood.
Here are three of the most popular and authentic Shan State dishes:
1. Shan Noodles
Shan noodles are one of the most popular dishes in Myanmar. You will find them in every teahouse and restaurant. You can have them either as a soup or as a salad, and in both cases, the sauce is the same. The noodles are different. The ones used for the soup are sticky and flat rice noodles, whereas the ones used for the salad are thick and round rice noodles.
To prepare the sauce, they blend tomatoes and then add salt, sugar, oil, sugar cane sauce and paprika. Then everything goes in a pot to boil.
2. Shan Yellow Rice Cake with Tomato Sauce
This is one of the dishes, when tasted, gets glued to your memory and taste buds forever.
For cooking the rice, there is no trick, just wash it, add water, turmeric powder for the yellow color, salt and a little bit of chicken powder.
There are two different tomato sauces, one to mix with the rice and the other to put on top of the rice cake.
For the first one, cut tomatoes in half, add salt and cook them in a pot until you have a sauce. Leave to cool. Remove the tomato skin. Then, you stir the yellow rice to make it a little bit sticky and mix it with this tomato sauce. Before pouring all the tomato sauce, separate some in a bowl and add turmeric oil. Use this mix to wet your hands and season the rice cake while you shape it.
The second tomato sauce to add on top of the cake is the key. To prepare it, heat oil and add onions, garlic, fermented soya bean powder, dried chili powder and turmeric powder. Then, add grained tomatoes, salt and chicken powder. At this point, you can also add coriander or spring onion and chicken or pork.
There is always another side sauce to add on top of the cake, turmeric and garlic sauce. Just heat oil, fry garlic and then add turmeric powder. Its crunchy-garlic touch is amazing. And any cracker like pork skin, bean or rice goes perfectly well with this dish.
3. Black Sesame Seed and Sticky Rice Cake (KhorPoat)
This is a very traditional snack in Shan State made with purple rice, black and round sesame seeds and salt.
It is really interesting to see how they prepare it. They, place the cooked rice into a stone “bowl” situated on the ground and add black round sesame seeds (already mashed) and salt. Then there is a “wooden machine” that smashes and mixes it to form the dough.
To sell it, they separate the dough into small portions of the same size and wrap it in the banana leaf so that it doesn’t dry.
The most popular and tasty way of having it is fried or barbequed, although you can also eat it raw. It is usually eaten in winters and served with brown sugar or jaggery on the side. It only costs between 100-200 kyats ($0.1 – 0.2).
Content and Picture Courtesy – Mr. Juan Gallardo, Writer at Myanmar Travel Essentials
Juan has traveled extensively to discover everything about Burmese cuisine, tasting traditional dishes cooked for him by the locals. It is these amazing dishes, the warmth of the people and the beauty of the land that is captured in his book “Delicious Myanmar”.
The state of Nagaland in India is home to a wondrous phenomenon that one would rarely see anywhere else in the world. In this state lies a village called Longwa which has a house that can be considered to spread over two countries – India and Myanmar. Towards Myanmar, this house falls in the Mon state as the boundary between India and Myanmar passes across this village and divides this house into two parts which fall into two parts. This house is owned by the hereditary chief or the king of the Konyak Naga tribe known as “The Angh”. The Angh of Longwa village has 60 wives and he rules over more than 70 villages extended up to Myanmar.
Traditional Naga Tribal Beads
The people living in this village move freely between India and Myanmar and do not need a visa. Even one of the sons of this village’s chief has joined the army of Myanmar. So, technically these villagers have dual citizenship for both India and Myanmar. Besides the chief, some other Konyak families have their kitchen in Myanmar while they sleep in India. The Konyak tribe, which lives in Longwa village, holds the largest numbers among the sixteen officially recognized tribes in Nagaland. The Konyak Naga speaks the Tibetan-Myanmarese dialect with every village having a self-modified version. Some people speak another version too which is known as the Nagamese language and is a mixture of Naga and Assamese.
The Konyak tribe is very famous for their tattooed inked faces and they always wear some traditional jewelry. Most of the men wear a brass skull necklace and they still use hornbill beaks, elephant tusks, horns, and skulls to decorate their houses. The arrival of Christianmissionaries has somewhat helped to bring the people living in this region closer to each other. The religion has now become the cohesive bond between the Nagas and has helped them to refrain from constant fighting with each other.
In the village of Longwa, there is a feeling of oneness among people and boundaries between two different countries seem to have dissolved. The emotional connect between the Nagas living on both sides of the border is very strong. We all know that boundaries were not created by God but are a human intervention. This village shows that it is possible to create a world where boundaries do not create any conflict. This is a very important lesson that we can learn from Longwa village.
Myanmar’s rise from the ashes of political turmoil, cultural stagnancy and severe isolation is a monumental historic feat. The ushering in of democracy has adequately released it from the unsparing shackles of military suppression and has catapulted it onto the expansive path of progress, aggressive aspirations, development and integration with the mainstream global canvas.
Buried in its shadowy past has been its most delectable and distinct food experience, popularly known as the Burmese cuisine. Inhabited by various ethnicities and nationalities, Burmese food specialty varies from region to region; each region serving a specific delicacy with their own recipe and style of cooking. In effect, a trek through Myanmar’s coast towards the inland or traversing the northern and southern regions of Myanmar are sure to delight one’s epicurean journey.
An authentic Burmese palette blends in varied flavors – hot, sweet, sour and salty, by serving multiple side dishes and accompaniments along with the main dish. For example, bitter leaves, dried chilies and salty fish paste may accompany a mild curry. It is this richness that makes it so unique and appetizing, and worthy of being placed on the global cuisine frontier.
Situated on the crossroads of gigantic civilizations of China and India, and bordering the countries of Laos, Thailand and Bangladesh, Myanmar has naturally and inadvertently acquired their distinct characters and culinary influence, while exploring and retaining its own novelty. From the gamut of Chinese dumplings and boiled vegetables to the Indian inspired curries, samosa and biryani, Myanmar staple food has remained constant for years: rice.
From driving the country’s economy as being world’s largest exporter, rice has become the bedrock diet for many people in Myanmar. Htamin Jin in Burmese, rice is usually served with curry, soup and multiple condiments that a Burmese cuisine is characterized of. Either boiled or relished as flat noodles, from being a breakfast or a light snack to being savored as a dessert on the streets, it remains the backbone of any Burmese meal.
Rice noodles or locally known as Mohinga or Mohinka. It is a favorite dish among the locals, enjoyed as breakfast and also as a filler light snack in between meals. These round rice noodles are served in fish paste and shallot broth with a hint of onion garlic adding to the flavor. Topped with veggies, boiled eggs, sliced banana pith and akyaw fritters, it is usually sprinkled with dried chili, lime and coriander. Its preparation varies throughout the region, depending upon the availability of ingredients.
A salad for Burmese people is an aggregation and experimentation with diverse elements. An unusual mixture of everything which is crunchy, salty, spicy and sour is concocted as a salad. Laphet Thoke, the most popular and thoroughly enjoyed salad constitutes pickled green tea leaves interfused with amalgamation of sauces, and crunchy and sour assortments; sesame, shrimps, ginger, lime, fish sauce, peanut oil, peas, nuts etcetera. It can be served as a snack or accompany a plate of rice.
Nan gyi Thoke, dry rice noodles in the shape of spaghetti is also a salad based dish, relished with chicken, fish curry and garnished with chickpea flour, chilies and turmeric.
The Northern interiors of Myanmar are famous for Shan Noodles, reflecting country’s predominant Buddhist group’s delectable food trails. Served in chicken or pork broth, it is seasoned with garlic oil and sesame with pickled vegetables. In comparison to southern or coastal Burmese noodles, Shan noodles are bland and simple in texture.
Another dish that exhibits Shan specialty and deserves to be mentioned is fish rice or commonly called Shan style rice. Served with the sides of raw garlic and leek roots, it’s oily and is cooked in turmeric.
Curried noodle soup, Khow Suey, is another dish fundamental to Burmese cuisine. Its ingredients involve coconut milk, curried chicken and egg noodles. Like any other Burmese dish, this too gets accompanied by disparate condiments. However, as per the availability of ingredients, its recipe can be tailored to one’s preference.
Tea houses cannot be given a miss while talking about the eclectic Burmese cuisine. These are the small and scattered tea and snack hubs brimming with voices greeting political affairs and social customs with great gusto and zest. Bursting with a medley of Chinese, Indian and local dishes; noodles, steam buns, samosas, the local tradition of tea shops have evolved as an integral part of the Burmese cuisine.
Burmese desserts, colloquially termed as moun, usually gets its sweet flavor from its corresponding ingredients than sugar itself; sticky rice, fruits, grated coconuts act as sweeteners. Moreover, they are relished as snacks like semolina flour with coconut milk, pancakes with raisons etcetera.
If the food trajectory of Myanmar feeds the nonvegetarians quite sufficiently, vegetarians are served adequately well too with fresh vegetables and fruits available abundantly. Also, the Buddhist sanctity prevalent in the country makes vegan diet an essential part of everyday life of Myanmar.
With Burmese bounty ready to be served on the world platter, and geared to exhibit its vast regional spread through plethora of its native treats and cuisine, the World awaits Myanmar’s food treasures to satiate its South East Asian appetite in glory all renewed and rediscovered.
To mark the coming of the new season, Thuwana Stadium hosted an inaugural spring festival last weekend. The event was abuzz with music, food and cultural activities.
Many other festivals are held in Yangon but spring festivals are intended to highlight Myanmar traditions.
They are usually observed with traditional dancing, traditional fashion and traditional handicrafts. The Thuwana Stadium celebration also had 21st century elements – contemporary designers showed off their wares as a photo booth snapped away.
Lynn Whut Hmone, director of event organiser Stellar Seven, said it gave the chance for families and friends to embrace the new season.
Yangon Gallery used the occasion to show off an ancient loom, traditional palm necklaces (htan yaut puddi) and even fish toys (htan yaut fish).
Artist Soe Win Nyein, owner of Acme Myanmar Souvenirs said events like this were important in promoting and celebrating traditional arts and handicrafts.
“Young people in Myanmar are increasingly less concerned about these things.”
“And grass roots producers do not have too many opportunities to get their wares out there.”
Soe Win Nyein added that Myanmar should look to Thailand in how it supports and embraces local producers for a modern market.
Dr Aung Hein, owner of Toy Box Myanmar echoed these concerns – saying he hoped that Myanmar children who grow up in this day and age still embrace Myanmar toys.
“I think children still like traditional toys but there are not many places to buy them,” Dr Aung Hein said.
Artist May Moe Thu, owner of Pho Wa Hand Painted Cotton Products said the foreign tourist market was still not tapped as well as it could be.
Visitor Dr Kyaw Han Thar Myint said it was fun to see so many traditional elements on display in the one place.
“I loved the traditional dance stage, especially the hna par thwar [a Myanmar traditional dance] and the Shan sword dance.”
“It’s great to find out more about Myanmar culture.”