Myanmar cuisine – A Tasty Journey (Part Three)

December 09, 2015

Like in every Asian country, in Myanmar rice is at the top of every menu. Very popular are two different kinds - one sweet, the other a little heartier.

Khetan Kyitauk - sticky rice in roasted bamboo: the name may vary in different parts of the country but it always is sticky rice which is served in roasted bamboo. Khetan Kyitauk is a very old Burmese speciality. Even in primeval times the rice was roasted like this - before mankind used pottery, copper or steal pots. If you only roast the rice without coconut milk or sugar, it can be eaten for up to three to four days.

The sticky rice is particularly favoured in the rural regions. In these areas people roast mounds of rice in order to sell it in close by villages, or to travellers on the train or at the side of the road. During our train journey, once the train came to a stop, Khetan Kyitauk was passed through the windows and passed down through the train compartments in order to be sold. For a short time, a very energetic merchant accompanied us on our journey. Noisy and with a charming laugh he offeres us a bite of his sticky rice. Courageously he slammed down the bamboo roll onto a seat and pealed the rice stick like a banana. He let us taste a little; the young gentlemen was a marketing genius, because a lot of the people do bought one or more rolls from him.

Khetan Kyitauk

Maybe, at a certain point, you will be in the mood for something sweet. In warmer countries you usually look vainly for chocolate; to be honest it is not usually tasty in Myanmar anyway. Fruit is so much healthier. But in some situations even fruit doesn't help. It should be sticky and you just want to smack it loudly. In Myanmar streets you will find Kauknyintik, which is a delicious treat wrapped in banana leaves. Don't be scared when biting into it: due to the cooking, the colour of the banana changes to red. The ingredients and preparation are no witchcraft. Therefore: try this at home!

Kauknyintik ingredients:
1.5 cups of sticky rice (uncooked)
1 can of coconut cream
1 can of coconut milk
1 cup of coconut flakes
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
15 banana leaves (alternatively you can use tinfoil, this however will temper with the taste)
4-8 ripe bananas
2 tsp sesame seeds

- Wash the sticky rice and place it in water overnight. The next day take half of the coconut flakes and set aside.
- Dissolve the sugar and half of the salt in the coconut milk. Drain the rice well, add the coconut milk mixture and set aside.
- Cut the banana leaves into quarters. If they are really thin, you can double them. If they are too rigid, simply heat them a little and they will soften.
- Peal the bananas and cut them into slices.

Now on to to wrapping the packages. Firstly place 2 tsp of rice onto the banana leaf. Add 1 tsp of coconut cream and 2-3 slices of banana. Cover this with 2 tsp of rice. Now tightly wrap the mixture into the banana leaf so that itís resembling a rectangle. If the packages are loose simply tie these with cotton, or use the fibres from the leaves which came off. Steam the rice packages in a bamboo steamer for about 45 minutes. During this lightly roast the rest of the salt and the sesame seeds.

For serving, open the packages (careful, hot!) and sprinkle with the roasted sesame seeds and coconut flakes.

How sweet - the drinks

When drinking in Myanmar, it may happen that you pull a face due to the sheer sweetness. Cold drinks are mostly the typical world known soft drinks, but local drinks are also offered. There are mounds of fresh juice and shakes (Avocado shake - yummy!)

If there is a nation drink, it would be green tea. In restaurants, Chinese-style green tea is mostly offered free of charge. Often, the tea is already placed on the table in a thermos and little tea bowls are being used to drink it. Green tea is enjoyed pure; often the tea is served with fresh tea leaves floating in the warm water (like our well known fresh mint tea).

In other coffee and tea varieties there is no trace of purity. Sweet Tea and Coffee is mostly given as an instant substance. Sugar and Milk are already mixed in so the drink is just bursting with sweetness. Rarely you will come across a freshly brewed black coffee, however if you do, it is likely served with sweet condensed milk. I do however have to admit, that black tea with sweet condensed milk is really delicious, especially as a little stomach-filler in between meals.

Sweet tea

Here is a little help with phrases to get through the Burmese tea jungle:
Pon maen - not sweet, not bitter
Cho pot - rather bitter
Pot kya - very bitter
Faen cho - sweet and bitter
Kyauk pa daung - strongly sweetened
Sometimes the tea will be refined by adding a pinch of salt.

As for alchohol, in Myanmar you can of course also enjoy a little sundowner, though foreign spirits are often only available in bottles. The locally produced beverages are whiskey and rum. The favoured beers are Myanmar and Mandalay beer. Wine is also grown is some regions of Myanmar.

As you can see, you do not have to worry about being hungry or thirsty when travelling to Myanmar. Rumor has it, that in regards to the food not being as good as its neighbourís Thailand, yet the country does offer a large variety on specialities.

Evelyn Narciso

To find out more general information, go to our food and eating out page. 

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