The New York Times recently ran a great article by Jane Perlez documenting her visit to Myanmar (formerly Burma) in search of the exotic foods described by George Orwell in his classic novel Burmese Days
This is a very clever take on the usual travel food article, and one I must admit I was quite taken aback by when I saw it reprinted in the Bangkok Post today. After looking on Google I found Jane Perlez’s article first appeared in the New York Times on March 11th. It’s pretty lengthy – over 1000 words I think – and the opening paragraphs give a great intro to her trip:
“GEORGE ORWELL, who memorably sketched the stark existence of living on bread and thin soup in Paris in the 1930s, hardly seems like an obvious guide to exotic food in the tropics. Yet, in his classic novel ”Burmese Days,” Orwell creates a vibrant scene of his hero and heroine wandering through market stalls filled with ripe pomelos the size of green moons, red bananas, dried fish, crimson chilies, ducks cured like hams, larvae of the rhinoceros beetle, heart-shaped betel leaves, and ”baskets of heliotrope-colored prawns the size of lobsters.”
The list, in full, is so extravagant and inviting that, for me, it served as a kind of mental eating map during a recent road trip through Burma, now called Myanmar by the authoritarian government. Much has changed in Myanmar since Orwell served there as a policeman in the 1920s, but because of the government-enforced isolation from the rest of the world (the country has little processed food and imported food is rare in the countryside) Burmese still live off the land and its abundance of vegetables, fruits, fish and spices.
Even before I crossed the border from China into Myanmar, I had a taste of the delicacies to come. At Ruili, the bustling trading center in Yunnan Province that serves as the entry point for cheap Chinese goods into Myanmar, a Burmese trader invited my guide and me to a lunch of multiple dishes — steamed whole black chicken that fell from the bone, tiny grilled fish that you eat from head to tail, bean leaves with garlic, and most unusual, opium poppy seeds with tofu. Chopped coriander sprinkled on top added a little spunk — and color — to the mild tasting seeds that had been churned with the tofu into the consistency of a soupy porridge.
Immigration officials don’t allow foreign travelers to dawdle at Mu Se, the first Burmese town over the border. So we drove down the old Burma Road — the artery that the Americans used in World War II to hold back the Japanese — to the village of Kutkai, then to Lashio and on to Hsipaw, a town with a good market and friendly guesthouse, a favorite stopping spot for tourists.”
Read the full article – MYANMAR; A Culinary Odyssey, on a Path Blazed by Orwell – at the New York Times site.
You might also want to take a look at my recent Burma Book Recommendations and also this excellent review of Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour, in which the celebrity chef travels the world eating the most extreme food he can find – and lives to tell the tale!