Munching in Myanmar (Burma)

As a Nutritionist Aid Worker I spent a lot of time living and working overseas in some fairly interesting environments. Lets just say that eating local foods can always be a bit of an adventure! My backpack predominantly consists of emergency foods (dried fruit, almonds, dehydrated vegetables) to cope with just these situtations. Last year in Laos I had the ‘pleasure’ of spending my days hunting/gathering forest foods with the minority ethnic groups and then preparing such delicacies as snail and cricket soup with wild leafy greens and bamboo, fried frogs legs and barbequed skewered forest rat. Healthy and locally available? Yes. Tasty? No, I won’t be trying this recipe at home or adding it to the blog site here. As a vegetarian I’m not quite used to my food having eyes!

Fresh and local frogs from the forest

Grilled Forest Rat Skewers
Local crickets – which live/burrow underground and are promoted as a high calcium food for remote areas
The finished product – all vegetables, the snails and crickets were sourced in the forest one hour walk from the village
Lunch at the local Myanmar restaurant – fresh salads with seasonal produce

So when I accepted a two month posting to Myanmar (Burma) in July, I wondered with some trepidation how the Eat Local Challenge would look (and taste), Myanmar style. Fortunately not too bad! While fried noodles and rice make up the staples meals in most Western restaurants, there are whole streets dedicated to barbeque grills in the downtown area. Walk up to the bar, point at the plates of seasonal vegies and fish and have it freshly grilled in front of you. Local Myanmar lunches consist of rice with a variety of salads – pennywort, tomato, sweet corn and butter beans with garlic, coriander and chillis. A colleague tried to order avocado at dinner and was told sternly by the waiter, “this is not in season yet, please you choose something else”. Tasmanian businesses take note!

This is not to say imported foods don’t exist in Myanmar. They do.The supermarket near my house had one whole aisle dedicated to “Australian” foods. Most of which weren’t made in Australia, but according to ‘CityMart’ supermarket are associated with Australians! San Remo pasta, Kellogs Cornflakes, Dolmio Sauce, Sara Lee CheeseCake, Pauls Milk were all readily available. It appeared I could get most of the brands available in the supermarket at home – for roughly the same price as if I was shopping in Australia!

When I got the refridgerated section, it seemed that perhaps I would be able to do the Tassievore Local Food Challenge from Myanmar.  Tassie dairy products Mersey Cheese and Tamar Valley Yoghurts filled up one large section of the fridge. And for the same price as in Australia! Not bad for a country who has just only recently become more accessible to international visitors and development.Though I wonder what the supermarket shelves and the local cuisine will look like in a couple of years…

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