Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Best meal in Myanmar: Unexpected!

Above: a more likely best meal, but not the one described below!

Our best meal in Myanmar may surprise you, as it did us. We went to a traditional burmese puppet show that ran late, until about 10:30. When the government rarely provides electricity, as in Mandalay, things close up early. So we asked our tri-shaw (like a motorycle with a sidecar, except the motorcycle is a bicycle and the sidecar seats two people back-to-back) driver where we could still eat, pantomiming slurping some soup. He understands, but looks puzzled as to what would still be open. We venture a guess, "Chapati?" (a style of bread from India), and since there are no lights on in the city, we can see the light bulb appear over his head so much more clearly! He says "Yes, Chapati, I know, still open!!" and pedals with a newfound resolve through the 20 foot long puddles left by the monsoon rain earlier that evening.

After turning through countless dark streets, it appears that half a block worth of sidewalk is lit up by flourescent tubes hanging haphazardly, no doubt run by a little generator engine. this sidewalk is covered in a lean-to of blue tarps and bamboo, to protect it from the still-drizzling rain. as we get closer, we can see open fires and numerous dark-skinned men in skirts huddling at tiny tables.~> read more

  Technically, they are wearing longyi, but it takes some adjustment seeing just about every man in a country in an ankle-length skirt. The trishaw driver points and drops us off, and we pay and thank him for his services. A dark skinned 12 year old boy, still in a skirt and white t-shirt, points us to a "table," which is just a few inches higher than the 8" tall plastic upside-down buckets that we pull up; they are what passes for chairs. When sitting/squatting on these little buckets, our knees easily exceed the height of the table.

We take a look around. There are several other pre-teen boys running in their flip-flops on a layer of thick but wet black street mud, so we try not to get splattered on, and marvel at how they don't slip and fall. Off my left elbow a few feet is a massive sooty and skin-searingly red hot charcoal brazier-boiler that is somehow involved in food production. Sitting back in the corner of the sidewalk is a slightly taller table surrounded by the only women in the area, aside from Tiffany. They have inky waist-length black hair, 6 of them around the table thwacking and pounding chapati dough flat, in constant motion.

We somehow communicate that we each want tea, chapati and some non-meaty curry to go with it. However, 2 sets of tea arrive, the weak chinese style tea that always arrives no matter what you order, and a teeth-curlingly sweet indian style tea for each of us, made by an apparent automaton of a man slinging a ladle of milky spiced tea into another 3 feet away in his other hand, at lightning speed. The chapatis were the pièce de résistance of this street stand, however. A thick flaky flatbread, pure unleavened doughy hot goodness practically tossed from the fire to your table. It made us miss India (which is saying something), and was every bit as good as the offerings from that country.

And indeed, the richness of experience was quite the opposite of the price. After 4 plates of savory potato curry, 2 sweet teas, several glasses of chinese tea, and the 2 huge and wonderful chapatis, our total came to......500 kyat, which is about 40 cents!!

It just proves that in Myanmar, the best experiences don't cost a lot.


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