I’ve always wondered why Burmese is an outlier among many languages in the world when it comes to tea. Not simply the concept and tradition of eating tea leaves, but the Burmese word for “tea” itself. Turns out there’s an explanation.
This is the second installment on Alcohol and the Theravada Buddhist World.
Theravada Buddhism is often dubbed the most orthodox of the Buddhist sects, especially as it is the oldest surviving branch of Buddhism. The word Theravada, of Pali origin, literally means “doctrine of the elders.” As with other Buddhist practitioners, Theravadins tend to be relatively fluid in terms of devotion and practice. For instance, it’s not uncommon to see a Theravadin devotee make offerings to a Mahayana Bodhisattva like Guanyin.
The best Burmese salad noodles (hkauk hswe thoke) in America come from one very talented woman. Daw May-yu, who is originally from Mergui (Myeik) Tavoy (Dawei) in Tenassarim Division (Tanintharyi), sells them from her home for $2.75 a box, fish soup included. Although she makes money through an illegal food establishment (for health safety reasons), she cooks some of the best Burmese food in America. Continue reading
The one thing I regret about going to Burma is this: Burmese food in America no longer compares. The one-no-hkauk-swe (coconut milk noodles) aren’t as fragrant as the ones on the Rangoon streets. The hkauk-swe-thoke (noodle salad) doesn’t compare nor does the phaluda (falooda).
Today was the annual Neibban Zay (Nirvana Market) at the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, with profits from the different stalls going to the Brahma Vihara Monastery, which has been the source of controversy among Burmese Buddhists in Southern California. My aunt, who had planned to sell hkauk hswe thoke (salad noodles) decide not to, after hearing rumors about the resident monks using money for luxuries like business-class airline tickets and extravagant spending on cars and such.
When the Burmese government mandated that all Burmese citizens in rural areas cultivate the physic nut (Jatropha curcas), I thought the idea was absurd. Physic nut, commonly known as jatropha, is a poisonous plant that comes from Central America. The shrub produces seeds that can be converted into biodiesel (the nut oil is mixed with methanol to create fuel), which is believed to be cleaner than petroleum and does not emit carbon dioxide. According to the June 2007 issue of Scientific American, Brazilian jatropha seeds contain 40% oil, a remarkably high amount. Also, physic nut plants are easy to cultivate, mature in as little as two years and can grow with little water and poor soil.
I forgot to mention that yesterday was my birthday. I am finally able to legally smoke cigarettes, not that I intend to.
My family celebrated by going to the Golden Triangle Restaurant, a moderately-priced Burmese and Thai restaurant in Uptown Whittier. (I have no idea why the restaurant is named after the major opium-producing area). Even though the restaurant was established over 20 years ago, it was surprisingly empty. The Thai waitress pronounced the names of the Burmese dishes with such fluency that my parents began speaking to her in Burmese, but she did not understand. The food was average, by my tastes. Although Burmese cuisine places an emphasis on taste and not appearance, every dish that came out of the kitchen was garnished with cilantro (coriander).