Sunday Street Stories: Nay Pyi Taw’s golden pagoda

All Myanmar cities and towns have at least one pagoda worth a visit. Now Nay Pyi Taw may be the ghost capital of Myanmar, but the military has made sure there’s a fantastic pagoda there.

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The Uppatasanti Pagoda is built on the lines of Yangon’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda, but with an open hall within for prayer. There are Buddha idols in the centre and marble carvings around the inner circumference depicting scenes from Buddha’s life. And then there are the magnificent carvings and texts on the inner dome.

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With this stunning place of worship and 16-lane highways, clearly no stone was left unturned to make the Myanmar capital as grand as possible.

Date: October 31, 2015
Location: Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar
Device: Nexus 5

Sunday Street Stories: Thadingyut in Yangon

This week was Thadingyut, the Myanmar festival of light. That evening, as fireworks and lanterns lit up the streets and kids played with sparklers, noisy crackers resounded across Yangon. And then the city plunged into darkness. Thanks to a power cut that went on for a good three hours.

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Street vendors marked the festival with small candles around their wares, even as several took the day off to spend at home or seeking divine blessing at pagodas.

The season of festivities across Asia has begun, as Thailand celebrates Loy Krathong and India celebrates Diwali aka Deepawali, both different versions of the festival of lights.

Picture taken on: October 28, 2015
Location: Hledan Market, Yangon (Myanmar)
Device: Google Nexus 5

Sunday Street Stories: Old Rangoon

On Strand Road, just as downtown “begins”, you see a series of dismal-looking buildings. Waiting for a paint job. Or a facelift. Or restructuring.

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These old buildings are an integral part of Yangon’s identity, and they remind of the rather risky old buildings in Mumbai. Whether these buildings are rock-solid or slightly shakey is anyone’s guess, but if there is one thing I believe, it’s this- preservation of heritage buildings is crucial to maintain the city’s unique personality. Just as important as safety of its occupants.

Picture taken on: October 17, 2015
Location: Strand Road, Yangon, Myanmar
Device: Google Nexus 5

Sunday Street Stories: At the local post office

Visiting a post office in Myanmar is like taking a step back in time. The bare furnishings, the wooden benches and the old signage are all remnants of the previous century.

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In a wonderful surprise, the helpful lady at the stamps counter spoke English and explained the difference between the red and yellow boxes (Red for regular mail, yellow for one-day delivery). The postman helped me lift the flap of the box to post the letters. A well-spent 15 minutes on a warm afternoon, I say. Didn’t miss the air conditioning.

Photo taken on: October 6, 2015
Location: Post office at Shwegondaing, Yangon.
Device: Google Nexus 5

Crazy Craving: Chocolate Modak

This is the first time ever that I’m not in Mumbai during the Ganpati festival. And while the noise, pollution and traffic jams are quite a pain, I enjoy checking out the Ganpati idols in my neighbourhood.

It’s also the only time in the year I get a chance to indulge in modak, and I always eat a couple of them (or more) without guilt. 😀 Unfortunately the few Indian mithai shops in Yangon have laddoo and gulab jamun, but no modak. So I’ve been trying not to think of modak the past few days, till this picture popped into my inbox today.

Hazelnut Fudge Modaks by COO

This image of handcrafted hazelnut fudge modaks from Mumbai bakery Country of Origin has intensified my modak craving by a gazillion times. Chocolate and modak?! Sigh…

Hazelnut Fudge Modaks by COO

Those lucky enough to be in Mumbai right now, don’t miss this chance to try this awesome combo of chocolate (everyone’s favourite) and modak (almost everyone’s favourite).

Country of Origin is located at Nepean Sea Road (23642221), Bandra West (65635222) and Juhu (26244422).

Sunday Street Stories: The Lady on the streets

Yesterday a street seller appeared on Yangon’s Pyay Road while I was headed downtown, selling calendars featuring large pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi (aka The Lady). I was surprised since this is one of the most open displays of her support I’ve seen in Myanmar since I landed here in June.

Aung San Su Kyi calendar

Till a few years ago, even speaking about The Lady privately could get you thrown in jail. The few who dared mention her did so in whispers and never in public (you never who was eavesdropping or was a spy). Since the country is slowly moving toward a full democracy with nation-wide elections scheduled for early November, Myanmar folk are now free to support Aung San Suu Kyi and her party NLD (National League for Democracy).

Here’s to peaceful and fair elections in Myanmar!

Picture taken on: September 19, 2015
Location: Pyay Road, Yangon, Myanmar
Device: Nexus 5

Sunday Street Stories is a series of images recording street signs from my travels. They could be significant in some way, funny, or have an interesting story behind them.

Sunday Street Stories: The touristy Bagan sunset

I was in historical, beautiful Bagan last weekend. One of the typical touristy things to do in Bagan is to watch a sunset from the top of a pagoda. Once you climb up three storeys of steep stone steps, you can hope to settle in to watch a wonderful sight in quiet solitude. Or not.

Bagan pagodas sunset with tourist

While the sun setting over the pagodas is a stunning view, the popular pagodas are crowded with tourists. And all of them are on a quest to make the perfect Bagan sunset photograph. We were one of them till we decided to put our cams away and enjoy the moment (after I took this picture).

And yes, I recommend Bagan to everyone!

Picture taken on: September 6, 2015
Location: Old Bagan, Myanmar
Device: Nexus

Sunday Street Stories is a series of images recording street signs from my travels. They could be significant in some way, funny, or have an interesting story behind them.

Sunday Street Stories: Inya Lake Park

Walking by Inya Lake is among the most wonderful experiences in Yangon. There’s usually a gentle breeze blowing from the lake, you’re surrounded by a large expanse of water and lush green trees, and the traffic noise is a bare minimum.

Needless to say, like everything in Myanmar, some rules need to be followed. So there’s a list of rules for the park as well, written in Myanmar and English to make sure locals and tourists “get” them.  Written with the most serious of intentions, some of these rules state the obvious but I guess they need to be mentioned anyways, especially since couples and aspiring musicians with their friends flock the park every evening.

Yangon Inya Lake park rules

Almost all these rules are flouted, including the “no sex” one (ahem!). Amateur fishers, bicyclists, (extremely) amorous couples, guitarists,  singers, snack vendors– they’re all there! But I haven’t seen any swimmers in the lake yet.

Picture taken on: August 24, 2015

Location: Inya Lake (west side), Yangon, Myanmar

Device: Nexus 5

Sunday Street Signs is a series of images recording street signs from my travels. They could be significant in some way, funny, or have an interesting story behind them.

Sunday Street Stories: Bogalayzay Street in downtown Yangon

Downtown Yangon was built by the Brits, designed like a grid with numbered streets going north to south, crossed by “named” roads going west to east (similar to the Manhattan grid). Sometimes, the numbered series is interspersed by a “name” street. Bogalayzay Street (pronounced bo-guh-lay-zay) is one such street in downtown Yangon that runs north to south.

Yangon street sign Bogalayzay street

Bogalayzay street is between 42nd and 43rd street, and is filled with places to shop, hip restaurants, and travel agencies and offices of well-known companies. So you can go to Hola dance Club to learn salsa, get your nails done at 88 Foot & Nail Spa, sample Mexican street food at TinTin, and shop at Gamone Pwint Shopping Center (lots of beauty products and electronics!). If you’ve got the travel bug, head to Khiri Travel to book your trip to Bagan, Mandalay or elsewhere.

Picture taken on: August 8, 2015

Location: Yangon, Myanmar

Device: Nexus 5

Sunday Street Signs is a series of images recording street signs from my travels. They could be significant in some way, funny, or have an interesting story behind them.

Foodie Friday: The truth about Burmese Khowsuey

It’s been a month since I moved to Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon), former capital of Myanmar (erstwhile Burma). Eager on quickly getting a hang of the local culture, I’ve insisted on learning the language, picking up a few local habits, and of course, eating at a local restaurant to sample Burmese food. But the cultural adventures are for another day. This is about my first taste of authentic and famous Burmese khowsuey.

I love khowsuey and if it’s being served at a party in India, I make sure I have a bowl. I love the noodles mixed with yellow coconut-based gravy, the cute toppings, and the taste of course. It’s a meal in itself and absolutely delicious. So when I sought khowsuey at a Burmese restaurant, I was in for a big surprise. This is what it looked like:

Burmese khowsuey dish

To start with, let’s get the word right

The correct pronunciation for khowsuey or khowshwe or khawoswe is khauk-swey (with the KH sound not too hard and the second ‘k’ almost silent). It should sound something like khow-sway when you say it quickly. (I’m going to spell it the popular Indian way to avoid confusion).

STOP PRESS: Khowsuey is not a Burmese dish. It’s an ingredient.

Noodles!

Burmese khowsuey noodles

Khowsuey means “noodles” in Burmese / Myanmar language, and this ingredient is versatile and used in a variety of dishes. It is cooked in a number of ways with different ingredients, depending on the region you’re in.

So, asking for khowsuey in a local restaurant is as specific as asking for say, paneer or rice in an Indian restaurant. Do you want paneer makhanwala, paneer tikka or paneer bhurji? Or would you like mutter pulao, mutton biryani or steamed rice? Like paneer and rice, khowsuey is the star of a variety of dishes, but all cooked differently. I’ve eaten khowsuey at a couple of restaurants in Yangon, and they’ve always looked and tasted different each time I ordered.

Burmese noodles can be shan-style, or coconut noodles, or served as mohinga (thin rice noodles in fish soup) etc. As for the yellow coconut gravy we have in India? Not spotted it in Yangon yet.

A mini-history lesson and a theory about Burmese khowsuey

I’ve been reading up on the history of Myanmar (history was never so interesting in school!), starting with the wonderful book The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U and the history I’ve read so far has given me a theory of khowsuey captured the Indian palate. When the British came to Myanmar in the 19th century, they opened the floodgates to trade establishing the major port at Rangoon. Thousands of Indians came to Burma to earn a living, while keeping in touch with their families back home. So the Burmese khowsuey may have made its way to India from our migrant ancestors, anywhere from the late 19th century to the early 1960s.

Burmese khowsuey is one of those early “fusion” dishes that we Indians loved and re-invented, strongly influenced by Burmese and Indian culinary traditions. So yep, we Indians made our own version of it, like we did with Chinese food! 😀 And this is the khowsuey in India!

Indian style Burmese khowsuey

Khowsuey toppings are aplenty, and they’re for real.

The Myanmar people garnish their dishes with all sorts of toppings. They love adding roasted peanuts, green chillies, dehydrated onion, chopped garlic and dried shrimp to dishes (thankfully I don’t have a nut allergy). And these are some of the toppings you see at khowsuey counters across parties and weddings. The lemons and fried noodles might be an Indian introduction, and we’re using fried onions instead.

Here’s a Burmese noodle soup with pork.

Burmese Myanmar khowsuey

Enjoy your khowsuey!

Okay, so what if the “Indian” khowsuey” isn’t 100% authentic? It’s still yum, so I’m going to eat it when I get the chance. But if you’re visiting Myanmar anytime soon, you won’t get the Burmese khowsuey you’re used to. And that’s because it’s not authentic Burmese cuisine. Or Myanmar cuisine, as they now like to call it. Instead, try the local khowsuey dishes. You’ll love them- I did!