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Process this
PHYO ARBIDANS
phyocooking@gmail.com

The Myanmar Times resident chef has noticed an increasing amount of processed foods hitting the supermarket shelves and has come up with a few strategies to avoid excess consumption
watching cooking shows on television and reading food magazines. With gadgets and other tools of the modern kitchen more easily accessible, experiments are more easily made. Add social media and the internet to the mix and the possibilities for cuisine are positively dynamic. Among all the exciting new foods, however, I have also noticed a large volume of processed and preserved foods on the supermarket shelves. Awareness in Myanmar

The harmful side effects of MSG are little known in Myanmar. Photo: Aye Zaw Myo unhealthy ingredients. The following are some tips for happier and healthier eating. Preserved foods and readymixed sauces Packaged foods contain high levels of salt to allow a longer shelf life. To dilute the resulting salty taste, extra sugar is added. While salt and sugar can create tasty flavours, excess consumption is unhealthy. One simple way to cut the amount of salt and sugar in your diet is to cook sauces at home instead foods. Often, however, I had to substitute ingredients, using the best of whatever was available. By the time I returned to Myanmar last year, I was craving authentic cuisine. Id even made a long list of things I wanted to eat. In Yangon, my husband and I visited many restaurants, eateries and street stalls, however we noticed that the food tasted overly sweet. Worse, we often didnt feel well afterwards. It was then that we started to learn about the high monosodium glutamate (MSG) experience, however, a whole teaspoon of MSG in a single serving of salad is over the top. If you insist on adding MSG, stick to just a pinch in a recipe of five or six servings. Some of the side effects caused by MSG include headaches, nausea, dizziness, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, a skin rash and ringing ears. If anyone in your family is suffering such side effects, you should stop using MSG altogether some are more sensitive to it than others. Chicken powder While trying to avoid MSG, some people use chicken powder as an alternative but thats not always safe either. Chicken powder is a beautiful product for chefs and cooks looking to create extra flavour, but its important to choose a brand with neither MSG nor sugar in it. If you do choose one with sugar, theres absolutely no need to add more sugar separately to your curries or salad. Tradition and modernity Traditional Myanmar foods have long histories, with recipes being passed down from one generation to the next. For centuries we didnt use MSG in our foods. We were happy with the real, natural tastes of our vegetables and meats. Once MSG was introduced in Myanmar, however, we tried to modify our traditional recipes: Then we all became addicted. This is a public health problem that must be addressed.

HESE days the variety of food available in Myanmar is greater than ever. American fruits, Australian vegetables, European meat and dairy products, Italian pastas and sauces you can find them all on the shelves of Myanmars supermarkets, with new foods and ingredients arriving every week. Meanwhile restaurants and eateries are popping up everywhere, offering cuisine from all around the world. Even coffee culture is being cultivated, with modern cafs finding homes next door to our traditional teashops. These food trends are exciting and overwhelming. Perhaps not surprisingly then, more and more Myanmar families are choosing to cook international and Asian fusion dishes at home. Theyre

Once consumers in Myanmar grew used to having MSG, they found they couldnt live without it and ended up adding more and more to everything.
of the impact of sugar, salt, preservatives and food enhancers is still limited and education about their dangers while growing is not nearly widespread enough. For healthy lifestyles and nutritious diets, we need to choose food wisely. Consumers should read the product labels and check the percentages of of buying ready-mades. Basic tomato sauces can be prepared in half an hour and are very easy to make. If you make extra and freeze it for later, youll end up saving money too. MSG overdose When I lived in Australia, I continued cooking lots of Myanmar, Shan and Rakhine content in some of the foods we were eating. My body used to tolerate the flavour-enhancing food additive. My mother would often add a pinch or two of MSG to curries or soups. After we found out that MSG is bad for you, my mum stopped using it. However because I love eating out, I ended up eating it from time to time. These days, however, my body cant tolerate MSG so I always ask for it not to be added to my food. In Myanmar cuisine, MSG is used in almost every dish. Part of the reason for this overuse is that MSG is addictive. Once consumers in Myanmar grew used to having MSG, they found they couldnt live without it and ended up adding more and more to everything. In my

FOOD AND BEVERAGE-2013


Editors: Myo Lwin, Jessica Mudditt Photographers: Kaung Htet, Boothee, Thiri Lu, Ko Taik, Douglas Long, Aye Zaw Myo, Yadanar, Boothee, Jessica Mudditt, Aung Htay Hlaing Writers: Phyo Arbidans, Nathalie Johnston, Zon Pann Pwint, Jessica Mudditt, Aung Shin, Aung Ye Thwin, Wade Guyitt, Douglas Long, Aung Kyaw Nyunt, Myat Nyein Aye, Kyaw Zin Hlaing Cover illustration: Thein Tun Oo

A Myanmar Times Special Report


Cover & Layout Design: Tin Zaw Htway, Ko Pxyo, Khin Zaw For enquiries and feedback: myolwin@myanmartimes.com.mm jess.mudditt@gmail.com

To drink or not to drink


The co-founder of Great Leap Brewing roadtests local beers to determine how they stand up to the pricier imported varieties
Today Myanmar has a few major labels, namely Myanmar Beer and ABC Stout, Dagon, Mandalay and Andaman, all fully or partially state-owned. How do they measure up to international brands like Heineken and Corona, or more regional brands like Beerlao and Singha? I convinced a few friends to help me put Myanmar beers to the test alongside other regional and international favorites for comparison. Ratings (out of 10) are based upon the aforementioned initial taste, aftertaste, brands mostly unavailable in the country, let alone the region, not to mention the fact that international lagers (in our humble opinion) stand little chance against Belgian tripels, English IPAs, German pilsners and imperial stouts. Therefore we stuck to national, bigbrewery brands to see how they measured up to the taste buds of a few seasoned drinkers. Every country has its points of pride and its low-rung, bottom-shelf beers, and Myanmar is no exception. Some beers are the real deal while others will never make the mark of an internationalstandard. Our international picks are now available worldwide and in some cases (Heineken) have been in the business long before Asian breweries came on the scene. Yet local Myanmar breweries distinguish themselves with particularly strong, bitter aftertastes, high alcohol content and reasonable prices. The great diversity of rum, whisky and gin labels are also not to be ignored Myanmar distilleries have been carrying on a drinking tradition for over a century but our advice is to skip the liquor and buy a Myanmar brand beer. Prices are low, chances of having a good time are high, and when in Myanmar, drink as the locals drink.

NATHALIE JOHNSTON
nathalie.johnston@gmail.com

HAT qualifies me to talk beer? Three years ago I helped start Great Leap Brewing in Beijing the citys first major microbrewery. For two years, I talked nothing but microbrew and travelled to every bar in the city with an international tap to sell the beauty and benefit of tasty, strong ale with Chinese characteristics. To date, Great Leaps most popular beers are the Honey Ma Gold (infused with Sichuan pepper and Shandong honey) and the Iron Buddha Blonde, a strong, blonde ale flavoured with one of Chinas most famous green teas. Great Leaps lasting appeal lies in its fresh ingredients and lack of preservatives, allowing for a mostly hangover-free experience unless you drink more than six, in which case, youve had too many. While travelling, I always look for the best local brew. Im not talking about a standard lager such as Tiger, which in my opinion is a glorified carbonated water, but a beer with strong characteristics: the first taste and aftertaste, consistency, flavours and, of course, alcohol content. When I had my first sip of beer in Myanmar, I wasnt disappointed. The history of alcohol consumption in Myanmar probably dates back as far as the history of Myanmar itself, with delicious palm wine (or Burmese beer as my local friend affectionately calls it) and its distilled cousin, arak. Modern-day beer, however, has a much shorter history, attributed to British and Indian influences. When the Raj arrived in India, they brought their brewing techniques and ales from the UK. By over-hopping their ales, they preserved the beer for the long journey overseas, and so the deliciously bitter IPA or India Pale Ale was born. Later, when the British annexed Burma, they introduced breweries to serve their unquenchable thirst for ale.

Photo: Yadanar
Description Heavy (for a lager), slight malt, plenty of fizz Hints of Grand Royal whisky and prune juice aftertaste Closest thing to a real ale, yeast, malt and smooth finish Coffee bitters, almost a black IPA, great with food Sweet, strong and average Lighter alternative to ABC, with subtle flavours Rating 7 2 8 8 5 6 Whos Drinking? Everyone and anyone Rockers, drunken teenagers and one-stop shoppers Beer snobs, ale drinkers, anyone on a budget Dark beer lovers, Guinness enthusiasts, boys and girls looking to prove their worth Party hosts and day drinkers Lager-haters, partygoers, KTV singers

Myanmar Brands Myanmar Lager Beer Myanmar Double Strong Mandalay Strong Ale ABC Extra Stout Andaman Gold Dagon Extra Strong

ABV 5pc 7.7pc 7pc 8pc 6.5pc 8pc

Some local beers are the real deal.


consistency, flavour and ABV (alcohol by volume) percentage. There was some discussion about whether or not to include famous microbrew/ale brands like Brewdog, Fuller or Delirium Tremens (just to name a few). In the end, it seemed cruel to introduce the complexities and artisanal flavours of

International Brands Singha (Thailand) Beerlao (Laos) Corona (Mexico)

ABV 5pc 5pc 4.6pc

Description Sweet, light, drinkable even when warm Rice and malt makes for an honest brew Sweet, spiced with a hint of bitters Earthy, blunt, old-school Sharp and serious

Rating 8 8 6 7 7

Whos Drinking? Beachcombers, morning-after drinkers Asian-beer lovers, socialists and backpackers Lightweights, beach bums, tequila addicts Traditionalists, cold beer hardliners, oldies Suits and sushi lovers

Heineken (Netherlands) 5pc Sapporo (Japan) 5pc

Food for Buddhist thought


ZON PANN PWINT
zonpann08@gmail.com

Wham bam brands


A nationwide survey reveals the best-known food and beverage brands in Myanmar
WHEN it comes to being one of the best-known brands in Myanmar, chances are that its a beverage. Data provided by Myanmar Marketing Research Development (MMRD) revealed that out of the top 20 brands listed in its nationwide Consumex Survey 2012, nine were beverages, or beverage-related, such as Pep Milk Powder. Ovaltine took the top spot after leaping 10 points up the ladder since 2010, while Pep milk powder now in second place wasnt in the minds of consumers very much at all when the survey was conducted two-and-a-half years ago. Calsome Instant Cereal and Yum Yum and Ma Ma instant noodles were the top performing food brands of 2012, although Yum Yum did slip from its fourth spot place in 2010, while Ma Ma made its debut on the list. Meanwhile, Fuji soft drinks and Asia juice slipped out of the top 20 altogether. The question on everyones lips is whether the dominance of local brands will be trumped by the likes of international juggernauts Coca-Cola and Pespi in next years survey.

UDDHISTS have a long tradition of offering food and flowers to the Buddha at pagodas and monasteries. As one monk explains, the practice also takes place at home, with people buying the most beautiful flowers at the market and setting aside the first portions of rice and vegetables they cook and the first fruit grown on their trees to be offered at their own shrines. Its all a way to show respect and share in the merit that results. The practice comes from a deep reverence for the Buddha, said U Nay Main Da from Nanda Gone Yi Monastery in Yangon. After offering the food in the early morning, Buddhists feel they have done a good deed for the day. U Nay Main Da said the

person who offers food before they eat is deserving of more merit than the person who offers the food which is left over after eating. However a person who has performed religious chores is entitled to eat the food that is removed from the altar after midday, he said. If the person who does

A person who performs religious chores is entitled to eat the altar food.
U Nay Main Da

religious chores doesnt want to eat the food, the food can be shared with a younger person. If the younger person doesnt want to eat it, the food can be fed to dogs or cats, he added. Buddhists believe the person who eats the food which is offered to the Buddha is free from danger and

will possess good health, he said. The majority of Buddhist houses have an altar where the statue of Buddha is placed. The poor may hang a photo of Buddhas image on the wall if they cant buy an altar. They pick the croton branches which grow naturally on the street and offer them. No matter how valuable their offering is, they will gain the same merit if they offer it in reverence and thought. As a result of the offering, Buddhists believe they will be treated with abundant and delicious foods in their life. Even they are very poor, they wont face starvation. U Nay Main Da said such offerings stem from the belief that if people do good deeds in life, good things will be returned to them. He also added that the same holds true for bad deeds. Buddhists trust that they have to accept any consequences of their actions in this life, and that the consequences can even affect the next life.

Top of mind brand awareness for 2012 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Ovaltine Pep milk powder Calsome Instant Cereal Alpine water One Tea Super coffee mix Yum Yum instant noodles Red Bull energy drink Royal Myanmar tea mix Oramin-G multivitamins Ma Ma instant noodles O2 water Max soft drinks

For more information, visit www.mmrdrs.com

Pepsi U Thein Tun in the spotlight


U Thein Tun, aka Pepsi Thein Tun, 77, is chairperson of a group of 13 companies employing 4500 staff. His organisation, the Tun Foundation, donates K1 billion (US$1 million) to charity every year
koshumgtha@gmail.com

AUNG SHIN

Q: Youve been in business since 1961. In 1991 you brought Pepsi to Myanmar but it was a turbulent ride. Could you tell us about that? A: We started producing soft drinks in 1991 as Pepsi-Cola Product Myanmar Ltd. After 1996 we faced economic sanctions due to the political situation and Pepsi pulled out in 1996-97. It was a very hard time for us Fortunately, I found a way to buy cola concentrate from America. Q: Was Star Cola your first brand after Pepsi left? A: Yes. We started Star Cola in 1997. First Star Cola, next Quench and Orange. At first it wasnt possible to buy these brands, which is why we established a company in Singapore to do so. Q: What is Myanmars food and beverage industry like in 2013? A: Our country is producing a number of quality drinks today. But we have to learn from the international brands step by step. The food and beverage industry needs brand building, distribution coverage and customer service. Now that internationally famous brands like Pepsi and Coca-Cola have returned to Myanmar, local brands have to be able to match them in quality. If we cant do that, local brands will lose their market share. Q: Do you see any other problems or challenges facing the industry? A: As Asian people are now becoming more health-conscious,

Q: What would you say about the distribution infrastructure of the food and beverage industry now? A: Myanmar businesspeople are learning more than ever before about distribution, but we still dont have enough logistical organisation. We need to develop that to have proper distribution connections. Q: How many brands of soft drinks you are producing right now? A: Star Cola, Quench, Crusher, Crusher Soda, Quench Soda altogether five categories. Q: Are you collaborating with international brands namely Pepsi? A: I have signed a 49 percent share ownership agreement with Carlsberg beer. We [Myanmar Golden Star and Pepsi] are still thinking about business relations. I am also in discussions with other foreign investors. cause it remains much less productive than it could be. Sometimes packaging costs more than production and thats not right. Affordability for consumers Q: You founded the Aung Nyunt Swe company in 1961, just before the country became a socialist one. You brought Pepsi here in 1991 and then it left soon after. Now its back, but as your competitor. How do you cope with the ups and downs of big business? A: In life, you should have more than one pillar. If you fail in one area, other pillars can support you. I turned to real estate when my soft drink business wasnt going well and I consider this type of business strategy a sound one. Q: What other types of business are you involved in, besides soft drinks, real estate and banking? A: Im also developing hotels and tourism projects. I have started building hotels in Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake. Q: Do you think these foreign food and beverages investors should run health campaigns? A: Yes I do believe thats important and needs to happen. Corporate Social Responsibility requires investors to take care of their communities. Its a global concern. Businesses worldwide are considering this issue when they start any business investment. They need that kind of campaign to succeed. Q: Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs? A: You should try to know the rich when you are poor and to know the poor when you are rich. Myanmar is one of the last frontiers in the worlds economy. It is very, very valuable but perspective is important.

Photo: Boothee theyre consuming sweet foods and drinks less often. I think it has been about four years now that the market has been in decline. Q: What do you think will happen in the next five years? A: I think the industry will strengthen, albeit slightly. But it cannot be a high-speed growth like before. Consumers care about healthy drinks. The per capita consumption rate of soft drinks in Myanmar is still lower than in America and Europe so there is great potential for improvement. Q: What is needed to develop the industry over the next five years? A: In our country, the packaging industry needs to develop, be-

The number of years U Thein Tun has been a player in the beverage industry

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depends on the packaging rates industry-wide. If we cannot beat [international brands] in branding and in packaging costs, we may hit a snag in the long term.

Are young men drinking too much beer?


In the past, young people used to meet at tea shops for a chat but these days the preferred venue for males is more commonly a beer station at least anecdotally speaking. The Myanmar Times reporters Aung Kyaw Nyunt and Kyaw Zin Hlaing hit the streets to ask the public whether they are concerned about new trends in consumption.

Ma Shun Lae Khin, 18 Chemistry student at East University and resident of Sanchaung township Young men are spending more time than ever at beer stations its the key ingredient of any celebration nowadays. You cant really blame young people for wanting to enjoy beer, but I worry about people going over the limit. It can have a terrible impact on health.

Ko Naing Naing Zaw, 33 Production and distribution supervisor at Chance Journal Beer stations are bad for young people. Its a waste of their time and money. When I was a 20-year-old, I only ever went to tea shops but now I see so many 20-somethings sitting around at beer stations. Alcohol can destroy morals.

Ko Ye Htut Aung, 22 Goldsmith and resident of North Dagon township Today alcohol advertisements are in full swing and young people are encouraged to drink more alcohol than ever. In my opinion, advertising makes young people want to drink more, and more often. Alcohol brands even have things like lucky draws and expensive gifts to tap into people being greedy. Another reason for drinking is stress so when friends meet they think its the best way to relax.

Mg Thet Naing Win, 18 Food seller and resident of Kyauktada township I dont drink any alcohol because I know its bad. It can do terrible things to people both boys and girls. I practice religion and avoid beer altogether because I consider drinking a bad habit. People laugh at drunks and I dont want to be one of them. I did try alcohol once but only once and since that time Ive been telling my friends not to drink it either.

Daw Ei Ei Khin, 51 Shop owner at 10 Mile Market In my opinion young men are drinking alcohol as an outlet for the frustration they feel as a result of the lack of job opportunities. Parents and elder people tell them not to do it, and I myself dont approve of it, but I believe that if job opportunities improved, we wouldnt be facing this problem.

Fishy business
Yangons only wholesale fish market presents a chaotic combination of smells and sights
MYAT NYEIN AYE
working at the market for eight years, and that his earnings have increased lately. There were a lot more porters in the past so competition was stiff. He earns around K800 for each trip. He makes about K8000 a day. One of the vendors who sells only sea fish said he has worked at the market for three years. He said his shop would sell more than 1600 kilograms of fish by 5am, the equivalent of K2 million. At least five or six kinds of fish are sold at one shop, he said, with the fish on offer changed every day. What comes to the market determines what other vendors elsewhere will be selling later that day. If we have many squid, one seafood seller said while thrusting some onto an ice block, other fish sellers at small
myatnyeinaye11092@gmail.com

Y midnight, most people in Yangon are sound asleep. But along the waterfront on Strand Road, workers at Sanpya Fish Market, the citys only wholesale fish market, are just about to start work. The market has about 200 shops and 400 to 500 sellers, and 4000 to 5000 tonnes of fish are sold every week. The fish sold at Sanpya Fish Market supports not only Yangonites but also many rural townships and it is frequented by chefs, retail owners and housewives to name but a few. I arrived at 4:30am and found the fishy stench overpowering. The market hall itself is small and the drains are clogged with rubbish. However I was immediately distracted by a huge number of trishaw drivers and porters frantically shoving their way past me and shouting, Keep away! Keep away! One of the porters said he has been

The days catch at Sanpya Fish Market is packed in ice. Photo: Boothee markets will also have that fish. When I asked about the different kinds, sellers started reciting names without pausing: Bigeye Snapper, Indian Pike Conger, Threadfin Bream, Skipjack Tuna, Common Pony, Silver Pom, Cows tail Stingray, Yellowtail Catfish the list went on and on. Most fish are rohu (a species of carp), which is the number one variety exported to countries abroad. Ocean fish at Sanpya Fish Market are bought from fishing companies, but there were also displays of fish bred on fish farms, and kept in water or on ice to keep them fresh. Each shop sells up to 6400kg of fish every night, which then mostly go to townships outside Yangon, said Daw Myint, the owner of a shop that sells fish bred on farms. People carry them away in baskets and cork containers on cars and trains, she said. Soon enough dawn broke, but the bargaining was intense. I saw a fish so large it took a couple of men to carry it, but I heard one of them murmur,This fish is smaller than ever. They were bigger and more plentiful in the past. By the time Id strolled through two market halls, daylight had truly appeared and the market was starting to scatter. At the bridge where the daily catches are brought on-shore, workers from boats were finishing their nights work. Some were cleaning their ships and others were getting ready to sleep the day away in rope hammocks. Translated by Thae Thae Htwe

The amount of money one fish seller earns by 5am

K2

MILLION

The Strands Executive Chef, Chris Parsons. Photo: Boothee

We asked members of every department at The Myanmar Times to name their favourite restaurant in Yangon
Monsoon Restaurant 85-87 Theinbyu Road (lower block) Botahtaung 0943121431 295224 50th Street Restaurant 9/13 50th Street (lower block) Botahtaung 01-397060 Union Bar 42 Strand Road Botahtaung 09420101854 Le Planteur 22 Kaba Aye Pagoda Road Bahan 541997 L' Opera 62D U Tun Nyein Street Mayangome The Strand 92 Strand Road 0951243377 Feel Myanmar Food Restaurant 124 Pyihataungsu Street Dagon 0973048783 Fuji Restaurant 116 University Avenue Kamaryut 535371, 512561 Royal Garden Nat Mauk Rd (Central Forest Zone) Kandawgyi Nature Park Bahan 546923, 546202 Oriental House 126A Myo Ma Kyaung Street Dagon 371471 Shwe Kaung Hotpot 306, Level 3 Junction Centre Mawtin Lanmadaw 218155, 0973112046 Eugenia E(101&102) Manawhari Housing Estate, Baho Road Ahlone 227346 White Rice Kandawgyi Royal Lake Park (in front of Yangon Eye Hospital) 556837, 556838 Padonma 105/107 Kha Yae Bin Road, Dagon (between Pyi Daung Su Yeik Tha Road and Manawhari Road) 220616 Ashoka 28B, Pho Sein Rd Tarmwe 555539, 709402 Western Park Tha Khin Mya Garden Street, Ahlone 225143, 226949 Min Lane Rakhine Monti 16 Parami Road Mayangone 0973036990, 656941 Aung Thu Kha 17(A) Shwe Gon Taing (West), 1st Street Bahan 525194 Coriander Leaf Ahlone Road Building-12, Yangon International Hotel Compound 6732 3354 6732 3374 Inya Lake Hotel 37 Kaba Aye Pagoda Road 9662857, 9662866

Pipped at the post


Watermelon farmers benefit from exports to China, but at a price
AUNG YE THWIN
aungyethwin.mmt@gmail.com

ATERMELON farmers in upper Myanmar are benefiting from increased exports to China, but fear they are quickly losing control of their hold on the market. Chinese land renters with advanced technology and methods are making it difficult for local farmers to compete. Watermelons are a staple of the Chinese diet even in the winter months, often served after a meal as dessert. But because most of China is unable to grow watermelons year-round, the insatiable demand for the watery fruit has forced Chinese suppliers to seek out a suitable growing climate nearby and they have their sights firmly set on Myanmar. In the north of the country, near Mandalay, the climate is mostly dry

and hot, creating the ideal climate for watermelon growing, said farmer U Hlay Myaing, who has been growing watermelons in the region for the past 15 years. Between the months of November and May, when most of China is experiencing winter, Mandalay Regions Amarapura township is blooming with watermelon vines. In the past, the watermelon farms were managed and owned exclusively by Myanmar farmers, producing a steady supply of hearty pink and, although more rare, yellow

Twice as nice: yellow and pink watermelon. Photo: Jessica Mudditt

melons with most being exported but many staying in the country to satisfy local demand. There is a strong demand for pink watermelon in the southern regions of Yangon and Mawlamyine, while upper Myanmar prefers the yellow version of the fruit. U Hlay Myaing said that its possible to mix the seeds to create a combination of both colours. If you mix the two it turns out the colour of a nuns robes, he said. This has happened a couple of times by mistake, but he fears that people wouldnt like a new variety so he sticks to growing the yellow and pink varieties. He said the market has changed in recent years, since Chinese suppliers started renting land from farmers - often for K200,000 (US$210) an acre. Many local farmers are happy with the arrangement and are eager to lease their land to Chinese entrepreneurs, as they are guaranteed an income and are then not responsible for growing the fruit by themselves, said U Hlay Myaing. Others, however, would still like to have the right to control

U Hlay Myaings niece proudly displays the bounty from the latest harvest. Photo: Jessica Mudditt the total share of exports, and grow the fruit independently. Ko Hlaing, another watermelon farmer in the area, said the biggest challenge for Myanmar farmers is raising enough capital to invest in the technology and production now being implemented by Chinese entrepreneurs. Myanmar farmers can afford less for farm inputs and get less while the Chinese can afford to invest more and get more, he said. Because there has been an increase in production, the price of watermelons has also decreased. This has also affected farmers profits and their ability to complete even in the local market. Last year, the buying price ranged from K1400 to K1500. This year it is K700 and K1500, said farmer Ko Hla Myaing. The Chinese are using high-yield variety seeds, fertilizers and more manpower. Local farmers are unable to compete, said U Hlay Myaing. Local farmers also complain that the best pieces of fruit are sold to China, leaving them with a less desirable product that they are unable to sell at local markets. But not all are at the point of struggling just yet. Ko Hlay Myaing said for now he is covering his needs and expenses and is focusing on the local market. Translated by Myo Lwin

10

Time for local wines to shine


Myanmar produces award-winning wine but its reputation as a winemaking country is decidedly low-key
JESSICA MUDDITT
jess.mudditt@gmail.com

OST diners react suspiciously when a bottle of Myanmar wine is presented to them in a restaurant, according to local winemaker Francois Raynal. Although pleasant surprise generally follows the first sip, few inside Myanmar are aware of its budding wine industry and its practically an unknown entity internationally. This is in spite of the fact that two locally produced wines, Aythaya and Red Mountain, have been praised by critics and are said to be of the same calibre as Old World wines that is, wines produced in the traditional wine-growing areas of Europe. Red Mountains sauvignon blanc 2010 scored an impressive 83 out of 100 from the highly respected wine critic Jeannie Cho Lee, while the 2010 chardonnay received a bronze medal in the Worlds Best Chardonnay Competition 2013. Mr Raynal, who is Red Mountains vineyard manager and winemaker, is eagerly awaiting the results for the Worlds Best Muscat competition. The countrys first vineyard was established in 1998 under the somewhat unimaginative name Myanmar 1st Vineyard Estate. Its Aythaya wines appeared in 2004, following lengthy trials on 10,000 vines imported from France. Today it produces eight different wines and visitors can stay at the vineyard in the decidedly Italian-sounding

Monte Divino Lodge, which is 25 kilometres north of Inle Lake, and at an altitude of 1200 metres. Aythaya was founded by a German winemaker called Bert Mosbach, who is considered the pioneer of winemaking in Myanmar. Red Mountain, also located near Inle Lake in Shan State, followed suit in 2010. It currently markets 11 different wines. Wine critic Denis Gastin, who is an expert in Asian wines, told The Myanmar Times via email, I do believe that these two wineries have met international benchmark standards and their wines would be acceptable in export markets. But still, there is always a big marketing challenge to get this message into the minds of consumers in established wine markets who would more naturally

Red Mountain began marketing its wines in 2010. Photo supplied by Red Mountain He said that high quality wines from Thailand and India have succeeded in cementing their reputation by following this formula. But until significant inroads are made, wineries in Myanmar will continue to be almost wholly reliant on local consumers. Mr Raynal has found that tourists are just as keen to sample local wines as they are to try local foods. They can find French or Chilean wines at home but they can only find our wines here, he said. Sadly, although Red Mountain has recently seen an incredible increase of the demand for our wines due to the easing of sanctions and the development of tourism, it seems that locals are less excited about the prospect of home-grown wine. Nick Hearn, country manager of the Warehouse wine shop in Yangons Botahtaung township, said, If youre a tourist, its kind of cool to drink local wine but if youre a local, this goes for drinking imported wine. The Warehouse is a French company based in Vietnam, where it has five outlets. Its Yangon store sells wine from nine different countries, none of which include Myanmar. Mr Hearn said that although the Warehouse is a specialist in foreign products, the decision not to sell local wine could potentially change in the future, Were new to Myanmar, so were testing what works for our customers. He said customers rarely ask for Myanmar wine. Mr Hearn regards Red Mountain wines as superior to those grown in the Dalat region of Vietnam, but added that Vietnam enjoys a more developed wine market. There is an important difference in the way Vietnam markets its wine to consumers: Vietnamese wine is always the cheapest wine on the menu, but thats not the case here take the Governors Residence and Kandawgyi Palace Hotel, for example. Pricing is something that local wine struggles with here people are hesitant to spend more on it because it is considered inferior. Local consumers in Myanmar tend to be nervous about the cost of wine, Mr Hearn said, so they put their money on a French bottle. He hopes this will change as people become better acquainted with New World wines, such as Chilean or Australian. The manager of Monsoon Restaurant in Yangons Botataung township, David Aung Win, told The Myanmar Times that local wines have been on the menu for several years, but that wine itself remains unpopular among locals. Those in the hospitality industry know of it, but most local people dont know how to drink wine they drink it like a whisky. Likewise, The Strands executive chef, Christopher Parsons, said that Red Mountain and Aythaya are kind of popular among people passing through Myanmar, but we dont sell a lot of it. Although Red Mountain and Aythaya are leaps and bounds ahead of the rest in terms of market share, several smaller wineries are emerging. Pyin Oo Lwin boasts a handful, as its climate is similarly cool and its altitude high. At a locally owned winery in Pyin Oo Lwin called Ngwe Nan Taw (Silver Palace Wine), winemaker Sai Aung Kham

Most local people dont know how to drink wine they drink it like a whisky.
David Aung Win, manager of Monsoon restaurant

think of the traditional Old World countries or the successful New World countries as a logical source of quality wines. The good news for Myanmars wine industry however, is that in Mr Gastins experience, many wine drinkers are impressed as much by the story behind the wine as what they actually enjoy in the bottle. Getting the message out to what I call the 'wine adventurers' would be the way to start.

Red Mountain wines have won several awards, but local consumers tend to prefer French wines. Photo supplied by Red Mountain

11

Workers pick grapes at Red Mountain Estate. Photo supplied by Red Mountain Oo is taking a rather experimental route by producing damson wine. Damson is a stone fruit which resembles a plum and the resulting wine has a higher level of acidity than grape wines. Sai Aung Kham Oo spent two years at Aythaya winery learning production processes and was mentored by winemaker Hans Leiendecker of Aythaya. Winemaking equipment was imported from Germany in 2008. The fruit is collected from surrounding villages, as well as from northern and southern Shan state, and even China. Mr Gastin hasnt sampled a damson wine, but he said that fruit-based wines (such as strawberries and blueberries) are a long established tradition in Asian countries, although not a big category internationally. Mostly they don't match Western palate preferences, and sometimes they rely on added sugar to balance out the natural acidity to be palatable, and even added colouring to be more attractive, Mr Gastin said. Sai Aung Kham Oos sister, Nan Aye Aye Mon, who is also a director of the family-owned business, confirmed that sugar is added to the blend, however according to a British wine reviewer Lotti, it may not be enough to dispel the acidity. After sampling Ngwe Nan Taws 2010 dry red wine, she said, Its very acidic: like sour Granny Smith apples. Lotti, who spent a year studying winemaking in Australia, wasnt confident that the damson wine would succeed if exported. Although the wine is stored in oak barrels which are sealed off by thick cork double doors, she said, It tastes like its from a metal barrel. Theres no oaky depth at all. She suggested that damson wine would make a good alternative to a white wine at lunch with a noodle or tea leaf salad. But although it definitely has a novelty factor, whether it would sell overseas is questionable, she concluded. Pan Min Thakhin Manufacturing Co Ltds wine is available in Citymart and Sein Gay Har supermarkets, as is Red Mountain and Aythaya wine. Nan Aye Aye Mon said, We have plans to export but we have no experience has a lower alcohol content. Wine, with its 12-13pc alcohol content, is taxed at the same rate of 50pc as spirits, which have a 42-45pc alcohol content. That's not fair and we are suffering, Mr Mosbach said. Red Mountain has a client in Japan but export volumes remain low. We try to focus on the local market for two main reasons: firstly, the international market is very competitive. There are very cheap wines from France, Chile and Australia with a good quality-price ratio. With our high production costs we arent competitive, Mr Raynal said. The other reason, he said, is that Myanmar wines are yet to build a reputation internationally. People simply dont associate the golden land with wine production. With so many hurdles in local winemakers paths and an undeservedly low-key reputation, why not support the local wine industry by drinking a glass or two today?

The attitude in metres at which Aythaya grapes grow

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thats the problem. I hope we will do so later. Mr Mosbach said that Aythaya wine has been exported to Chinas Yunnan province since 2008, because it has the most liberal import regulations policies of any neighbouring country. Incidentally, Thailand is the worst, with taxes and duties accounting for 450 percent. However until operations expand, Aythayas exports will be confined to China alone. One impediment to expansion is that, as Mr Mosbach explained, As a foreign company we can only lease [land] from the government. That is the major reason why there are so few foreign investors in this country. Fortunately our landlord is the Ministry of Agriculture through its services department, MAS and [it is] a very effective and even cordial cooperation. Secondly, although the Myanmar Investment Council (MIC) has urged Aythaya to bump up its export volume, wine is taxed at the same rate as spirits despite the fact it

12

Laphet thoke

Ginger salad

Impress your guests with Myanmar salads


PHYO ARBIDANS

EA LEAVES, or in Myanmar, laphet, are important in our daily life. We use them in a lot of teas, such as Chinese tea, Indian tea and sweet tea, but we also use them in the famous pickled tea leaves salad called laphet thoke. This salad is one of the most traditional Myanmar dishes and for Myanmar people it is also a symbol of generosity, sharing and loving, because the salad is usually made when the family is gathered or when you welcome guests. There are so many ways to make the salad, as there are many different types of marinated pickled tea leaves. You can make it in different flavours and in different styles sweet, sour or spicy its your choice, but it is a must to eat them with crispy fried butter beans, fried chickpeas, fried garlic, roasted sesame seeds, roasted peanuts and dried shrimps. Traditionally, we prepare the leaves by laying out, separately, one tea leaf after another on a big plate. Then we garnish the mixture with garlic and chilli and drizzle peanut oil on them. Although there are ready-made guides that mix all the ingredients, the mixture is one thing that I make from scratch. I worry about the MSG

content, which is a popular ingredient for most of the ready-made mixes, so I am always trying to make my own pickled tea leaves. I also suggest buying one packet of fried beans and fried garlic and making your own fried beans mixture, while most of the premixed beans mixtures have MSG content. Its not hard at all to make it yourself. It can easily be done within half an hour and then you can avoid the MSG content in your food. Ingredients for the pickled tea leaves 180-200g plain tea leaves 2 teaspoons salt cup vegetable oil and a bit more to preserve 1 tablespoon ime juice 3 cloves garlic (diced) A couple of crushed chillis Preparation of the pickled tea leaves Discard the harsh leaves and stalks. Wash the tea leaves gently with warm water and knead with generous amount of salt. Then gently squeeze the leaves to get the bitter taste off. Repeat this procedure three or four times. Then mix them with salt, garlic, lime juice and vegetable oil. Put the marinated tea leaves in a clean glass jar and pour more vegetable oil to make sure

that all the leaves are immersed in the oil. A day later you have homemade pickled tea leaves. Ingredients for the crispy beans mixture 1 cup crispy fried chickpeas or yellow split beans 1 cup crispy fried lablab beans 1 cup fried garlic 2/3 cup roasted sesame seeds cup roasted and shelled pumpkin seeds 1 cup roasted peanuts 2 tablespoons vegetable oil Preparation of the crispy beans mixture Add vegetable oil into a wok and heat it on medium flame. When the oil is hot enough, fry the peanuts for a minute and stir constantly. Then turn the heat down and add fried beans and fried garlic to fry for another minute. Sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds follow. Fry for a couple of minutes. Then cool the mixture down. When it is completely cool, keep in an airtight jar. Ingredients for the pickled tea leaves salad (6 persons) 6 tablespoons homemade pickled tea leaves 1 cup crispy beans mixture 4-6 small green chillis 3 cloves garlic 1/3 cup sweet corn 2 tablespoons dried shrimp powder 150g cabbage 2 tomatoes, sliced 1 tablespoons peanut oil (fried/refined) 2 teaspoons fish sauce 1 tablespoon lime juice Preparation of the salad Boil the sweet corn or cook the frozen ones until it is soft enough to eat. Saut the sweet corns with a teaspoon of peanut oil in a sauce pan and set aside. Roll the cabbage leaves in a row and slice them very finely. Slice the tomatoes and dice the green chillies. Peel the garlic and slice them finely as well. Use a big bowl and add the pickled tea leaves, the crispy double fried beans mixture, cabbage, tomatoes, sweet corns, garlic, green chillies, fish sauce, dried shrimp powder, lime juice and fried peanut oil. Mix well. If you prefer sourer or spicier or more salty, add more lime juice or more chili or more fish sauce. For the vegetarian, use salt rather than fish sauce. Serve with warm plain rice and jasmine tea

or Shan tea. Making pickled ginger salad This is my grandmas recipe and I feel lucky to know how to make pickled ginger. I can make homemade pickled ginger and not worry about MSG in my food. Pickled ginger 100g fresh nice young ginger 4 tablespoons lime juice teaspoon salt Vegetable oil to preserve How to make pickled ginger Soak the ginger in water for 10-15 minutes, which makes it easy to peel the skin off from the ginger. After peeling, slice the ginger thinly and mix with 2 teaspoons of salt in a glass bowl. Then knead well and squeeze out the excess liquid. Rinse the ginger with water. Repeat this procedure for three more times. Then squeeze all the water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Add salt and lime juice to marinate in for half of the day. Squeeze out all the juices and transfer into clean jar. Pad gently. Pour the vegetable oil on and let the ginger immerse. Store in the fridge. Ingredients for the pickled ginger salad 5 tablespoons of homemade pickled ginger 1 cup of crispy beans mixture 3 small green chillis 3 cloves garlic 2 tablespoons dried shrimp powder 150g cabbage 1 tablespoon peanut oil 2 teaspoons fish sauce 1 tablespoon lime juice 2 teaspoons roasted chickpea powder Preparation of the pickled ginger salad Roll the cabbage leaves in a row and sliced them very finely. Slice the tomatoes and dice the green chillies. Peel the garlic and slice them finely as well. Add the pickled ginger, crispy double fried beans mixture, cabbage, garlic, green chillies, fish sauce, dried shrimp powder, lime juice, roasted chickpea powder and fried peanut oil in a big bowl. Mix well and garnish with tomatoes. Serve with warm plain rice and jasmine tea or Shan tea. Tip Make sure pickled tea leaves and pickled ginger are padded and immersed in oil after use so that they store well in the fridge.

13

Where the restaurants have no name


JESSICA MUDDITT
THIS new restaurant on Kabar Aye Pagoda Road must befuddle Yangons taxi drivers and its wannabe diners: The signs are in Japanese and Korean, with no Myanmar and just Restaurant written in English. A call to Restaurant confirmed that the food is Japanesestyle Korean and during a visit there I saw that the name printed on the menu is in fact Gangnam Restaurant. We wonder whether the owners are trying to attract an exclusively Japanese and Korean clientele, or if theyre concerned about the consequences of infringing the copyright of a superstar such as Psy. If its the latter, there seems no need for concern at least if Mickey Mouse Draught Beer Restaurant (pictured below) is any example

Photos: Aung Htay Hlaing

15

Mandalay meals to remember


Lonely Planet describes Mandalays dining scene as lacking the charm and variety of Yangon and Pyin Oo Lwins, however a unique dining scene is starting to take shape, with these venues topping the list of our new favourites
JESSICA MUDDITT
Golden Duck
The duck served up at this multi-storey restaurant is so good it should be illegal. The waiters are dressed in duckling yellow shirts and they are so busy dishing out the duck to the hundred-odd diners that its not uncommon to see them break into a trot. However it must be said that the Golden Duck loses points for having shark fin soup on the menu. Duck is ordered by the half or whole I was told a half serve wouldnt be available for 30 minutes but it nevertheless appeared within 20. I was a bit taken aback to see a charred duck head on the bottom of my plate but perhaps my desire to sanitise the duck dining experience was a bit precious. No. 192, Corner of 80th Street and 16th Street

Caf City
This American-esque diner is located on East Moat Road and is therefore a logical rest stop after pounding Mandalay Hill. Some of the dozen or so vintage signs are a tad on the quirky side notably William Jacks and Co Ltd Sole Agents for Germ Oils Rangoon. As for the food, its far healthier than youd expect a diner-style eatery to be. Most dishes are accompanied by a generous collection of steamed veggies and crusty garlic bread, with a plate of yellow watermelon served afterward. I washed down a non-fatty kebab with a Mandalay Daisy aka orange juice and whisky. The grilled fish I saw whisked past me could easily satisfy two people most were the length and breadth of a keyboard, with the tail and head flopping off the ends of the plate. 66th Street/East Moat Road

Hunters
The newest kid on the block is going to make mincemeat out of its competitors and will surely become the 50th Street of Mandalay. Hunter Linton opened his namesake restaurant four months ago, and the Kiwi is expanding the menu bit by bit he told The Myanmar Times that as soon as his chefs nail one dish, he begins adding others. Hes currently renovating the upstairs area into a lounge with pool tables. Diners can choose from an all-day English breakfast, pancakes, omelet, pork ribs or toasted sandwiches mains start at K4000. The coffee is as strong as the WiFi signal, which works without a hiccup. No. 167, 27th Street

Koffee Korner
This is as much a venue for a liquid dinner as it is for a stylish sit-down meal. The palm trees beside the picnic tables are lit up at night with tropical toned lighting and theres a water feature to boot. A huge acquarium centrepiece dominates the inside dcor, which is by far the most experimental in Mandalay. Old world street lamps cast a glow around sunken timber tables and chairs which are almost Turkish in design (almost because it doesnt require diners to sit cross-legged). Koffee Korners name doesnt really do it justice because the menu takes on everything whether it be a Hungarian-style mutton stew (K5000), river prawn thermidor a la gorden (read corden) bleu (K6000) or a triple decker club sandwich (K2500). Theres no dessert menu but the cappuccinos and other fancy coffees are fantastic. 70th Street

Pakokku Daw Lay May


Ordering one main dish here is enough - I counted 11 side dishes in addition to the two mains of lung and liver curry, and that didnt include the large helping of mango slices at the end of the meal. Hygiene is one of its strengths: The utensils are brought out in a bowl of crystal clear water and I saw a waitress picking up discarded napkins and food bills from the concrete floor using a pair of long tongs. Theres a fresh juice stand next to the newspapers on sale out the front. Curries are around K3000 and Myanmar beer is available. 73rd Street

16

Singapore me another gla


DOUGLAS LONG
dlong125@gmail.com

The Myanmar Times wine expert describes a quirky trip to Singapore where colourful characters celebrated the wineries t
attend the two-day Singapore shindig. As our newspapers resident wine expert, I was uniquely qualified to accept the invitation. (My primary qualification was that I had once won a 12-day cruise on the Ayeyarwady River by randomly blurting out the word merlot at a wine-tasting contest held at 50th Street Bar.) The main event was a tasting of the Grandi Vini DItalia wines on the second day, but festivities kicked off the night before with a visit to the Singapore Night Safari. For that excursion, our group of Italian winemakers, Asian buyers and regional journalists gathered at the Post Bar at Fullerton Hotel, where we were all staying. We had a few drinks, and then at around 6pm we piled into a tour bus with an open might have seen previous use at a Burger King drive-through. The guide enlightened us with scintillating observations about Singapores many cultural highlights. A typical example: Up ahead you will see a group of colourful buildings. Are they a hotel? Are they condominiums? No, they are just office space. Have you ever wondered whether its wise to visit Little India after sundown? Our guide wasnt shy about giving us the inside scoop. Is Little India safe? Yes, its safe. Even after 12, he explained. We finally arrived at our destination. Before embarking on the Night Safari, we indulged in a multicourse Singaporean dinner at a restaurant on the zoo grounds. Not surprisingly, the meal

N 1987, eight mid-sized, familyowned wineries representing six regions in Italy joined forces to create the first Italian wine export consortium, which they named the Grandi Vini DItalia Group. The wineries, each focusing on the production of premium-quality estate wines, were Michele Chiarlo (Piemonte region); Bisol and Villa Girardi (Veneto); Carpineto and Mantellassi (Tuscany); Pighin (Friuli); Garofoli (Marche); and Umberto Cesari (Emilia-Romagna). The Grandi Vini DItalia wineries were among the first from Europe to recognise the potential of the rapidly expanding Asian wine market, and last year the group held its 25th anniversary gathering in Singapore in appreciation of the country that provided the first point of entry for their products into the region. Grandi Vini DItalia bottles have also penetrated Yangons wine market, and The Myanmar Times was invited to

As hour three approached, my tongue and interior cheeks began feeling raw and blistered.
top deck from which were able to enjoy the beautiful weather and the sunset as we crawled through rush-hour traffic. We were extremely lucky to have onboard the bus a knowledgeable tour guide who, during the long drive to the zoo, provided running commentary through a tinny, crackling speaker that was accompanied by copious wine consumption. With the Italians being aficionados of la dolce vita, there was also plenty of singing and joking. Chief among the comedians was Antonio M Zaccheo from the Carpineto winery, who spoke a heavily accented English with a genial, godfatherlike rasp. At one point he approached a portly wine buyer from Singapore, who earlier in the evening had demonstrated his impressive tenor by performing an Italian song for the guests. Ive heard that even if youre big and fat and ugly, if you can sing tenor, you get the girls, I overheard Mr Zaccheo say to the vocalist. Is that true? Even more amusing was the fact that after eating a huge meal and drinking loads of wine, most of us slept on the tram as it meandered its way through the Night Safari and past all the animals that had stayed up late just to entertain us. The climactic wine-tasting gathering started the next day at 2pm, in a downstairs room at the Fullerton. I spent three hours sampling the various Grandi Vini DItalia products, at first actually drinking and later swishing and spitting to avoid getting too drunk. One problem with extended bouts of wine tasting is that after awhile my mouth starts going numb, and it becomes increasingly difficult to parse the discrete, subtle flavours. By the two-hour mark, I had pretty much lost all sense of what I was tasting. As hour three approached, my

Representatives from Grand Vini wineries. Photo: Douglas Long

tongue and interior cheeks began feeling raw and blistered. During my gruelling guzzling odyssey, I crossed paths with Renato Buhlmann, the managing director of Quarto Products (QP) just off Inya Road in Yangon. His shop, along with others like the Warehouse on Bo Aung Kyaw Street, imports a number of Grandi Vini DItalia products into Myanmar. Mr Buhlmann explained that although the Grandi Vini DItalia wineries produced some bottles in the low-end price range (US$8-$10), the ones in the middle range ($15-$35) were the best value. Grand Vini are family-owned wineries, and they are mid-sized operations. They cannot produce as cheaply as the guy who buys bulk. We do have some Grandi Vini wines for around $10, but its not their specialty, he said. You probably have the best value for

17

ass of wine, please


region. The Liano is a blend of 70 percent sangiovese and 30pc cabernet sauvignon, aged for a short time in big barrels before being finished in smaller Allier barrels from France. This is a round, intense and persistent wine. Garofoli Agontano Rosso Conero This complex and full-bodied montepulciano from the Marche region is made from grapes grown on a porous limestone slope near the Adriatic Sea. This wine is matured 18 months in French barrique barrels and more than a year in the bottle before leaving the cellars of the winery. Villa Girardi Pinot Grigio Il Mulini Though Myanmar people generally prefer red wines, this dry and aromatic white from the Veneto region is well liked. Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato dAsti This low-alcohol and slightly sweet sparkling, or fizzy, wine is especially liked by the female clientele. It can be enjoyed nicely chilled as a pre-dinner drink or together with dessert or cookies. Soft, delicate and fruity. The Singapore gathering closed with dinner at the Clifford Restaurant on the Marina Bay waterfront. My tablemates provided a fine illustration of the capacity for the enjoyment of wine to provide a link between diverse cultures, as the nine of us represented eight different nations: Italy, Singapore, Japan, China, Taiwan, Switzerland, Iran and the United States. The meal was a long, casual affair in which each course inspired by French brasserie cuisine was matched with an iconic Grandi Vini DItalia wine. By the end of the evening we had tasted one from each of the eight wineries. This concept of pairing wine with different courses led to a discussion at our table about matching wine with Asian food. Mr Buhlmann pointed out that this can be a tricky proposition, for a couple of reasons. Food in Asia is more colourful than in Europe, especially with different spices and chillies. Korean cuisine is really different from Myanmar or Thai or Chinese. In general, if its too spicy or too garlicky, I think no wine really matches well, he said. Another issue is presentation: The meal at Clifford Restaurant was typically French, where the courses are served one at a time, starting with bread and progressing through soup, salad, mains, cheeses and dessert. This makes it easy to match each distinct portion of the meal with a particular wine. But Asian food is traditionally eaten all at once. You just bring food into the middle of the table, and then you choose a wine or two to go with it. Some dishes might match better and some not, Mr Buhlmann said. In general, he said, white wine goes better with Asian food than red, but Asians usually prefer to drink red wine. In the end, its up to the person who is eating and whatever he thinks, he said. Most people dont even think about matching. They just think of the food they like and they think of the wine they like, and thats what they have for dinner. If they like the wine, then never mind what they eat along with it. What are Myanmar oenophiles drinking? Overall, 50 percent of wines sold at Quarto Products (QP) are below $15 a bottle, 40pc between $15 and $35, and 10pc above $35. French wines account for 28pc of sales at QP, followed by Italy (19pc), Myanmar (14pc), Chile (13pc), Australia (10pc), Argentina (9pc) and others (7pc). Sales figures supplied by City Mart show that wines from Australia accounted for 40pc of sales there, followed by France (30pc), Italy (20pc), Myanmar (8pc) and others (2pc). Seventy percent of wines sold at QP are red, 30pc white and a very small proportion ros. At City Mart the sales figures are 85pc red and 15pc white.

that first tapped Asias wine-drinking potential

Wine tasting at Fullerton Hotel in Singapore. Photo: Douglas Long money in the mid-range, because these people put their heart and soul, their passion, behind the wine. They put their name on the bottle as well, so it had better be good. After awhile they also have certain obligations because their wines have been rated. Mr Buhlmann said there were a handful of Grandi Vini DItalia labels that were particularly well-liked by wine drinkers in Myanmar, including: Carpineto Dogaiolo Rosso A junior super Tuscan wine made from a blend of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon grapes, this is hugely popular not only in Myanmar but also worldwide. Medium-bodied and easy to drink. Mantellassi Querciolaia Alicante This oak-aged product from the Maremma (a sub-region of Tuscany) is one of the very few grenache wines produced in Italy. Umberto Cesari Liano Umberto Cesari is one of the leading producers in the Emilia-Romagna

18

A toast to the past


Yangons Pegu Club once served up drinks, dances and tales of derring-do. Now its derelict, its chequered past weighing heavily on its teak walls
WADE GUYITT
wadeguyitt@gmail.com

IT played host to British royalty, saw shocking racism and inspired a cocktail still served today. It also survived the battle for independence, the socialist era and the emergence of a new, democratic Myanmar few in its 130-yearhistory could have foreseen. Now, at the start of a new era of engagement with the outside world, the building and others like it are being championed by those who hope to see it reclaimed for all to enjoy. Whether an influx of investment from Myanmars burgeoning tourist industry will see it rise again depends on how the country chooses to confront its past and its future. When the British conquered Pegu (now Bago) in 1852, they did so, according to one rather biased report, in what may be called dashing style, while exposed to the fierce rays of a burning sun. Nineteen years later, soldiers and officials in what was then called Rangoon found themselves looking for a place to escape those fierce rays and have a drink. Founded in 1871, their original watering hole appears lost in time. But they quickly grew in number, and their specially built teak-walled compound, completed in 1882, still stands today. In the Imperial Gazetteer of India of 1909, the Pegu Club is prominently labelled. Bounded by Prome Road (now Pyay), Newlyns Road (now Zagawar) and Budds Road (now Padonmar), its location north of the citys built-up waterfront downtown, but south of the cantonment (or garrison) line which marked the edge of the developed city just north of Shwedagon Pagoda afforded easy access to the barracks, parade grounds, prisons, lunatic asylums and burial grounds which marked the British view of Rangoon at the time. To the south was a safe shipping route for the empire; to the north, successive lines of coolies, elephants, and rifles defended against all comers. The map shows plantations and villages outside the lines but does not name them. For those tasked with seeing Myanmar culture brought to bended knee by any means necessary, anything beyond seemed the end of the world. As Rudyard Kipling recalled after his one visit to Rangoon in 1889 as a young newspaperman, the club was full of men on their way up or down. He had time for only two stops in the city: that beautiful winking wonder the Shwedagon Pagoda, and the Pegu Club. Both astounded him. Try the mutton, he was told. I assure you the Club is the only place in Rangoon where you get mutton. But what stood

The Pegu Clubs ballroom today. Photo: Boothee out most was the morbid chatter about battle, murder, and sudden death. Its casual nature (that jungle-fighting is the deuce and all. More ice please) gave him his first glimpse of the wars colonialism waged beyond its walls. One travelogue warned ladies should watch out for snakes upon exiting the club living nearby: I can confirm this remains sound advice today. Inside, however, the club was the pinnacle of imperialist attempts to replicate England in foreign lands. Membership was open to all gentlemen interested But set foot they had. The Straits Times commented on March 2, 1916, how [a]t the Pegu Club in Rangoon you can meet lots of men who will tell you that if we had not made the usual mess in diplomacy and frontier dilimitation a considerable portion of Yunnan would be under the Union Jack. The Pegu Club had become the sidelines from which the empire was run. All this prognosticating was thirsty work, apparently, which explains why the club invented its own signature drink, the Pegu Club cocktail. The ingredients werent British imperialist is the Pegu Club. A handful of old timers meet inside its teak-lined walls each day to sip brandies and bemoan the state of the world. Postwar, locals were allowed to enter the Pegu Club at last, but few did, perhaps because so little else about the place had changed. Its long verandahs provided cool and silent shade, wrote a Shan visitor in the 1950s, while its polished teak bars never ran out of ice cold beer, Singapore slings, pink gins, or whisky. In the shadows were the Boys [Indian staff], still Boys even eyes to illustrate how senior. The clubhouse later became a pension office for the Controller of Military Accounts. While newer buildings in the compound still house government employees today, like many government buildings in Yangon after the capital shifted to Nay Pyi Taw the Pegu Club building itself is now empty. When I looked around recently a man and his dog were using the former ballroom as a quiet place to take a mid-morning nap. The staircase still suggested grand entrances, but the steps shifted unsettlingly underfoot. Upstairs, parts of the floor have collapsed; propaganda posters remain on the walls, but the stray dogs seemed uninterested. Outside, kids were pulling weeds, but only for a better place to play; the quiet lawns have grown jungle-like, and the only gardens to speak of are the plastic bottles cut in half on a ledge with plants sprouting from them. The bus stop on the corner is still known as Bago Club to locals. But no one gets off there looking for it anymore. The Ministry of Defence has posted a sign saying the building is a historical property and visitors should take care of it. Another sign says cleaning is carried out weekly, and bricks have been stacked neatly inside. But according to 30 Heritage Buildings of Yangon, a compelling survey of the citys colonial landmarks, the building is not on YCDCs list of protected sites. And its crumbling faster
MORE ON 19

Old timers meet ... to sip brandies and bemoan the state of the world. St Petersberg Times
in general society, the clubs rules stated, but in practice that meant whites only. Rank, wealth, and birth had no relevance, wrote Wai Wai Myaing in A Journey in Time, a family memoir. The color of the skin was the only feature that mattered. By 1910 the Pegu Club boasted 350 members, 25 of whom lived on-site. In 1922, the same year the Prince of Wales came to dine, George Orwell arrived in-country. In Burmese Days he reveals the garrison mentality of such clubs: [N]atives are getting into all the Clubs nowadays. Even the Pegu Club, Im told. Way this countrys going, you know. Were about the last Club in Burma to hold out against em. Orwells novel neatly skewers those Englishmen common, unfortunately who should never be allowed to set foot in the East. particularly local gin and orange curacao, mostly but it was served over ice, with a bit of lime, and therefore tasted both exotic and refreshing in hot weather. According to the 1930 cocktail bible written by Harry Craddock of Londons Savoy Hotel, the Pegu Club cocktail was one that has travelled, and is asked for, round the world. Little consolation that would have been to the Pegu Clubs members in the waning days of the empire. Or maybe, being alcoholic, it was. When the Japanese took Rangoon they took the Pegu Club with it. The club served as an officers brothel from 1942-45. The RAF tried restoring it to its former self after the war, but independence came in 1948, and on September 12 of that year the St Petersburg Times signalled the garrison was beseiged. Last stronghold of the if they were 50 or 60 years old, who stood quietly in the background, always ready to anticipate a need and to refill an empty glass. On January 6, 1955, the Glasgow Herald, seemingly with surprise, wrote that the quiet lawns of the Pegu Club continue to be beautifully tended. More prescient was an observation that fine trees veil the fact that its next door neighbour is now the Soviet Embassy. By 1962 the whole country had become socialist. The Pegu Club was nationalised, and the Tatmadaw, the third military group to have eaten there, used it for an officers mess. When writer Paul Theroux visited in the early 1970s, he was turned away from the gate. He would have been allowed to look around, he was told, but a senior officer had just arrived to dine and, as Theroux wrote later, The sentry bulged his

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CONTINUED FROM 18

than the army can afford to keep it up. Renovation would have to be done in a proper way by experts, with international help, and it would be costly, says Thant Myint-U, chairman of Yangon Heritage Trust, a nonprofit group dedicated to making sure the citys vibrant streetscapes arent lost forever. As its unlikely that the government would be able to shoulder these costs anytime soon, there may be no choice but to lease it for commercial use. The recent success of another venue points toward one possible direction. In 2008, in trendy Soho, New York City, a new hotspot opened, paying tribute with true cocktail craftsmanship to the classic gin-based drinks which were otherwise going out of style. By calling her venue the Pegu Club, owner Audrey Saunders restored interest in the drink and the original club itself. Menus provide a history of the building; reviews and recipes posted online never fail to mention the drinks colonial origins. A few dedicated pilgrims even seek out the original site when visiting Myanmar. Clearly, restoring the Pegu Club into a luxury hotel, akin to the Strand or the Governors Residence (both of which serve Pegu Club cocktails today), would be a draw for many visitors. Indeed, the advertising the Kipling bar! the Orwell lounge! practically writes itself. But Myanmar is different from Manhattan, not least in its relationship to the setting sun of empire and the long shadow it cast. In addition to working with Yangon Heritage Trust, Thant Myint-U is the author of The River of Lost Footsteps, a reminder of how the tangled legacy of British rule informed what has come afterward. Like Robben Island in South Africa, the Pegu Club may symbolise to many Myanmar all that was wrong in the not-toodistant past, he says. But its an important part of our history and a unique architectural legacy. To destroy it would be an act of vandalism.

Tea talk
AUNG KYAW NYUNT
aungkyawnyunt28@gmail.com

With the transition to democracy in full swing, has the hushhush atmosphere that previously existed at tea shops completely disappeared?

Customers relax at a tea shop in downtown Yangon. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing at a bank close to Seik Kan Thar Street. He likes his tea cho seint (with a lot of sugar and condensed milk) the classic way. I always meet my friends here at night. When we see each other, we tease each other, then tell some jokes. After that, we discuss our future between sips of tea. One man, now in his 50s, said his reasons for spending time with friends at tea shops over the years have changed. In the past, he also spent time gossiping with friends. But as time went on and the political situation in Myanmar intensified, he and his friends would wont benefit their future. They should be discussing current affairs, the man said. Daw Win Kyi, also in her 50s, was also critical of young people who spend hours at the tea shop. It wastes their precious time, she said. They have a number of things to do for their future, and they need to do it now. Tea shop culture in Myanmar is traditionally mostly a maledominated pastime. Women are welcome, of course, but the perception of them sitting at the tea shop still isnt a positive one. Ma Phyo, 27, said her father away and have it at home. I wont sit at a roadside tea shop because I have to try not to appear to be wasting my life away. Ko Kyaw Htaik is the owner of the Premier Tea Shop, also named The Best, which is located on Bogyoke Aung San Road, in the centre of downtown Yangon. He started out with a push-cart tea shop but later decided to expand. The shop, which is now bustling with customers, is a place where people of all ages come to express their opinions about the new Myanmar, the changes they are experiencing and, of course, politics. As change has come to Myanmar, he said, so have the voices and discussions in the tea shop. We hear so many types of discussions, said Ko Kyaw Htaik. Some people are discussing political cases, while others discuss business Young people often discuss art but they also are talking about video games, he said with a wry smile. In the past, people talked about politics in a barely audible whisper, but now the state has reformed with democracy in our country, and our customers talk openly, he said. Translated by Thiri Min Htun

EGARDLESS of where you go in Myanmar from the southernmost city to the furthest north there is one common sight: people of different ages sitting around, chatting away on small plastic stools while sipping tea. Restaurants and bars with fancy dining rooms and air conditioning have sprung up across Yangon recently, but the countrys open air tea shops, with their low tables and stools, stand firmly in the midst of the change. In the past, tea shops were hotbeds of intellectual and political discussions (especially if they were close to the headquarters of a political organisation) but patrons sometimes feared their words being overheard. Now it seems that the situation has changed, and that other concerns, such as time-wasting, have come to the fore. Ko Thein Htoo Aung, 20, works

In the past, people talked about politics in a barely audible whisper. - Ko Kyaw Htaik, tea shop owner
often meet to discuss politics or get the news of the day speaking very quietly over their cups. The best part about sitting at a tea shop is we can find out whats going on in the world, he said. He was critical, however, of young people who often spend what he says is too much time taking advantage of the longstanding tea shop tradition. Sitting at the tea shop and telling jokes or teasing each other used to forbid her from even walking past tea shops when she was young, let alone sitting down to have a cup of tea. Females sitting at a tea shop isnt a sin. But they should control their speech and actions to maintain their dignity, she said. Ma Ohnmar May Maung, 18, isnt allowed to visit tea shops, but regardless, she doesnt subscribe to tea shop culture. If I want to drink tea, Ill take it