Myanmar Recipes

Pennywort Cooking Class

I hate food. In fact, I hate eating. To take that a step further I can say that it dates back to a time when this eating thing was a process that got between doing something really fun and the next really fun thing on the agenda. It meant stopping, washing up, sitting down next to my brother (who was kicking me under the table) for at least 1/2 hour and then likely being part of the “new dishwasher” my mum used to brag about back to her friends who had just purchased one from the local department store catalog.

“I’ve got 4 of them!” she’d say pointing at me and my siblings in response to her friends gloating over their shiny new Whirlpools and Maytags.

Food was definitely not fun.

So I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into this foodie world and am definitely late to the table (pun intended) I’ve been able to put this childhood scarring on the back burner however, and I’m learning that lots of other people think the kitchen cooking, consuming and sharing experience is one of the finer things in life. I met May in Bagan Myanmar and because you’re interested, I signed up for her school: the Pennywort Cooking Class and—LOVED IT! I may be a convert.

We met at the market and May walked us past booths and stalls, pointing out different vegetables, fruits and critters –most foreign and odd-looking to us. Wait! THERE’S an AVOCADO! ( We definitely didn’t know the other 9). This goes with this and that with that.

“Okay here’s 1800 Kyat” (pronounced chat–approx $1.30 USD) “Go purchase 8 vegetables and herbs and that is what we’ll use for the 4 of us. I’ll buy some beef and some rice” And that’s what we did– making a meal for 4 with leftovers for the princely sum of $3USD per person.

When you join us in Myanmar, this is one of the options available. In the meantime here are a couple of easy recipes you might want to try out. We loved them!

And don’t take my word for it.  I mean—what would I know?  Here are a couple of dishes we really liked.  Experiment a little and let us know what you think in the comments below: (Use your imagination if you don’t have hummingbird flowers…..)

  1. Myanmar style Hummingbird (Kembang Turi) flower salad

Serves 4 People

Preparation Time 10 minutes


(-) Hummingbirds flowers

1.5 tbsp  peanut oil

1 tbsp roasted peanut, crushed

2 small onions ,sliced

1 tbsp. sesame seeds

½ tbsp. salt

½ tbsp. yellow chickpeas powder (dhal flour)

2 garlic cloves, sliced

½ tsp turmeric powder

Lime and Chilli (option)


Boil the  water and then add hummingbirds flowers

Cover 10 minutes and then drain . Cut finely

Make  Onion-garlic oil (Heat the oil and add garlic, 1 sliced onion and  a pinch turmeric)


Put Humming bird flowers, peanut, salt, onion-garlic oil, yellow chickpeas powder, lime and chili (optional), sesame seeds and onion. Mix together into the bowl.

2. Myanmar style Colocynth curry

Serves 4 People

Preparation Time 20 minutes

Cooking Time 30 minutes


3 tbsp  peanut oil

7 small melon, sliced (cut into quarters. If you want to peel the skin also you can peel.

2 small onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, ground

½ inch ginger, ground

1 litre chicken stock

½ tsp chili powder

½ tsp salt

½ tsp fish or shrimp paste

Coriander leaves (optional)

Green Chili (optional)

1 tbsp dry shrimps (optional)

2 tbsp roasted peanuts, ground.

Methods for Colocynth

Heat the pan, add peanut oils

Add onion, ginger garlic paste, chili powder, ground peanut, fish or shrimp paste , dried shrimps, and stir around 30 seconds,

Add melon and stir a few seconds. Add 1/3 litre of chicken stock and simmer around 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the stock and cook 10 more minutes.

Add coriander leaves and green chili

Serve with steamed rice

If you like this one there are others! Drop a message in the comments and I’ll send you others. Let us know how it worked for you.


A word about Altitude…..

Standing on the rim of the Colca Canyon looking down–watching for condors, it occurred to me that the bottom was down there–I mean really down there. If you can imagine being at Grand Canyon and watching the sightseeing planes underneath you–this was that!

It sounds amazing but…… altitude sickness?

So what is AMS (acute mountain sickness)? Simply put it’s your body having difficulty adjusting to lower oxygen and decreased air pressure. When you get to about 2400 meters above sea level you may start feeling the effects. For us, the first time you’ll see that will be Arequipa. That’s why we have such a light schedule the first day there.

Symptoms vary but you might experience headaches, dizziness, nausea or shortness of breath. Typically as your body becomes acclimatized, the effects gradually disappear.

Can I take something for it? There are a number of things you can do. Slow down for one. Cut your activity and give your body a chance to adapt. Your drug of choice for your headache and staying hydrated are two practical fixes Remember your mom suggesting ginger ale for an upset stomach? She was right!

The local folk drink coca tea (matte de coca). This is the same plant that spawned cocaine but you won’t get high from the tea and it absolutely works for me. Your health practitioner might recommend Diamox (acetazolamide)

Will I get it? Dunno. We are ascending slowly with adequate time for acclimatization built in. In Arequipa we are at about 2400 meters so its possible you’ll feel some light effects when we get off the plane. We’re there for 2 days before we head out. That gives us time to adjust. When we head to the Canyon we are climbing –to 4900 meters at one point– but most of our activity is at 3700 or 3800 meters. We’ll actually descend to 3200 meters in Cabanaconda to sleep. The slow climb and the drop to sleep will make it fairly comfortable. “Climb high and sleep low” as they say.

And after we leave the Canyon and Lake Titicaca (3800 meters) we;ll actually head down to Cusco at 3400 meters. You’ll all be expert mountaineers by then and hopefully skipping around the Plaza de Armas!

So here are my 5 favorite fixes for altitude sickness in order.

  1. Slow down and breathe deep!
  2. Drink water
  3. Take paracetamol or aspirin for headache
  4. Drink a little coca tea
  5. Diamox if needed

Know your Camelids


So there you are walking down the street in Arequipa Peru and all of a sudden, someone spits! In your direction! Your first question is “llama or alpaca?” Given the likelihood of this happening, it’s good you read your primer because you could immediately identify it as a llama. Important information if you’re filling in a police report.

Actually there are a couple of other things that you could use as identifiers. The alpaca (on the left above) has a kind of smashed-in face in comparison to the elongated face of the llama (on the right). But the big giveaway are the longish banana-like ears on the llama. (The llama is also twice the size of an alpaca but if you don’t see the two of them together, how would you know?) The alpacas in Peru tend to look like sheep with long necks–until shearing season.

The softest wool in the world arguably comes from alpaca. Cashmere is not a sustainable harvest these days–the grasslands they need in China and Mongolia are over grazed. Alpaca is a great substitute. It’s lightweight and contains no lanolin, making it hypoallergenic. It’s much softer than sheep wool but doesn’t have the water repellent properties of wool because of its lack of lanolin.

There are a couple of things to be aware of in shopping for an alpaca sweater in Peru. First one is price. If it looks like you got an excellent deal in a market ($10 to 20 USD for example) there’s a good chance it’s synthetic. It’ll feel warm if you rub it. A baby alpaca sweater –cool to the touch– will cost you in the region of $100 USD