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Travel Photo of the Day: Malian Tea Ceremony

Travel Photo of the Day: Malian Tea Ceremony

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Tea ceremonies are prominent traditions in many cultures

Many cultures have important rituals centered around tea. The Japanese tea ceremony can range from a simple gathering to an elaborate meal, while afternoon or high tea in the U.K. and Ireland is more of a daily snack. Even the variety of tea (including black, green, oolong, white, etc.) can make a difference.

In Mali (pictured above), tea ceremonies signify friendship and welcoming. Malians generally simmer green tea and mint leaves in a small teapot before adding significant amounts of sugar. They drink several cups of the tea from small glasses and use this time (sometimes upwards of an hour and a half) to relax, chat, and take a break. The custom is so widespread that the tea is oftentimes referred to as the country’s “national drink.”

Do you have a travel photo that you would like to share? Send it on over to lwilson[at]

Follow The Daily Meal’s Travel editor Lauren Wilson on Twitter.

A Taste of Mali: Tika Dege

West Africa, its people and Papillon Fairtrade are a constant source of inspiration, stretching borders and taking up new challenges. What’s obvious in the western world, usually isn’t in Africa. And what’s obvious to an African usually isn’t to a traveler. Papillon bridges the gap.We love to share our love for Mali, West Africa, its people and culture with you in virtual tours and experiences and handmade quality products. We are looking forward to meeting you and to introducing you to other cultures.

Together we make the world a better place.

Prepare a typical Malian dish – Malian peanut sauce from the South of the country – at home. Receive a parcel with non-perishable local ingredients, access to the recipes, and access to a video. In the video Mariama shows how to prepare the dish the traditional way, and Monique shares her tips for a vegetarian (gluten free) version.
Beside of Tika Dègè, the parcel also includes ingredients and instructions for the local juice bissap (hibiscus juice) and a Malian tea ceremony.

This cooking experience gives back to the cooks and guides of the virtual tours.

A'Mazing Mali

After receiving our Malian visa in Dakar, we opted to take a flight (2 hours) rather than take a bus (2 days journey) from Dakar to Bamako, Mali. Reports from those who took the weekly train to Mali were also discouraging - one party got off and took a cab after 50 hours!

Bamako, both the capital and largest city in Mali is a dusty sprawl of 45 square km and home to over one million people. Two words can sum up our first impressions of Mali, "hot and dusty." We arrived at the end of the tourist season where temps rise to over 110 degrees each day. It is like being in Arizona in the summer time - yet there are no air-conditioned buildings where one can take refuge.

In order to avoid a repeat of the Dakar accommodations (reminder: "women of immoral purpitude"😉, we went to the other end of the spectrum and stayed in the Catholic Mission's hostel, run by Columbian nuns where we slept with a picture of a black Jesus on a cross looking down on us. Mali is another French-only country imagine Jamie's delight when the Latin American nun at the hostel spoke to

her in Spanish which Jamie is conversant.

Here in Mali, it can take one solid week to travel 250 miles, due to road and vehicle conditions as well as infrequency of public transport. Worse, many places can only be traversed with a four-wheeled drive vehicle. That, together with the fact that our French vocabulary consisted of "Bonjour," "Merci," and Jamie's Ballet vocab, meant that we had to swallow our pride as independent travelers and hire a car, a driver and a guide to take us across Mali. With our own transport, we could see a lot more of the country in less time. We met with Hama and Mody two guides recommended to us and hashed out a 12-day itinerary for a tour of Mali. All the guide books recommend hiring guides for certain regions, so that is what we did. Basically, by having a guide we could learn more about local traditions and ways of life.

The only problem that arose, which took creativity to solve, was when it came time to pay Mody and Hama. Mali is simply not equipped to accept any credit cards, and the ATMs that do exist only take local bank cards. We couldn't do

cash advances on credit cards (the one bank in the country that does them was closed for a few weeks). Coming from India, where the computer technology is everywhere, it was a real reminder that basic business tools and processes still haven't made it to the world's poorest nations.

One highlight for us was going to listen to live Malian music. We are fond of African music and we were taken to a night club where we heard a famous kora player, Touomani Diabaté, play with his band. The kora is a string instrument made out of a gourd that is then covered with skin. For those of you who will come to our home in Portland, you will find that you will also soon become familiar with African music!

The afternoon of our second day in Bamako we were driving along, and saw an extremely disturbing sight. Traffic came to a sudden halt in front of us on one of the main roads out of town. A big bus was in front of us blocking the view and a big crowd was gathering around the bus. Mody, our new friend, got out of the car to see what happened. Suddenly,

the mob of people standing around scattered like a school of fish. They started running towards us, and we could see huge rocks flying through the air towards us. Our hearts raced as we wondered what was going on. Was it a riot? Should we get out of the car and run away?

Luckily, Mody came back, jumped in the car, and put it in reverse - fishtailing backwards like all the other cars. As the cars and bus cleared away, we could see people trying to destroy a minivan (the local mass transit here) with rocks and old oil drums. Mody told us that the driver of the van had just hit and killed a small boy in the street. He said that the locals don't trust the Malian justice system to look into the matter and resolve it. Passerbys prefer the expediency and finality of vigilante justice. This means, they kill the offending driver, and set the vehicle on fire. Mody told us that most of these local "bus" drivers don't have licenses and are dangerous. The crowd didn't wait to find out who was at fault (did the boy step out in front of the moving vehicle

to cross the street?), they just assumed the driver was at fault and, therefore, should be killed. As we passed the van on the other side of the median (driving against traffic), we saw the dented shell of the vehicle and people working to destroy it. It was an incredibly frightening thing for us to see, given that we come from a world where people are innocent until proven guilty. Jamie wondered if any of those people who where throwing rocks had given any thought to what it would be like for them if they were the driver that day. Would they have minded being stoned to death by a mob? Justin surmised that given the difficulty of getting anything done in such an impoverished society like this one, people seize any chance they have to "solve" a problem (however unjust it may be). This is a reminder for us how different the world can be, and that everyone's definition of justice is different.

Departing Bamako, for the largest town on the Sahel (the part of Africa just below the Sahara Desert), Djenne, gave us a good impression of how isolated and desolate life in Mali can be. Being here

$4-5 a gallon. huge given the average wage). We passed by villages that seemed to have no people: maybe they were in their homes hiding from the heat? After 9-hours of driving in a non-air-conditioned car (but with very cool Malian music on the tape deck), we arrived in Djenne, a town on the Bani river - which is only a river during the rainy season now the parchment-dry riverbed seemed scorched earth. Yet we saw kids with fishing baskets on their way to catching fish somewhere.

Djenne was founded in 800 AD and in the 13th century, became Muslim under the Mali Empire. Given its proximity to the Niger River, it was a major way station for the gold, ivory, and

lead being transported to the Mediterranean by way of Timbuktu. The town's center point is the Grande Mosque, which fixes Djenne as the center of Islam in Mali. Djenne is home to 16,000 Fulani and Bozo tribes people. We are not joking, Bozos do exist in this world and they traditionally catch fish (Tell that to your angler friends!).

This city is every 5-year old's dream: the entire city is made out of mud and straw baked hard by the sun. Essentially, the town closely resembles every sand castle you ever built at the beach. ahem. as a child, of course!

Actually, the town is also known for the "Sudanic" style of architecture (see photos). Some structures that were built in the early 1900's, like the mosque, are still standing. People of all faiths were allowed entrance into the mosque until 1995 when, sadly, an Italian television company (Barbara, we hope this wasn't your company) desecrated the site by filming a commercial of swimsuit clad models in the sanctuary. Thereafter, only Muslims are allowed entry.

But it gets better: every year, a new layer of mud has to be applied to the houses and buildings (because the rains wear on the surface

previously applied). This chore is made into a celebration where the entire town comes out to put a new layer of mud on the mosque. Indeed, as we were going through Senossa, a village near Djenne, we came upon a crowd of townspeople smearing new mud on the local mosque (see pictures) as well as each other. There was a festive spirit in the stifling air as people clambered over ladders to daub a dark grey mixture on the walls.

Splat! Justin felt the thump of a big mud clod on his back and heard squeals as a gang of kids ran away. Apparently, they felt he wasn't in the spirit of the day because he was too clean! Luckily, they spared Jamie.

Here we also picked up our guide for the remainder of our trip - Bahamadau. Yet, we were staying in our friend Mody's home in Djenne. We had a room on the 2nd floor and it is made out of mud. The conditions are very basic and very tidy. yet you lean against the wall and dirt rubs off on you. Justin called it our 3-room suite (yet it was not like the suite Jamie got us into in

Portugal). There is a main room, a storage room to one side and on the other side, a room that has a wall with a hole where we can bathe from a bucket. While taking sponge baths, we've noted that when wet, room gives off the aroma of damp earth. All toilets in Djenne are on the 2nd floors of the houses with a drain leading out to a tank in the walkway below. We're told they scoop out the drain's septic tank every two years and use the material as fertilizer.

Because it is incredibly hot here, we slept on mattress pads on the roof, under the stars and to the songs of the bleating goats (Jamie has become quite fond of the goats). We woke up to the "thump-thump" sounds of women pounding millet in the big mortars and the roosters with their built in alarm clocks.

It seems that the houses don't have any furniture beyond some low stools and maybe a mattress to sleep on. Things are simple and basic, reminding us how full life can be without so much stuff.

We've noted that perhaps life here is dictated by the extreme heat, at least

in the "hot season" (now) when, we're told, it averages 107 degrees F· (42 C·😉 in the day. We are moving s-l-o-w-l-y, especially when it gets to be 111 degrees F·, and taking in plenty of water and salt to prevent dehydration. Since bottled water is expensive here, we are purifying (chlorine or iodine treatment) the 2.5 gallons we are drinking each day.

Walking around the narrow alleys of this termite mound-like town has provoked a few observations:

First, the t-shirts. It seems like every other person is wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with vaguely familiar slogans like "Make-a-Wish Foundation Annual Tennis Tourney" or "Wilkinson Family Reunion." Since it is quite doubtful that many people in Mali play tennis, have the family name of "Wilkinson," how did they get a hold of them? If a warm, fuzzy feeling washes over you as you think "Western charities," you're only partly right. People buy these clothes from consolidators here who get a hold of the garments in bulk after they are sent by American churches and other non-profits. We can't help but wonder what well-meaning, church-goin' folks back home would think if they knew

about the commercial route their charitable donations had taken.

Second, as we walk around with Bahamadau, our guide and translator extraordinaire, we constantly run into people he knows. The interaction always provokes a rapid-fire exchange of pleasantries of a length that far exceeds our usual "Hello, How are you doing?" We asked him about this and he said the exchange goes like this, "Hello, How are you? How are you feeling? How are your parents? How is your wife? How are the cows? How are the goats? How are the children?" It sounds beautifully sing-songy when done in Bambara, the local language. People are often twenty feet away from each other when they finish. Folks run through the entire sequence, especially in the part of Mali we visited next - Dogon country.

Up until the end of the colonial era, the Dogon were one of the African peoples who had most successfully retained their identity, culture, and way of life. Part of this is due to their extreme isolation - an inhospitable area on the edge of the Sahara desert. Dogon villages are carved into and built along the "Bandiagara Escarpment" a 200km long wall of sandstone created by the earth's

tectonic movements during prehistoric times. Resisting Islam, even to this day, they continue to practice their animist religion from within cliffside villages.

After many hours of driving from Djenne that included a spell on dirt roads, we arrived in Dogan Country, at the peripheral village of Sanga. As we trundled towards Sanga, groups of young boys shaking rattles at us came into view. Bahamadau explained that every three years in Dogon country, a mass-circumcism ceremony is conducted for all young men between 9-12 years of age. Before this manhood ceremony, the boys solicit money and gifts from passerbys. Immediately after the mass circumcision procedure, the group runs a three kilometer race and the winner is presented with his choice of a bushel of millet the second runner up gets cows and the guy in third gets the wife of his choice! (Note the order!) If you ask Justin, running in 110 degree F heat after having that happen to you automatically qualifies you for manhood. Also important to note, this area of Africa still practices female circumcision. We dared not ask any women or even Bahamadau about this subject (though we know itis unfortunately pervasive throughout this region).

to the village of Sanga, we picked up a Dogon translator as Bahamadau does not know any of the 160 village dialects. It was interesting at first, but later tedious, to have the guide translate from a Dogon tongue to French and then have Bahamadau translate it from French to English. The translator was also the required guide to the individual Dogon villages, which in the last few years have bravely opened their previously isolated communities up to tourism.

Certainly, Dogon villages became accessible to tourists for the economic benefit. Tourists, through the guides, pay the village chiefs a per-head fee when they visit. That way, tourism benefits the entire village in a meaningful way (a new water well, or books for the village school). To us, this is a welcome change from the individual begging that accompanies most of our previous visits to indigenous communities.

In some ways, this trip through the villages, and two nights spent there seemed a bit voyeuristic. However, it gave us a clear sense of survival in its most basic form. Waking up one morning at 5am, Jamie watched the women fill their buckets at the communal well and then lift them on their heads

to carry back up the rock hills to their homes. It made turning on a tap at our camp site seem like a pure luxury.

In the pictures, you can see some cliff-side dwellings. These were carved by the Tellum people who lived there before the Dogon. They very much reminded us of the homes of the Anasazi Native Americans in Arizona. The two peoples have different continents and cultures, but incredibly similar architectural styles.

In the Dogon villages, Bahamadau pointed out that that there always four specific places: one was the hut where women live each month while menstruating (as is the case in many African cultures, the Dogon believe that menstruation is dangerous to men), a hut where women store their personal possessions, and another larger building where the family grain supply is stored. We were told that the village women are not allowed in that building lest they see how low the grain supply is.

Finally, there is always an area where villagers conduct sacrifices to appease their god, Amma and other various and sundry spirits of their animist religion. The direct translation into English of this activity - a "fetish" - seems odd to us, but nonetheless,

that's what it was. We could see an area in each village that was stained white - where millet beer was poured, and red - where chickens or goats were killed.

We were told that in return for retaining the traditional physical structure of Dogon village huts (mud and stick houses with millet straw roofs), villages gain UNESCO World Heritage status (United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization). This earns the villages badly needed money for water wells or schools. So if you think that your community's building codes are restrictive, at least your neighborhood doesn't restrict you only to housing materials and styles that were used in 1400 AD!

During our travels, we seem to have the good fortune of having our trip coincide with a local celebration. As tourists, we could have paid $20 per person to see a Dogon mask dance (this particular number is normally done at Dogon funerals). But we decided to skip this contrived show - after our experience in Sri Lanka with the bored looking dancers. Unbeknownst to us, we were in a village on market day where they were having a celebration of the surrounding villages. This meant we were treated to local

drumming, singing and dancing. The scene was colorful, as the African clothing is anything but drab in color, and the enthusiasm of the villagers was encouraging. Life is hard here, but through this celebration, we got to peek into the good side of life - how they have fun here. It is these moments that often make a trip for us.

As we approached each village, huge groups of children came running out to greet us. In some nonspecific way, they epitomize the joy and sadness of our peeks into life in remote villages. In Bahamadau's home, we asked his wife where their 2-year old son was. Her reply: "he is out." When would you ever get a mother saying that in the US? Village life is safe and quiet, so the little kids take the even littler kids out with them, completely unsupervised by the parents. Everywhere, kids come and greet us by shouting "tu-bob" (white person). Some then take Jamie's hand and walk with her for several minutes.

The children's smiles and laughter are infectious and they are quite playful. On the other hand, the small but apparent number of distended stomachs, indicating malnutrition is heart wrenching. Mali

has the 8th highest infant mortality rate in the world at 108 deaths per 1000. To give perspective, the US rate is 6 infant deaths per 1000. Because of this, as in many third world countries, people have many children. Children are also the social security system - they care for you when you are old.

We are constantly asked, through out India and Africa why we don't have children. Being married for 4-years and not having given birth is very uncommon and considered odd. Jamie has had several, generous, invitations to bring her baby to Africa after birth to learn how to rear a child. Maybe they know something we Westerners don't? We'll let you know if we take them up on their offers.

We ended three days of hiking from village to village by climbing up the steep escarpment. We were met by Bamana, our driver, who took us to the town of Mopti. In Mopti, we watched the sun set over the Niger River and had a beer at "Bar Le Bozo." Early the next morning, we started a punishing 120-mile trek across the desert in a Toyota Land Cruiser truck to Timbuktu.

As we were pulling out of Mopti,

we met one of the country's many police road blocks. Previously, we passed unhindered, but not this time - the police motioned the driver to pull over, get out, and come inside the station. We could see the cops arguing with our new driver through the "window" - an unglassed cutout in the side of the mud brick hut. Oh great, we thought - the cops are going to fine us for something (since they see tourists in the car). As we waited, Bahamadau told us that the driver was trying to negotiate the "tea money" - bribe - we would have to pay. Finally, the driver came out and we took off. He reported that the police told him his driver's license only allowed him to transport vegetables, not tourists! Obviously, the police must have needed that caffeine to come up with a lame excuse like that. They actually gave the driver a receipt for the bribe of $1.85.

As we bounced around the desert trail to Timbuktu, we could see why four-wheel drive was essential. Yet, we were told, the route was usually much worse. Several days prior, the entire trail had been scraped relatively flat by bulldozers

before for our 'ol buddy Mumar Quadafi, president of Libya, who had just made a visit to the fabled city.

Timbuktu provoked wildly contradictory feelings in us. On one hand, it has its alluring history (both real and definitely apocryphal) of being a fabled post on the trade route between the Middle East & Europe - through the Sahara Desert - to the riches (gold, ivory, spices, etc.) of sub-Saharan Africa. But after looking around a bit, one emotion it provoked in us was sadness. It is really destitute. We were told that the only industry it has - the main employer - is tourism. If this wasn't discouraging enough, the sands of Sahara desert are literally lapping at the edges of town. Despite a reforestation effort that has been going on in Africa for years, the desert gets closer all the time. Presumably, in our children's lifetime, the town will be swamped by sand.

In spite of the drabness and depressing nature of Timbuktu, one highlight for us was going out into the Sahara (50 meters from our hotel) each evening when the temperature finally dropped to the nineties. Jamie enjoyed making sand angels and running her fingers through the

fine, silky white sand. As we climbed around the sand dunes, we could see camel trains led by blue cloth-shrouded Tureg nomads who were coming back through town from the Sahara. It is possible that the camels were carrying slabs of salt from Toudenni, about 700 km north of Timbuktu, deep inside the Sahara. This famous salt mine/penal colony once provided this crucial condiment to European royalty. Now the slabs are used as cattle salt licks and in local cooking. Justin now has a place name to add to his oft used (perhaps irritatingly so to others) aphorism about "working in the salt mines."

One and half days were quite enough to see Timbuktu, so we arouse at 4:30AM for the return to Mopti. This time, it was in a manner almost opposite the rough, bumpy way in which we arrived - a leisurely three-day boat ride down the Niger river.

At the crack of dawn, we started downstream in our small motorized pirogue - a narrow, but long traditional fishing boat. Besides Bahamadau, we also had the boat's crew: Umar (the captain/driver), Sila (the cook), and a third crewmember, Sala, who had a job title that kind of unsettled us.

Justin quickly nicknamed him "Bail-boy." Sala's job was to constantly scoop water that leaked into the hold of the boat by using a cut-away Clorox bottle. for the entire three days. We hoped he was up to the job.

We quickly settled into a routine for the three days we were on the boat. We'd arise at 5AM and get on the river by 5:30 and spent the next 14-15 hours going down the river, enjoying the bird life, hippo sightings and village scenes. This was the end of the dry season in Mali, so the river was about 2-4 feet deep the whole way down. Sometimes we'd need to carefully follow the path of other boats, one-by-one, to avoid getting stuck on sandbars. After reading in the morning (Irvings's Son of the Circus for Jamie and Sebastian Faulk's Birdsong for Justin - both highly recommended), we'd have lunch of rice and fish that had been caught by Bozo fisherman on the river.

Throughout the day, children on other boats or on the shore would yell out in Bambara, "Tu-bob!" (White people) to us, and we'd yell back "Fara-fee" (Dark people) to them. The kids & some adults would then burst

into peals of laughter. Also, we constantly came upon Bozo fisherman casting their nets into the river in hopes of catching fish. They'd do this from boats with sails made out of grain sacks. We can say in all seriousness that the river was full of Bozos.

In the afternoon, Bahamadau and Sila would join us for a mean game of "151," which is a Malian card game. Much to their chagrin, Jamie beat them several times over the trip. After lunch, Sila would serve up Malian tea in what looked like shot glasses. Essentially, the tea is made by constantly infusing and re-infusing green tea and sugar so that it is exceptionally sweet and strong. They serve this tea three times within a short period. Bahamadau told us that Malians say this: the first glass is "strong like death," the second, "Medium like life," and the third, "sweet like love."

Over the three days on the river, we spotted the 40-50 hippos (in groups of 3-5) taking shelter in the cool water with just their snouts and ears showing. Much to Justin's irritation, we never came upon a hippo that was completely out of the water so that he could

take a picture (maybe they thought he was the paparazzi?). Yet Justin wasn't about harass them to get out of the water to pose for a picture and say "fomage," mostly because that is mean (duh!), but also because hippos kill more people in Africa than any another animal they get scared when people are between them and the safety of the water, and then maul folks. However, we did see some herons, egrets and kingfisher birds and, as we have throughout West Africa really cool lizards with an orange heads (see pictures)

At night, we'd pull over to camp on the side of the river - for three nights straight, the menu was pasta, couscous or rice and an indecipherable tomato sauce. With no city light for at least two hundred miles all around to dim them, the stars in the African sky were BRIGHT!

During our time on the river, we found out a bit more about Bahamadau: that he has never tasted ice cream that is wife is giving birth to his third child in June (he's 32) and that he is personally quite religious - Islam. He says he never forgets to pray five times a day. He

spoke at length about the ecumenical & tolerant nature of Malian society towards non-Muslims

We also noted how "wired" these guys were, along with the rest of W. Africa. They were always fiddling with their cell phones, and on the last night, we camped in a spot with cell reception: all four of them were chattering way with family and friends.

Certainly, mobile phones have altered the daily lives of people in developing countries much more profoundly than they have ours. For instance, with the advent of widespread cell phone use in the US, we all went from checking home/office answering machines for messages to the convenience of cell phone use. In contrast, they went from seeing only hearing from friends and family every few months to chatting with family while in the middle of a field in God-knows-where.

So arriving back on solid ground in the late afternoon of the third day, we went to take a much needed shower. We could have bathed in the river, but our public health minds made us skeptical of what was in there. After all, we had

seen many cows and goats doing their thing in the rivers, not to mention all the people (our toilet on the boat was a hole right into the river). We opted to stay dirty and wait for a cold shower in a hotel.

So, we have decided that the best way to summarize our time in Mali is this: It is a country that is culturally, historically and visually fascinating, but emotionally it is depressing (for us). The desolation of the landscape definitely made us feel isolated (Timbuktu is definitely out there), but this was offset by the unabashed, genuine warmth we felt from Malian people. Despite the depressing aspect, we leave with a new found respect for the limits to which people go to eek out survival for themselves and their families.


Capitaine sangha: Nile perch served with hot chilli sauce, whole fried bananas and rice.
Djablani: Juice made from hibiscus, ginger, or the fruit of the baobab tree.
Gumbo: Thick green musty-flavoured sauce made from okra pods.
Tigadéguéna: Meat served in a peanut sauce.
Pouletyassa: Fried chicken in a chilli sauce.
Alabadja: Traditional Tuareg recipe that mixes white rice and minced meat in a butter sauce.
Chouo and Touru: Stewed beans, and fried onions, respectively. Though separate dishes they are almost always served together, frequently with spaghetti.
Saga saga: Leaf vegetable sauce flavoured with onion and spicy stock.
Fakoye: Lamb with herbs, a speciality of the Songhay region.
: Solid starch made from pounded millet used as a vessel for a number of sauces.
Juices: Tamarind and guava are particularly delicious.
Tea: Drunk in three stages the first is very strong ('as bitter as death') the second is slightly sweetened ('just like life') the third is well sugared ('as sweet as love'). A fourth means you&rsquove overstayed your welcome.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The adventure continues!

Extending your Western Africa Adventure

Mali is an excellent starting off point for travel to surrounding countries. Through our large network of contacts and partners in the region, we can provide support in planning epic overland tours to neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

Travel and border crossings in this area of the world can be difficult at the simplest of times, so we will make sure you are prepared for all formalities and technicalities that may occur while in this region.

Since YPT first visited Mali and Burkina Faso, we’ve encountered incredible people with many different fascinating cultures and unique history.

The tour begins in Bamako, the capital of Mali. The nation has been mostly abandoned by mainstream tourism leaving us with an entire country to explore without possibly encountering other foreigners. From here your adventure will lead you to Segoukoro, the former capital of the Bambara Kingdom where you’ll meet the village chief and hear more of an insight to how things were. You’ll then board a pinasse and sail down the Niger River passing small fishing and pottery villages until arriving at the small sleepy river town of Segou rich with an authentic culinary scene.

You’ll then head to Djenne, a town known as the capital of mud where the streets and structures are built entirely out of mud. The Great Mosque in town is the largest mud structure in the world. Here we’ll visit the local blacksmiths to learn how they keep up with this tradition. We’ll then make our way further out of town to visit four unique tribes by horseback to have an incredible insight to these traditional villages.

We then make our way to Mopti, a bustling city situated by the border controlled by UN forces. This will give you a further idea of the ongoing conflict taking place in this region.

Over the years we have built a great relationship with the locals at Dogon Tribe which grant you the visit and overnight stay within a totally isolated village by the rocky plains. The scenery alone justifies your visit. Here you’ll have the opportunity to watch a sacred mask ceremony where in the ancestral animist beliefs have the elders of the village scare bad spirits away and welcome the good.

Group A members return to Bamako via Segou where we’ll arrange your airport drop off. Group B members continue onto Burkina Faso and visit Yako, the birthplace Thomas Sankara who is referenced as Africa’s Che Guevara. Burkina Faso was the epicentre of the Pan-Africanism and anti-colonial struggle. During your visit in Yako you’ll meet Sankara’s relatives and hear more about his history and the impact he had on the nation.

You’ll then drop by Bobo Dioulasso where you’ll experience Burkina village life by visiting mosques, sorcery sites, and impressive rock formations which tribes used as their fortresses during their wars. You’ll explore remote villagers where it’s possible to have a very close (and safe) encounter with hippos and crocodiles than you ever thought was possible!

The tour ends up in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso where we’ll be accompanied by friends and relatives of Sankara, followed by a farewell party to be remembered within the maquis and open-air bars the Burkinabe swear by.

This Mali and Burkina Faso tour can be combined with our Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania Overland tour and then onwards to Togo and Benin Tour. Make the most out of your visit to Africa and combine all tours!

We will have our own 4WD cars and will stay in camping sites in places where accommodation isn’t readily available. This trip involves a fair bit of camping and might not be as comfortable as our other trips, but it is sure to offer an off-the-beaten-path experience. We will be staying in accommodation we vouch for with extraordinary people.

Due to the logistical and infrastructural limitations that come with a trip to Mali and Burkina Faso, this trip is capped at 12 participants with priority being given to people booking both countries.

YPT keeps fully up to date with the security situation in both countries, as with many of our tours this itinerary is subject to change depending on the situation on the ground, with the local guide and YPT guide having final say on all logistical decisions

Mali Holidays and Festivals

Nowhere are Mali’s many distinct cultures more proudly displayed than during the country’s numerous festivals. A large percentage of Mali holidays take place in February, including Segou’s Festival on the Niger and Timbuktu’s Desert Festival, two of the country’s biggest celebrations. During one of Mali’s most unique events, all the residents of Djenné descends upon the Great Mosque to help apply fresh mud to the community’s most famous landmark.

Gouin Festival

This three-day January festival takes place around the normally quiet region of Gouina between Kayes and Bafoulabé. Goumbé and jazz musicians perform among the monkeys and hippos that live in the region teeming with wildlife. The event also features five different Kayes dance groups, craft workshops and Senegal River walks past the waterfalls.

Festival on the Niger

This Segou February festival is filled with music, dance, puppet shows, workshops, craft vendors, and pirogue boat races along the Niger River. No fewer than 15 of the Segou's unique puppetry and dance styles are represented, which also attracts many of Mali’s famous musicians. Wood carvings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs from the country’s most talented artists are displayed in galleries around the region. Actors, musicians and puppeteers accompany centuries-old legends that Segovian storytellers share beneath the balanzan trees.

Desert Festival

This lively February music event's location may have moved from Essakane to Timbuktu, but the likes of Robert Plant and Justin Adams still perform alongside some of Mali’s most talented Tuareg musicians. The Desert Festival evolved from a traditional Tuareg gathering filled with lively discussions and fun to an international event of peace. To this day, festival attendees celebrate the 1996 Flame of Peace ceremony when over 3,000 firearms were burned in Timbuktu. Unlike many other music festivals, the stage is surrounded by nothing but desert and the audience remains still and quiet. The more lively parties begin at nearby discos during the wee hours of the night.

Diamwari Festival

The Diamwari Festival has been one of Mopti’s main events ever since it was held for the first time along the Bani River’s banks. A weekend of "happiness," as the word translates in English, takes place for three days toward the end of February. The festival features gigantic puppets from Djenné, Dogon masks and at least four different dance troupes. Visitors can purchase unique crafts from Mali’s talented artisans. The winners of the festival’s pirogue race receives money and victory flags called jonjon.

Daoula-Ba Festival

The word ba means "big" in English, and this festival held in the village of Sôh every March certainly lives up to its name. Organic cotton, Sôh’s largest export is front and center with many of Mali’s most important dignitaries getting guided tours of the village’s organic cotton looms while costumed theater performances entertain the children. The festival’s highlight, however, may be the women’s colorful drum circle dances.

Dogon Mask Festival

This April festival is among Mali’s most famous gatherings. The masks the men wear during these five days represent Amma, the Dogon goddess of creation, and are believed to contain the souls of the dead and drive away evil spirits. Toward the end of the event, buffalo and hyena masks are believed to predict the tribe’s future.

Plastering the Great Mosque

Each year, an imam announces the date between late April and early May when the entire population of Djenné gathers to apply fresh mud to the city’s historic Great Mosque. The mud is prepared in pits with young boys helping to stir it by playing in it. Women and girls bring water to the men as they carry and carefully apply the mud to the mosque. Afterwards, all of Djenné celebrates with a gigantic feast filled with dancing and drumming.

International Rails Festival

Mali may presently have no passenger rail service, but this three-day festival still takes place each June in Kayes, the "City of Rails." Train conferences and debates are held alongside dance performances, concerts, cycling races, and wrestling matches throughout Mali and neighboring Senegal.


Mughal influence Edit

Muslims conquered Bengal around the mid-thirteenth century, bringing with them Persian culture and cuisine. [1] Islamic culinary influence had come from the upper classes, gradually diffusing into the local Hindu and poorer Muslim populations. Such dishes as biryani, korma and bhuna had once been meals of the higher courts, but the cooks of the Mughals brought their recipes to the lower and middle classes. [2] The influence was reinforced during the rule of the British Raj, where Kolkata became the place of refuge for many prominent exiled Nawabs, notably the family of Tipu Sultan from Mysore and Wajid Ali Shah, the ousted Nawab of Awadh. The exiles brought with them hundreds of cooks and masalchis (spice mixers), and as their royal patronage and wealth diminished, they became interspersed into the local population. These cooks came with the knowledge of a very wide range of spices (most notably jafran and mace), the extensive use of ghee, and marinating meat with yoghurt and chilli. [3]

In Bangladesh, this food has become common fare for the population while in West Bengal, they have remained the food of professional chefs. Further innovations include chap (ribs slow cooked on a tawa), rezala (meat in a thin yogurt and cardamom gravy) and kathi roll (kebabs in a wrap). [3]

The Mughals had a particular fixation on meat, bringing mutton into mainstream Bengali cuisine as well as already known kinds of meat like chicken and venison. [2]

Furthermore, traditional desserts had been primarily based on rice pastes and jaggery, but under Mughal influence moved towards significantly increased use of milk, cream, and sugar along with expensive spices such as cardamom and saffron. [2]

Influence of widows Edit

In Hindu patriarchal tradition, widows are not allowed to eat foods that would not be classified as "bitter", necessitating experiment and innovation. [4] While most Bengali castes ate meat and fish, this was barred for widows. Widows also could not use "heating" foods such as shallot and garlic, but ginger was allowed. This style found a core place in Bengali curries in general, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Expensive spices such as saffron, cinnamon or cloves were used very sparingly—if at all. Nuts, dry fruits, milk and milk products (such as cream, ghee or curd) were similarly scarce. [5] These economic and social restrictions influenced Bengali widows to create a brand new set of meals that utilized only vegetables and cheap spices.

Odia Influence Edit

During the 19th century many Odia cooks migrated to Bengal to work in the households of affluent Bengali families. They were also hired to cook in marriages and other family ceremonies. Odia Brahmin cooks from Puri who worked in Jagannath Temple, known as thakurs in Bengal were in great demand. Introduction of Odia cooks into Bengali kitchens brought in subtle but significant changes to Bengali cuisine. Many of the Bengali classic dishes were originally from Odisha but were refined in Bengali kitchens by Odia cooks. In fact some researchers say that dishes like rasogola (Bengali rosogolla), kanika (Bengali misti pulao) and mangsa kawsha (Bengali kosha mangsho) were first introduced to Bengali kitchens by Odia cooks although this is contested by other researchers. [6] [7] Even to this date most of the cooks in Bengali kitchens and hotels are Odia cooks. [8]

Chinese influence Edit

The Chinese of Kolkata originally settled into a village called Achipur south of Kolkata in the late 18th century, later moving into the city and finally into its present home in Tangra at the eastern edge of Kolkata. [9] The Chinese-origin people of Kolkata form a substantial and successful community with a distinct identity. [10] With this identity came Chinese food, available at almost every street corner in Kolkata at present, due to the taste, quick cooking procedure, and no similarity with the original Chinese recipe other than the use of soy sauce. They were mostly Cantonese tradesmen and sailors who first settled down here and decided to cook with whatever items they had at hand. [11]

Over time the influence of this cuisine became widespread throughout the region it is available in every town in India and Bangladesh as "Chinese" food. Bengali immigrants to other countries have started carrying this abroad as well [10] Indian Chinese restaurants have appeared in many places in the United States and UK. [12]

Indian Chinese food has been given a second boost in popularity since the 1950s when a large number of Tibetans migrated into Indian Territory, following the 14th Dalai Lama's flight. [13] Tibetans brought their own taste preferences to add to the genre, such as the popular momo (a kind of dumpling) or thukpa (a hearty noodle soup). Tibetans and Nepali immigrants found ready employment in the many kitchens that can now be found on virtually every street in Kolkata. [14] The chop suey became a favorite, and versions like "American chop suey" and "Chinese chop suey" were constantly talked about. [15]

Partition of Bengal Edit

The large-scale displacement along religious lines as a result of the partition led to changes in meal-taking, as to adhere to religious restrictions. In Bangladesh (former East Bengal and East Pakistan), Mughlai food is common, and includes foods that are less popular in West Bengal, such as beef kebab. Additionally, more traditionally Islamic sweets such as zarda and firni-payesh are eaten. In rural Bangladesh, many people eat makna fried, popped, or raw. [16] [17]

In West Bengal, the only restriction is beef, which applies only to Hindus. [18] During the colonial period, many Western food shops were established in Kolkata, making puff pastries, channa, chocolate, and chips especially popular. Dishes such as chop, gravy cutlet, sponge rasogolla, and ledikeni. [16] As a result of a multi-cultural community, Kolkata city's cuisine continuously changes, and takes heavy influence from Chinese and Marwari palates. [17] [19]

Bengali cuisine can be subdivided into four different types of dishes, charbya (Bengali: চর্ব্য ), or food that is chewed, such as rice or fish choṣya (Bengali: চোষ্য ), or food that is sucked, such as ambal and tak lehya (Bengali: লেহ্য ), or foods that are meant to be licked, like chutney and peya (Bengali: পেয় ), which includes drinks, mainly milk. [20]

Specialties of Chittagong Edit

Mezban feasts are popular throughout the area, where characteristic "heavy" dishes—dishes rich in animal fat and dairy—are featured. Saltwater fish and seafood are quite prevalent in these areas. Shutki is more available in this region than in other parts of the country. [21]

Specialties of Dhaka Edit

The Nawabs of Dhaka had brought Mughlai cuisine to Bengal, and with it, many Islamic elements that were wholly retained by Bangladesh's culinary community. Due to the high costs of producing Mughlai food, the recipes were limited to the elite classes in colonial India, and slowly expanded as Bangladesh's economy grew. The main focus on lamb, mutton, beef, yoghurt, and mild spices define the taste of the style. Such dishes as kebab stuffed breads kachi biriyani roast lamb, duck, and chicken patisapta Kashmiri tea and korma are still served at special occasions like Eid and weddings. [17] [22] Due to the high class of the food, using an excess amount of expensive ingredients like ghee, and making the food melt in one's mouth were essential to the feel of the food. [23]

Specialties of Kolkata Edit

In Kolkata, many local street vendors own small shops from which they sell their own homemade goods. [24] Items like cheeses (paneer) can be eaten as is, or can be made into sweet sandesh, rosogolla, or chanar payesh. Milk is especially used in Kolkata's various types of payesh, differing in use of different grains and additives like dates, figs, and berries. [25] [26] In addition to European foodstuffs like chocolate, Kolkata takes culinary influence from its Chinese diaspora. [27] Puchka, also known as panipuri, is a common kind of Bengali street food made with a fried dough casing and a potato and chickpea filling, usually found in small stalls alongside bhelpuri, masala chai, ghugni and chaat stalls. [28]

Another characteristic of Bengali food is the use the boti (also called the dao in some regional dialects). It is a long curved blade on a platform held down by foot both hands are used to hold whatever is being cut and move it against the blade, which faces the user. This method gives effective control over the cutting process, and can be used to cut anything from prawn to large pumpkins. [29]

A korai is a cooking vessel for most Bengali sauces and stir-fry. The dekchi (a flat-bottomed pan) is used generally for larger amounts of cooking or for making rice. It comes with a thin flat lid which is used also to strain out the starch while finishing up cooking rice. The tawa is used to make roti and paratha. [30] The other prominent cooking utensil is a hari, which is a round-bottomed pot-like vessel. The three mentioned vessels all come in various sizes and in various metals and alloys. [31]

A flat metal spatula, khunti, is used often, along with hata (scoop with a long handle), jhanjri (round-shaped sieve-like spatula to deep-fry food), the shanrashi (pincers to remove vessels from the fire), the ghuntni (wooden hand blender) for puréeing dal, the wooden belun chaki (round pastry board and rolling pin), and the shil nora, which is a rough form of a mortar and pestle or grinding stone. The kuruni is used only to grate coconuts. [32]

Silverware is not a part of traditional Bengali cookery. [32]

The typical Bengali fare includes a certain sequence of food—somewhat like the courses of Western dining. Two sequences are commonly followed, one for ceremonial dinners such as a wedding and the day-to-day sequence. [33] [ self-published source ]

Historical Edit

Bengalis usually eat sitting on the floor. They traditionally eat without silverware, [34] with a large banana or plantain leaf serving as the plate, or with plates made from dried sal leaves sewn together.

It is customary to offer guests food and drink appropriate to the time of their visit. At meals, guests are served first, with the possible exception of very old or very young members of the host family. Within the family, serving starts with the senior males (those of highest social rank or eldest). School-age children are served before wives, daughter-in-laws, and the cook, who are the last to eat. [34]

Contemporary Edit

Prior to colonization, adherence to meal order was a marker of social status, but with British and Portuguese influence and the growth of the middle class, this has slowly disappeared. Courses are frequently skipped or combined with everyday meals. [35] [ failed verification ] Meals were usually served course by course to the diners by the youngest housewives, but increasing influence of nuclear families and urbanisation has replaced this. [36] [ self-published source ] It is common to place everything on platters in the centre of the table, and each diner serves themselves. Ceremonial occasions such as weddings used to have elaborate serving rituals, but professional catering and buffet-style dining is now commonplace. However, large family occasions and more lavish ceremonial feasts may still abide by these rules. [36] [37]

Daily meals are usually simple, geared to balance nutrition and makes extensive use of vegetables. The courses progress broadly from lighter to richer and heavier and goes through various tastes and taste cleansers. Rice remains common throughout the meal and is the main constituent of the meal, until the chaţni (chutney) course. [38]

Main course Edit

Fish Edit

Bengalis eat numerous amounts of fish and typically look for freshwater and brackish when making meals. They also temper it with phoron. [39]

One tradition, includes the left side of the cidal fish being cooked in oil. [40]

Sweets Edit

Bengali sweets have a long history. The Portuguese friar Sebastien Manrique, travelling in the region in the 17th century, noted the multitude of milk-based foods and sweets prepared in traditional ways. [41]

Roshogolla Edit

Roshogolla, a Bengali traditional sweet, is one of the most widely consumed sweets in India. It spread to Bengal in 1868. Chhana based sweets were introduced in Eastern India from about the 18th century as the process and technology involved in synthesizing "Chhana" was introduced to the Indians by the Dutch in the 1790s. The cottage cheese "schmierkase" was also known as Dutch cheese. [42] The earlier versions of Rossogolla lacked binding capacity of the modern avatar that is well known and highly acclaimed today. This was due to the fact that the know-how involved in synthesizing such a sweet was unknown before being experimentally developed by Nobin Chandra Das and then constantly improved and further standardized by his successors. Furthermore, one must clearly understand that the "chhana" manufactured in those days was a coarse and granular variety and had low binding capacity. It was made by citric and ascorbic acid from natural fruit extracts. This type of "chhana" cannot be worked on to compact into any regular and firm shape for the purpose of sweet-making, leave alone making Rossogolla. This is because of a documented technological issue - lactic acid (extracted from whey) used to curdle milk now was introduced to India in the late 18th century by Dutch and Portuguese colonists (along with acetic acid) [43] - and it is this method that creates the fine, smooth modern "chhana" with high binding capacity - which is now the staple raw material for Bengali confectioners. At present, Nobin Chandra Das is referred to have invented the spongy variant of rossogolla [44]

Darbesh Edit

Laddu (or as it is known as "darbesh" in Bengal)is a very common sweet in Bangladesh and West Bengal, as well as the rest of the subcontinent, especially during celebrations and festivities. [45] [46] They are usually made out of flour, ghee/butter/oil and sugar. Alternative recipes can be made of coconut shavings and jaggery, raisins, chopped nuts, oatmeal, khoa, nutmeg, cardamom, or poppy seeds, among other ingredients. [47] [48] [49] [50] The sweet dates back to the year 4 BCE, where it was used for medicinal purposes and to keep the hormones of 9-11-year-old girls' hormones "in check". [51]

Pantua Edit

Pantua is similar to gulab jamun, and could be called a Bengali variant of that dish. [52]

Other sweets Edit

Several varieties of doi such as mishţi doi, fruit-floured doi like aam doi, custards, and rice pudding (khir or firni) [53] are also popular in West Bengal.

Shôndesh, chhanar jilapi, kalo jam, raghobshai, "pantua", "jolbhora shondesh", [54] "roshbhora", "lord chomchom", payesh, bundiya, nalengurer shôndesh, malpoa, shor bhaja, langcha, babarsa, and a variety of others are examples of sweets in Bengali cuisine.


Rice is the principal staple in Burmese cuisine, reflecting several millennia of rice cultivation, which first emerged in the country's Chindwin, Ayeyarwady, and Thanlwin river valleys between 11,000 and 5000 BCE. [4] By 3000 BCE, irrigated rice cultivation flourished, paralleled by the domestication of cattle and pigs by inhabitants. [4] In addition to rice, tea originated in the borderlands separating Myanmar from China, precipitating a longstanding tradition of tea consumption and the development of pickled tea known as laphet, which continues to play a pivotal role in Burmese ritual culture. [5] [6]

Agrarian settlements were settled by ancestors of Myanmar's modern-day ethnolinguistic groups. From these settlements emerged a succession of Burmese, Mon, Shan, Rakhine-speaking kingdoms and tributary states that now make up contemporary Myanmar. Paddy rice cultivation remains synonymous with the predominantly Buddhist Bamar, Mon, Shan, and Rakhine peoples who inhabit the country's fertile lowlands and plateaus. [7]

Burmese cuisine has been significantly enriched by contact and trade with neighboring kingdoms and countries well into modern times. The Columbian exchange in the 15th and 16th centuries introduced key ingredients into the Burmese culinary repertoire, including tomatoes, chili peppers, peanuts, and potatoes. [8] A series of Burmese–Siamese wars between the 16th to 19th centuries resulted in the emergence of Thai-inspired delicacies, including khanon dok, shwe yin aye, mont let hsaung, and Yodaya mont di. [9]

While record-keeping of pre-colonial culinary traditions is scant, food was and remains deeply intertwined with religious life, especially among Buddhist communities, exemplified in the giving of food alms (dāna), and communal feasts called satuditha and ahlu pwe (အလှူပွဲ). One of the few remaining pre-colonial cookbooks is the Sadawhset Kyan ( စားတော်ဆက်ကျမ်း , lit. 'Treatise on Royal Foods'), written on a palm leaf manuscript in 1866 during the Konbaung dynasty. [10] By the Konbaung dynasty (16th to 19th centuries), elaborate preparations of food played a central role in key court ceremonies (e.g., naming ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, etc.), including as ritual offerings to Hindu and indigenous deities, and as celebratory meals for attendees. [11]

British rule in Burma between the 19th and 20th centuries led to the establishment of Burmese Indian and Sino-Burmese communities that introduced novel cooking techniques, ingredients, food vocabulary, and fusion dishes that are now considered integral parts of Burmese cuisine. [12] These range from Indian breads such as naan and paratha to Chinese stir frying techniques and ingredients like tofu and soy sauce.

Dining Edit

Traditionally, the Burmese eat meals from plates on a low table or daunglan, while sitting on a bamboo mat. [13] Dishes are simultaneously served and shared. [13] A traditional meal includes steamed white rice as the main dish accompanied by Burmese curries, a light soup or consommé, and other side dishes, including fried vegetables, Burmese fritters, and ngapi yay gyo (ငါးပိရည်ကျို), a plate of fresh and blanched vegetables served with pickled fish dip. The meal is then finished with a piece of palm sugar or laphet (fermented tea leaves). [14]

Out of respect, the eldest diners are always served first before the rest join in even when the elders are absent, the first morsel of rice from the pot is scooped and put aside as an act of respect to one's parents, a custom known as u cha ( ဦးချ , lit. 'first serve'). [15]

The Burmese traditionally eat with their right hand, forming the rice into a small ball with only the fingertips and mixing this with various morsels before popping it into their mouths. [15] Chopsticks and Chinese-style spoons are used for noodle dishes, although noodle salads are more likely to be eaten with just a spoon. Western-style utensils, especially forks and knives, have gained currency in recent years.

Religious practices Edit

The country's diverse religious makeup influences its cuisine, as Buddhists avoid beef and Muslims pork. Beef is considered taboo by devout Buddhists and farmers because the cow is highly regarded as a beast of burden. [16] Vegetarianism is commonly practiced by Buddhists during the three-month Vassa (ဝါတွင်း) between July and October, as well as during Uposatha days, reflected in the Burmese word for "vegetarian," thet that lut (သက်သတ်လွတ်, lit. 'free of killing'). During this time, devout Buddhists observe Eight or more precepts, including fasting rules that restrict food intake to two daily meals (i.e., breakfast and lunch) taken before noon.

Food theories Edit

In traditional Burmese medicine, foods are divided into two classes: heating ( အပူစာ , apu za) or cooling ( အအေးစာ , a-aye za), based on their effects on one's body system, similar to the Chinese classification of food. [15] Examples of heating foods include chicken, bitter melon, durian, mango, chocolate, and ice cream. Examples of cooling foods include pork, eggplant, dairy products, cucumbers, and radish.

The Burmese also hold several taboos and superstitions regarding consumption during various occasions in one's life, especially pregnancy. For instance, pregnant women are not supposed to eat chili, due to the belief that it causes children to have sparse scalp hairs. [15]

Burmese dishes are not cooked with precise recipes. The use and portion of ingredients used may vary, but the precision of timing is of utmost importance. [15] [10] Burmese dishes may be stewed, boiled, fried, roasted, steamed, baked or grilled, or any combination of the said techniques. [10] Burmese curries use only a handful of spices (in comparison to Indian ones) and use more fresh garlic and ginger. [10]

Broadly speaking, Burmese cuisine is divided between the culinary traditions of Upper Myanmar, which is inland and landlocked and Lower Myanmar which is surrounded by numerous rivers, river deltas, and the Andaman Sea. [17] Variations between regional cuisines are largely driven by the availability of fresh ingredients. Myanmar's long coastline has provided an abundant source of fresh seafood, which is particularly associated with Rakhine cuisine. [18] Southern Myanmar, particularly the area around Mawlamyaing, is known for its cuisine, as the Burmese proverb goes: "Mandalay for eloquence, Yangon for boasting, Mawlamyaing for food." [19] [Note 2]

Cuisine in Lower Myanmar, including Yangon and Mawlamyaing, makes extensive use of fish and seafood-based products like fish sauce and ngapi (fermented seafood). [17] The cuisine in Upper Myanmar, including the Bamar heartland (Mandalay, Magway, and Sagaing Regions), Shan State, and Kachin States, tends to use more meat, poultry, pulses and beans. [17] The level of spices and use of fresh herbs varies depending on the region Kachin and Shan curries will often use more fresh herbs. [2]

Fusion Chettiar ( ချစ်တီးကုလား ) cuisine, originating from Southern Indian cuisine, is also popular in cities.

Because a standardised system of romanisation for spoken Burmese does not exist, pronunciations of the following dishes in modern standard Burmese approximated using IPA are provided (see IPA/Burmese for details).

Preserved foods Edit

Myanmar is one of very few countries where tea is not only drunk but eaten as lahpet, pickled tea served with various accompaniments. [20] [21] The practice of eating tea dates in modern-day Myanmar back to prehistoric antiquity, reflecting the legacy of indigenous tribes who pickled and fermented tea leaves inside bamboo tubes, bamboo baskets, plantain leaves and pots. [22] This longstanding history is reflected in the Burmese language, which is among the few world languages whose word for "tea" is not etymologically traced back to the Chinese word for "tea" (see etymology of tea). [22] Tea leaves are traditionally cultivated by the Palaung people. [22] Pickled tea leaves continue to play an important role in Burmese culture today. [22] Ngapi ( ငါးပိ ), a fermented paste made from salted fish or shrimp, is considered the cornerstone of any Burmese traditional meal. It is used to season many soups, salads, curries and dishes, and condiments, imparting a rich umami flavor. [2] The ngapi of Rakhine State contains no or little salt, and uses marine fish. Meanwhile, ngapi made with freshwater fish is common in Ayeyarwady and Tanintharyi regions. Ngapi yay ( ငါးပိရည် ) is an essential part of Karen and Bamar cuisine, in which a sauce dip of ngapi cooked in various vegetables and spices is served with blanched and fresh vegetables, similar to Thai nam phrik, Indonesian lalab, and Malay ulam.

Pon ye gyi ( ပုံးရည်ကြီး ), a thick salty black paste made from fermented beans, is popular in the Bamar heartland. It is used in cooking, especially with pork, and as a salad with peanut oil, chopped onions and red chili. Bagan is an important pon ye gyi producer. [24]

Burmese cuisine also features a wide variety of pickled vegetables and fruits that are preserved in oil and spices, or in brine and rice wine. [3] The former, called thanat (သနပ်), are similar to South Asian pickles, including mango pickle. The latter are called chinbat (ချဉ်ဖတ်), and include pickles like mohnyin gyin.

Rice Edit

The most common staple in Myanmar is steamed rice, called htamin ( ထမင်း ). Fragrant, aromatic varieties of white rice, including paw hsan hmwe ( ပေါ်ဆန်းမွှေး ), are popular. Lower-amylose varieties of glutinous rice, which are called kauk hnyin ( ကောက်ညှင်း ), also feature in Burmese cuisine, including a purple variety called ngacheik (ငချိပ်). Consumers in the northern highlands (e.g., Shan State) prefer stickier, lower-amylose varieties like kauk hnyin and kauk sei, while consumers in lower delta regions preferring higher-amylose varieties like kauk chaw and kauk kyan. [25] Lower-amylose varieties of rice are commonly used in traditional Burmese snacks called mont. [25] While rice is traditionally eaten plain, flavored versions like buttered rice and coconut rice are commonplace festive staples. [26]

  • Htamin gyaw ( ထမင်းကြော် [tʰəmɪ́ɴ dʒɔ̀] ) – fried rice with boiled peas, sometimes with meat, sausage, and eggs. [27]
  • San byok ( ဆန်ပြုတ် [sʰàɴbjoʊʔ] ) – rice congee with fish, chicken or duck often fed to invalids.
  • Danbauk ( ဒံပေါက် [dàɴbaʊʔ] , from Persian dum pukht) – Burmese-style biryani with either chicken or mutton served with mango pickle, a fresh salad of sliced onions, julienned cabbage, sliced cucumbers, fermented limes and lemons, fried dried chilies, and soup [28][29]
  • Htamin jin ( ထမင်းချဉ် ‌ [tʰəmíɴ dʒɪ̀ɴ] ) – a rice, tomato and potato or fish salad kneaded into round balls dressed and garnished with crisp fried onion in oil, tamarind sauce, coriander and spring onions often with garlic, Chinese chive roots, fried whole dried chili, grilled dried fermented bean cakes (pé bok) and fried dried tofu (tohu gyauk kyaw) on the side [30] ( သင်္ကြန်ထမင်း [ðədʒàɴ tʰəmɪ́ɴ] ) – fully boiled rice in candle-smelt water served with pickled marian plums [31]

Noodles Edit

Burmese cuisine uses a wide variety of noodles, which are prepared in soups, salads, or other dry noodle dishes and typically eaten outside of lunch, or as a snack. [2] Fresh, thin rice noodles called mont bat (မုန့်ဖတ်) or mont di (မုန့်တီ), are similar to Thai khanom chin, and feature in Myanmar's national dish, mohinga. Burmese cuisine also has a category of rice noodles of varying sizes and shapes called nan, including nangyi (နန်းကြီး), thick udon-like noodles nanlat (နန်းလတ်), medium-sized rice noodles nanthe (နန်းသေး), thinner rice noodles and nanbya (နန်းပြား), flat rice noodles. [32] Cellophane noodles, called kyazan (ကြာဆံ, lit. 'lotus thread') and wheat-based noodles called khauk swe (ခေါက်ဆွဲ), [32] are often used in salads, soups, and stir-fries. [2]

Dry or fried noodle dishes include:

  • Kat kyi kaik ( ကတ်ကြေးကိုက် [kaʔtɕígaɪʔ] , lit. 'bitten with scissors') – a southern coastal dish (from the Dawei area) of flat rice noodles with a variety of seafood, land meats, raw bean sprouts, beans and fried eggs, comparable to pad thai[33]
  • Meeshay ( မြီးရှေ [mjíʃè] ) – rice noodles with pork or chicken, bean sprouts, rice flour gel, rice flour fritters, dressed with soy sauce, salted soybean, rice vinegar, fried peanut oil, chilli oil, and garnished with crisp fried onions, crushed garlic, coriander, and pickled white radish/mustard greens
  • Mont di – an extremely popular and economical fast food dish where rice vermicelli are either eaten with some condiments and soup prepared from ngapi, or as a salad with powdered fish and some condiments.
  • Panthay khao swè ( ပန်းသေးခေါက်ဆွဲ [páɴðé kʰaʊʔ sʰwɛ́] ) – halal egg noodles with a spiced chicken curry. The dish is associated with Panthay community, a group of Burmese Chinese Muslims. [34]
  • Sigyet khauk swè ( ဆီချက်ခေါက်ဆွဲ [sʰìdʑɛʔ kʰaʊʔ sʰwɛ́] ) – wheat noodles with duck or pork, fried garlic oil, soy sauce and chopped spring onions. The dish originated from with the Sino-Burmese community [35]
  • Mohinga ( မုန့်ဟင်းခါး [mo̰ʊɴhíɰ̃ɡá] ) – the unofficial national dish, made with fresh thin rice noodles in a fish broth with onions, garlic, ginger, lemon grass and tender banana stem cores, served with boiled eggs, fried fishcake and Burmese fritters[36]
  • Ohn-no khauk swè ( အုန်းနို့ခေါက်ဆွဲ [ʔóʊɴno̰ kʰaʊʔsʰwɛ́] ) – curried chicken and wheat noodles in a coconut milk broth. It is comparable to Malaysianlaksa and Northern Thaikhao soi[37]
  • Kyay oh ( ကြေးအိုး [tʃé ʔó] ) – rice noodles in a broth of pork offal and egg, traditionally served in copper pot [38]
  • Kawyei khao swè ( ကော်ရည်ခေါက်ဆွဲ [kɔ̀ jè kʰaʊʔ sʰwɛ́] ) – noodles and duck (or pork) curried with five-spice powder in broth with eggs, comparable to Singaporean/Malaysian lor mee[39]
  • Mi swan ( မြူစွမ် [mjù swàɴ] ) – thin wheat noodles, known as misua in Singapore and Malaysia. It is a popular option for invalids, usually with chicken broth.
  • Shan khauk swé ( ရှမ်းခေါက်ဆွဲ [ʃáɴ kʰaʊʔsʰwɛ́] ) – rice noodles with chicken or minced pork, onions, garlic, tomatoes, chili, crushed roasted peanuts, young snowpea vine, served with tofu fritters, and pickled mustard greens [40]

Salads Edit

Burmese salads (Burmese: အသုပ် transliterated athoke or athouk) are a diverse category of indigenous salads in Burmese cuisine. Burmese salads are made of cooked and raw ingredients that are mixed by hand to combine and balance a wide-ranging array of flavors and textures. [41] Burmese salads are eaten as standalone snacks, as side dishes paired with Burmese curries, and as entrees. [42]

  • Lahpet thoke ( လက်ဖက်သုပ် [ləpʰɛʔ ðoʊʔ] ) – a salad of pickled tea leaves with fried peas, peanuts and garlic, toasted sesame, fresh garlic, tomato, green chili, crushed dried shrimps, preserved ginger and dressed with peanut oil, fish sauce and lime [3]
  • Gyin thoke ( ချင်းသုပ် ‌ [dʒɪ́ɰ̃ ðoʊʔ] ) – a salad of pickled ginger with sesame seeds [3]
  • Khauk swè thoke ( ခေါက်ဆွဲသုပ် [kʰaʊʔsʰwɛ́ ðoʊʔ] ) – wheat noodle salad with dried shrimps, shredded cabbage and carrots, dressed with fried peanut oil, fish sauce and lime
  • Let thoke son ( လက်သုပ်စုံ [lɛʔ θoʊʔzòʊɴ] ) – similar to htamin thoke with shredded green papaya, shredded carrot, ogonori sea moss and often wheat noodles
  • Nan gyi thoke ( နန်းကြီးသုပ် [náɰ̃dʒí ðoʊʔ] ) or Mandalay mont di, thick rice noodle salad with chickpea flour, chicken, fish cake, onions, coriander, spring onions, crushed dried chilli, dressed with fried crispy onion oil, fish sauce and lime [43]
  • Samusa thoke ( စမူဆာသုပ် [səmùsʰà ðoʊʔ] ) – samosa salad with onions, cabbage, fresh mint, potato curry, masala, chili powder, salt and lime [44]
  • Kya zan thoke – glass vermicelli salad with boiled prawn julienne and mashed curried duck eggs and potatoes.

Curries Edit

Burmese curry refers to a diverse array of dishes in Burmese cuisine that consist of protein or vegetables simmered or stewed in an base of aromatics. [2] Burmese curries generally differ from other Southeast Asian curries (e.g., Thai curry) in that Burmese curries make use of dried spices, in addition to fresh herbs and aromatics, and are often milder. [45] The most common variety of curry is called sibyan (ဆီပြန် lit. 'oil returns'), which is typified by a layer of oil that separates from the gravy and meat after cooked. [46] Pork, chicken, goat, shrimp, and fish are commonly prepared in Burmese curries.

  • Pork sibyan (ဝက်သားဆီပြန်) – classic Burmese curry with fatty cuts of pork [47]
  • Chicken sibyan (ကြက်သားဆီပြန်) – the classic Burmese curry, served with a thick gravy of aromatics [27][48]
  • Bachelor's chicken curry (ကြက်ကာလသားချက်) – a red and watery chicken curry cooked with calabash[49][27]
  • Goat hnat (ဆိတ်သားနှပ်) – a braised goat curry spiced with masala, cinnamon sticks, bay leaf, and cloves [50]
  • Nga thalaut paung ( ငါးသလောက်ပေါင်း [ŋəθəlaʊʔbáʊɴ] ) – a curry of hilsa fish and tomatoes, which is slowly simmered to melt the fish bones [51]
  • Egg curry (ဘဲဥချဥ်ရည်ဟင်း) – a sour curry made with hardboiled duck or chicken eggs, cooked in tamarind paste and mashed tomatoes[3]

Soups Edit

In Burmese cuisine, soups typically accompany meals featuring both rice and noodles, and are paired accordingly to balance contrasting flavors. Lightly flavored soups, called hin gyo ( ဟင်းချို ) are served with saltier dishes, while sour soups, called chinyay hin ( ချဉ်ရည်ဟင်း ), are paired with rich, fatty Burmese curries. [3]

Thizon chinyay ( သီးစုံချဉ်ရည် [θízòʊɴ tʃìɴjè] , lit. 'sour soup of assorted vegetables'), cooked with drumstick, lady's finger, eggplant, green beans, potato, onions, ginger, dried chilli, boiled eggs, dried salted fish, fish paste and tamarind, is an elevated version of chinyay hin, and served during festive occasions. [3]

Other grains and breads Edit

Indian breads are commonly eaten for breakfast or teatime in Myanmar. Palata ( ပလာတာ ), also known as htattaya (ထပ်တစ်ရာ), a flaky fried flatbread related to Indian paratha, is often eaten with curried meats or as dessert with sprinkled sugar, [52] while nanbya ( နံပြား ), a baked flatbread, is eaten with any Indian dishes. [27] Other favorites include aloo poori ( အာလူးပူရီ ), chapati (ချပါတီ), and appam (အာပုံ). [53] [54]

    ( ရှမ်းတိုဟူး [ʃáɴ tòhú] ) – a tofu of Shan origin made from chickpea flour, eaten as fritters, in a salad, or in porridge forms
  • A sein kyaw ( အစိမ်းကြော် [ʔəséɪɴdʒɔ̀] ) – cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, green beans, baby corn, corn flour or tapioca starch, tomatoes, squid sauce [55]
  • Ngapi daung (ငါးပိထောင်း) – a spicy Rakhine-style condiment made from pounded ngapi and green chili
  • Nga baung htoke ( ငါးပေါင်းထုပ် [ŋəbáʊɴ doʊʔ] ) – a Mon-style steamed parcel of mixed vegetables and prawns, wrapped in morinda and banana leaves [56]
  • Wet tha chin ( ဝက်သားချဉ် [wɛʔ θə dʑɪ̀ɴ] ) – Shan-style preserved minced pork in rice [57]

Snacks Edit

Burmese cuisine has a wide variety of traditional snacks called mont, ranging from sweet desserts to savory food items that are steamed, baked, fried, deep-fried, or boiled. Traditional Burmese fritters, consisting of vegetables or seafood that have been battered and deep-fried, are also eaten as snacks or as toppings. [58]

  • Hpet htok (lit. 'leaf wrap', ဖက်ထုပ် [pʰɛʔtʰoʊʔ] ) – meat, pastry paper, ginger, garlic, pepper powder, and salt. Usually served with soup or noodles.
  • Samusa ( စမူဆာ [səmùzà] ) – Burmese-style samosa with mutton and onions served with fresh mint, green chilli, onions and lime ( ဝက်သား တုတ်ထိုး [wɛʔθá doʊʔtʰó] ) – pork offal cooked in light soy sauce, and eaten with raw ginger and chili sauce.
  • Htamane ( ထမနဲ [tʰəmənɛ́] ) – dessert made from glutinous rice, shredded coconuts and peanuts
  • Mont let hsaung ( မုန့်လက်ဆောင်း [mo̰ʊɴlɛʔsʰáʊɴ] ) – tapioca or rice noodles, glutinous rice, grated coconut and toasted sesame with jaggery syrup in coconut milk [59]
  • Sanwin makin ( ဆနွင်းမကင်း [sʰà.nwɪ́ɴ məgɪ́ɴ] ) – semolina cake with raisins, walnuts and poppy seeds[3]
  • Shwe yin aye ( ရွှေရင်အေး [ʃwè jɪ̀ɴ ʔé] ) – agar jelly, tapioca and sago in coconut milk ( ပုသိမ်ဟလဝါ [pəθèɪɴ ha̰ləwà] ) – a sticky sweetmeat made of glutinous rice, butter, coconut milk, [60] inspired by Indian halwa
  • Hpaluda ( ဖာလူဒါ [pʰàlùdà] ) – rose water, milk, coconut jelly, coconut shavings, sometimes served with egg custard and ice cream, similar to Indian falooda[3]
  • Ngapyaw baung (ငှက်ပျောပေါင်း) – A Mon-style dessert of bananas stewed in milk and coconut, and garnished with black sesame [61]
  • Saw hlaing mont (စောလှိုင်မုန့်) – a Rakhine-style baked sweet, made from millet, raisins, coconut and butter

Fruits and fruit preserves Edit

Myanmar has a wide range of fruits, mostly of tropical origin. Fruit is commonly eaten as a snack or dessert. [2] While most fruits are eaten fresh, a few, including jengkol, are boiled, roasted or otherwise cooked. Popular fruits include banana, mango, watermelon, papaya, jujube, avocado, pomelo, and guava. [62] Others include marian plum, mangosteen, sugar-apple, rambutan, durian, jackfruit, lychee, and pomegranate. Burmese fruit preserves, called yo (ယို), are also commonly eaten as standalone snacks. Common ones include fruit preserves made from fig, jujube, marian plum, citrus, mango, pineapple, and durian.

Tea is the national drink of Myanmar, reflecting the influence of Buddhism and its views on temperance. [63] Tea is central to Burmese dining culture complimentary green tea is customarily served to diners at restaurants and teashops alike. [64] Various liquid concoctions made from fruits and coconut milk, including sugarcane juice, and mont let hsaung ( မုန့်လက်ဆောင်း ) are also popular. [65] Indigenous fermented drinks like palm wine are also found across the country. During a traditional Burmese meal, drinks are not often served instead, the usual liquid refreshment is a light broth or consommé served from a communal bowl.

Burmese tea Edit

Plain green tea, yay nway gyan ( ရေနွေးကြမ်း , lit. 'crude tea water'), is a popular form of tea drunk in Myanmar. [20] Tea leaves are traditionally cultivated in Shan State and Kachin State. [20] Milk tea, called laphet yay cho (လက်ဖက်ရည်ချို), made with strongly brewed black tea leaves, and sweetened with a customized ratio of condensed milk and evaporated milk, is also popular. [66] [22]

Alcohol Edit

Palm wine, called htan yay (ထန်းရည်), made from the fermented sap of the toddy palm, is traditionally consumed in rural parts of Upper Myanmar [67] Ethnic communities, including the Kachin and Shan, also brew local moonshines. [68] Several ethnic minorities traditionally brew alcoholic beverages using rice or glutinous rice called khaung [my] (ခေါင်ရည်). [69] The khaung of the Chin peoples is brewed using millet seeds. [69] Locally brewed beers include Irrawaddy, Mandalay, Myanmar, and Tiger. [63]

Restaurants Edit

Dine-in restaurants that serve steamed rice with traditional Burmese curries and dishes are called htamin saing (ထမင်းဆိုင် lit. 'rice shop').

Tea shops Edit

During British rule in Burma, Burmese Indians introduced tea shops to the country, first known as kaka hsaing, which later evolved into teashops called laphet yay hsaing (လက်ဖက်ရည်ဆိုင်) or kaphi (ကဖီး), the latter word from French café. Burmese tea shop culture emerged from a combination of British, Indian, and Chinese influences throughout the colonial period. [70] Teashops are prevalent across the country, forming an important part of communal life. [21] [71] Typically open throughout the day, some Burmese tea shops cater to locals, long distance drivers and travellers alike. The Burmese typically gather in tea shops to drink milk tea served with an extensive array of snacks and meals. [70]

Street food Edit

Street food stalls and hawkers are a feature of the Burmese urban landscape, especially in major cities like Yangon. [72] Burmese salads, snacks, and fritters are especially popular street foods. [73] In recent years, some major cities have clamped down on street food vendors. In 2016, Yangon banned the city's 6,000 street vendors from selling food on major thoroughfares, and relocated them to formal night markets set up by the city. [74]

Night markets, called nya zay (ညဈေး), are a feature of many Burmese towns and cities. Colonial observers as early as 1878 noted Burmese street hawkers selling delicacies such as fruits, cakes, and laphet during "night bazaars." [75] The streets surrounding major daytime markets, such as Zegyo Market in Mandalay, typically double as makeshift night markets during the evenings. [76]

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