Nestled on the Bay of Bengal, bordering China, India, Laos and Thailand, the Burmese table is influenced by all of its neighbors, while adding its own flair in special ingredients like lahpet.
Lahpet is a pickled tea leaf than is often used in salads and side dishes. Burma is one of the few places where tea is both a food and a beverage.
There is a saying that sheds some light on the most important ingredients in Burmese food: “A thee ma, thayet; a thar ma, wet; a ywet ma, lahpet.”
“Of all the fruit, the mango’s the best; of all the meat, the pork’s the best; and of all the leaves, lahpet’s the best”.
The Burmese also use a lot of seafood in their meals, which is used to perfection in the traditional fish/noodle soup called moh hin kha, the aroma of which could fill a stadium. Desserts are simple and delicious, using a lot of tropical fruits such as coconut and coconut milk, as well as mango and agar, a type of gelatin.
On Saturday, you have the opportunity to expand your palate by delving into the world of Burmese cuisine, while supporting an important cause.
A Burmese Food Fair will be held from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Calvary Baptist Church at 60 Hastings Street On Saturday May 4. All proceeds benefit SayDaNar, a group that has been working diligently to educate Burmese refugee children in Lowell.
The Burmese began arriving in Lowell, relocated here by the U.S. State Department, in 2007; many had spent several years living in overcrowded camps on the Thai/Burmese border, with no opportunity to get an education.
“The goal is to empower them,” Ardeth Thawnghmung, a political-science professor at UMass Lowell, and founder of SayDaNar, who along with her husband James has been assisting Lowell’s Burmese refugees since they began arriving in 2007, said last summer.. “We do not want to perpetuate a culture of dependency; we want to show them they can be self-sufficient and not rely on welfare.”
Today, there are approximately 200 Burmese refugees living in Lowell.
Refugees arrive here with nothing, and speaking little or no English.
The Thawnghmungs have worked with the Lowell Public Schools to secure interpreters and aides who speak Burmese, as well as Karen, the language of the minority group to which most of the city’s refugees belong.
They also worked with U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas’ office to pressure the Registry of Motor Vehicles to allow the Burmese, like the Cambodians, to use an interpreter when taking their driver’s license test.
In January 2012, SayDaNar started an after school program with one teacher to assist Burmese students with their homework and tutor them in English. The program has since expanded to two part-time paid teachers and 23 volunteers, who assist 35 children five hours a week.
According to Ardeth, there has been a noticeable improvement, both socially and academically in the children since they began the program. But, like any other endeavor, they need funds to keep it going.
So, stop by the Calvary Baptist Church on Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., learn about a cuisine with which you many not be very familiar, while helping some young students learn the skills they need to achieve their American dream.
In addition to the food there will also be ethnic dance and games, and handmade products from Burma for sale.