On almost every street in Yangon at almost any time of the day you will see low plastic chairs set around a knee-high portable kitchen with a semi-circular cauldron in which a rich brown gravy simmers. On upper-class kitchens skewers of sliced meats are arrayed decoratively in a fan shape around the edge of the pan. On lower-class you will see a mound of innards and gizzards, fat tongues and sponge-like tripe. Whatever the display, the constituent parts of your meal are the same, assorted bits of pig including internal organs such as liver, intestines, kidneys, spleen, heart, lungs, tongue, meat, skin and cartilage, those bits of the pig that come under the gastronomic description of ‘everything but the squeal’, all cut into pieces and skewered on small bamboo sticks. Yangon street food may not be beautiful but it’s cheap and filling.
This is Wat Thar Doke Htoe (pork sticks), simple food-on-the-go, found only in Myanmar and hugely popular; street sweepers sit next to secretaries next to students, and for 200 kyat (12p) per wooden skewer you can have a modest snack or intestinal blow-out.
I’m leaning against a van taking notes, and across the way a gentleman at the entrance to a copy shop indicates a blue plastic stool for me to use in front of his shop. I smile my thanks but indicate that I’m watching the man at the cauldron prepare his fare, an up-market version, the skewers arranged in a fan like a peacock’s splayed tail.
An elderly gentleman comes up and starts talking to me in English, telling me, amongst other things, that despite the country being called Myanmar the people themselves are Burmese. The copy-shop man, who also speaks English, joins us.
I point to the cooking stall and ask the procedure. It seems that Yangong street food is a very simple affair. You take a skewer with the slice of pre-cooked meat and warm it in the gravy for a few seconds, dip it into the slightly sweet and sour sauce in a bowl in front of you then eat it. Simple as that.
I try three pieces; a slice that appears to be mainly fat, a section of lip and a slither of large intestine. The first two are tasty, enhanced by the flavour of the pan juices of roast pork and the dipping sauce. The intestine is a bit chewy and not especially yummy, but two out of three isn’t bad and if I wanted to try more I have about ten other samples to choose from, including liver, ear, snout and belly, although none of which I recognise.
I invite the two gentlemen to join me but they decline. When I finish my tasting I thank them and prepare to leave when one of them says, “Think for a moment. What’s the one thing you forget.” I’m not sure if it’s a trick question. I’ve paid my bill, my trouser zip isn’t undone? He points to my umbrella hanging on the framework of the awning that protects the kitchen. I thank him; the cook, the gentlemen and myself exchange a round of smiles and I leave, only to realise later that I’d been over-charged by 200 kyat, the outrageous sum of twelve pence, but worth it for the entertainment value alone.
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