Myanmar, Day eight, Mandalay
Day eight started bright and early, morning is not JHubz’s favourite time of day and it was with some reluctance he was ready to head out on our Grasshopper food tour of Mandalay at seven forty this morning and he was not alone in his reluctance. It was bound to happen sooner or later and today was my day of not feeling so great, the day we had a booked and paid for tour, sigh, dosed up to the eyeballs off we went.
We cabbed it across to the meeting point and met Wine Wyne our local guide and our four trishaw drivers and off we went being peddled through the quiet leafy streets. Most bikes here do not have gears and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for all of our drivers, most of all mine who had me as well as Wine Wyne to pedal. As we made our way we passed groups of young nuns all dressed in pink, as young as five years old. Some will be orphans but the majority are sent by their parents to the convent as it is the only way they will get an education. Three times a week they are bussed into the city to collect alms. They were singing prayers of good health and prosperity as they went from door to door being given uncooked rice and money.
Our first stop was a little open air roadside restaurant with only one table selling deep fried chickpea balls, onion, corn and bean fritters, gourd tempura and serving white and black sticky rice. People were pulling up on mopeds and bicycles in a constant stream while we were there to stock up on the fried goodies. The crisp and aromatic onion fritter was our collective favourite. The kitchen consisted of two low brick fires covered by huge wok like pans where the deep frying was non stop, they open at five am and close at nine once the breakfast crowd has gone. Wine Wyne had ordered two massive platefuls for us and as a group of young nuns approached we asked if we were allowed to give them the plentiful left overs. Approval given Trish and I took the remaining platefuls and were soon surrounded by a sea of smiling children as we placed one piece in each of their collection bowls.
After a short cycle our subsequent stop was for Mohinga, a fish and chickpea based noodle soup served with egg and chickpea fritter that is a national dish and usual breakfast in Myanmar. Mohinga is one of the reasons I love a food tour, we had heard of it before and I confess to having been pretty reluctant to try it, fish and chickpea soup? Yeah no thanks. Well I am glad I did as it was pretty yummy and I will most definitely have it again. When we’d all finished we headed over the road to the local market and slowly began wandering around as Wine Wyne introduced us to all manner of wonder. Most of the sellers were sat crosslegged amongst their wares, either on the floor or on raised platforms. A table selling every part of the banana tree from the trunk, used in Mohinga to the flower used in salads. Quails, hens and fermented duck eggs wrapped in ash and lime. Long and knobbly pigs intestines and the Myanmar version of black pudding. Stripped goats bums with their tails still on sticking in the air. Mounds of stinking fish paste made from fermented shrimp and fish. The same fragrant sticky kindling we saw in Nyaung Shwe and now learnt was used as fire starters. Each market we visit we see new previously unknown fruit and vegetables and this one was no different. Green plump gourds almost a metre long, tiny kumquat like fruit to be eaten peel and all that Wine Wyne bought for us to try later. We could have wandered for hours but soon headed to the surrounding outdoor market to see a vendor selling the betel leaves that many people here chew. They take one betel leave, chop off the top and bottom believing there is a monster at the top and an ogre at the bottom, paint it with ground and fermented limestone (yes really) and place three to five pieces of chopped betel nut on it before folding it into a neat package. They often add a sprinkling of different tobaccos from India and a squirt of fermented tobacco juice for flavour. It creates a red saliva which you see spat everywhere and apparently makes the chewer more alert, I’m thinking high but nobody says that. We were all separately dreading being offered it to try which thankfully we were not.
Leaving the market we were cycled along increasingly busy streets to a salad bar, not exactly what we were expecting however this particular salad bar specialises in tea leave salads. A round lacquer bowl with individual sections filled with tea and garlic paste, tea and chilli paste, slightly pickled whole tea leaves, deep fried broad beans, chickpeas and peanuts like the ones we had in Nyaung Shwe was placed on the table, traditionally a platter like this would be offered to guests to your home. Additionally we had a fermented duck egg salad and shredded mutton jerky, carrot and green tomato salad. My stomach was not best pleased at this point and luckily for me most of the dishes were rich in chilli and I am rather allergic to it so could justifiably decline. The fermented duck egg, which was white and green had an interesting spongy very unegglike texture, nice to try although not sure I will repeat the experience but the pickled tea leaves were delicious. We also ate the honey limes Wine Wyne had bought earlier, which I thought were very nice indeed.
Next we headed to the Pan Tha Khin café a large very popular place, where our table soon filled with tasty if rather unlikely sounding fish cake and chicken hotdog dumplings, soft potato and mutton croquettes, fragrant vegetable samosas, delicious plump steamed sugary coconut buns and tiny cups of strong sweet tea, definitely my favourite foods of the day.
Finally, at around noon, beginning to feel full we visited a small roadside juice vendor, the stall comprising of a moveable juice cart and low plastic chairs and tables arranged under the shade of some trees. The juices consisted of very finely chopped fruit and some slightly sour and sweet tasting syrup, as much fruit salad as drink and the final straw for my protesting innards who began cramping in earnest, ugh!
Our lovely trishaw drivers deposited us back at the Grasshopper tours office and we headed back to our hotel. The area we had mainly travelled around contained a lot of very large houses and many government buildings, with avenues wide and leafy. Wine Wyne was a great guide, informative and friendly and clearly good at and enjoying his job. The food tour was a lovely way to spend the morning and a great way to see places we would otherwise not and try foods we most definitely wouldn’t. It cost 33USD per person including all food and drink.
Sadly the rest of the day was for me spent in my hotel room so that I can be well enough to explore Mandalay tomorrow Xx