My quest of learning to cook continues, and this week, I learned to make Burmese food at a cooking class in Inle Lake! I have to be honest, I didn’t actually know what Burmese food was until I got to Myanmar. Even then, it took the whole month before I really felt like I had a grasp on it. The easiest way to describe it is a mix between Chinese and Indian food. The common dishes include curries, tea leaf salad, rice, and noodles. Some of the major ingredients are pumpkin, eggplant, peanuts, ginger, and garlic.
Although the food is similar to Indian cuisine, I appreciated it more because they don’t often cook in the spices. Usually, spices are served on the side so you could add the level of heat you wanted. In my case, none. Yes, I’m a wimp. Although I can actually eat some spices now without crying.
We asked the woman who helped Emmy and me book our boat tour if she knew of a good cooking class. She recommended her friend who teaches at WIN Massage & Cooking School. Oddly, those two businesses seem to go together in Inle Lake. Every cooking school offers massages. Some things you just can’t explain.
Local Market Tour in Inle Lake
The day started off with a tour of the local market. We bought all of the ingredients for our dish including vegetables, pasta, and a fresh fish. We approached the seafood section where the fish were sprawled across little makeshift counters. Oddly, they were all still breathing. I felt bad for the little things as they gasped for air, but was also happy to know they were fresh. It left me feeling contradicted. My guide picked one out and the woman began to scale it. While it was still alive! The poor thing flailed back and forth, and I started to gag. Finally she banged it on its head to put it out of it’s misery (possibly after seeing my expression) and continued to gut it. I’ve never been so close to becoming a vegetarian than in that exact moment.
Preparing the Cooking Ingredients
I focused on not throwing up while we continued our little tour and bought the remainder of the ingredients including chicken which was thankfully already butchered. Once we had everything, we headed to the school and began preparations. Emmy and I were assigned the task of removing the shell from all of the butter fried beans. We were pretty slow, but I found it oddly calming.
Cooking Burmese Food
We got started with the major cooking and found out we’d be making fish curry (a popular local dish), bean curry, chicken curry, tomato salad, and coconut chicken noodle soup. The only downside to this class was that we worked on the dishes together. When I took a Thai cooking class we each got our own wok, making it much more interactive. I’ve always been a hands on learner, so taking turns made it harder for me to retain the information. Luckily, it was just the two of us in class, so we were able to do a lot of the work ourselves.
We ground up ingredients by hand, chopped, mixed, and cooked the dishes. We jotted down our notes as quickly as possible. Soon the fish was finished and we’d already started two other dishes. Everything flew by so fast. Our teacher was amazing, keeping an eye on all five dishes at once. We cooked over coals which I found fascinating. The temperature had to be just right so that the heat would die down at the same time she needed the dish to simmer.
Enjoying the Meal
After we finished cooking, it was time to enjoy our feast. It was so much food, that the two of us couldn’t possibly finish. We quickly discovered that the coconut chicken soup and the fish were by far our favorites. We picked every last bit of the meat off of the fish and devoured the curry sauce it was cooked in. The soup ran a close second in taste. The chicken curry was good as well, but we had over cooked it a bit. It was the same problem I had in my Thai cooking class. The beans were too spicy for me, and the tomato salad was good, but I was too full to eat it.
The class cost 20,000 kyat which is about $15. Considering how we got a five course meal and a 2 hour lesson, it was a pretty awesome deal. Maybe, by the time I take an Indian cooking class, I’ll finally get the hang of making curry!
Thinking of taking a cooking class in Inle Lake? Ask any questions in the comments!
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.