we were going to cook lunch for Myint and Zaw, the charming couple who were welcoming us into their home.
First of all though, we needed some help from Zaw to get our boat close enough to his jetty for us to get out. Our driver was doing his best but in a limited space, it wasn’t easy. Eventually, the use of a long bamboo pole was the answer and Zaw handled it with such ease, it was clear he’d done this kind of manoeuvre all his life.
The people in the villages around Inle grow up messing about in small boats and the youngest children are comfortable on the water and actually take themselves to school by boat each day, Sanda told us.
Myint and her husband Zaw own their home which stands on stilts above the water a short distance from the main lake of Inle. They’d already prepared a couple of tables in their main living area and welcomed us with a cup of tea and a rice cracker snack. They didn’t speak any English and we no Burmese, but thankfully, Sanda was on hand.
They’d set the dining table for us too, sprinkled with rose petals and set with freshly laundered napkins too.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Kyawthu had set out his mise en place – a range of ingredients we’d bought from the market and a few storecupboard items from Myint’s extensive larder.
No modern hob or microwave oven here! Just three small charcoal fired burners in the corner of the cooking area of this wooden house.
Kyawthu began to chop tomatoes. He chopped a few and then handed over the knife to me, asking me to finish off. It took me rather longer than him – I don’t usually use a cleaver to do such a task!
The view from the open door was of Myint and Zaw’s outdoor space and their neighbour’s home across the way.
This is where the washing up was done, in water collected from the local artesian well in 25 gallon containers. Dirty water was simply poured through the bamboo back into the lake below, and slightly dirty water – that which had been used to rinse vegetables or similar – was reused to pre wash or soak dishes. Great efforts were made to conserve water, we noticed. Anyway, Zaw was preparing the spring onions.
Sanda and Myint prepared the other herbs, carefully picking through them, whilst the boat driver, whose name we never found out, sat enjoying the conversation and a cup of tea. Kyawthu supervised all processes!
Kaung and I picked through the garlic, peeling off the skins and discarding any dodgy bits.
Meanwhile, Zaw came in and lit the stove – which prompted Kaung to grab a fan and try to waft the smoke away.
He and my hero had been busy with the pestle and mortar, grinding those garlic cloves and ginger to a smooth paste which met with Kyawthu’s exacting standards.
Kyawthu was preparing the fish for soup and for a fish salad.
He also prepared the chicken, washing it several times in clean water – discarding that water every time, we noted. He pulled off the skin, kept everything separate from the other ingredients and collected the waste pieces in a bowl.
Before he did anything else, he cleaned everything he’d used with the chicken with detergent, scrubbing the board and rinsing several times. We felt reassured!
I started off the chicken curry, following Kyawthu’s instructions but found it incredibly hot standing there by an open flame in 35C heat, so Zaw kindly took over whilst I continued with Kyawthu, making a vegetable tempura.
Time to deal with those fish and Kaung was a ready student, taking great interest in his uncle’s method of stuffing and cooking the carp.
Myint brought in a pile of plates she’d prepared with banana leaf coverings and there was just the tomato salad to finish off and a few finishing touches.
The carp were cooked with a coriander, garlic, tomato and peanut stuffing/topping.
The vegetable tempura, made from spring onions and tomato.
A salad of wilted greens, tomato and onion.
Chicken curry with tomatoes and onions.
And a tomato salad with onions and coriander.
Myint produced a bowl of rice which had been cooking in the rice cooker and Kyawthu had prepared a dipping sauce for the tempura. Time to tuck in. The good thing was, there was enough for us all to have a good lunch – Myint and Zaw, Kyawthu and Kaung, my hero and I, Sanda and the boat man. It must have been ok because no-one complained
Feeling very full, we somehow found our way back down into the boat and waved goodbye to Myint, hoping she and Zaw would enjoy the box of Yorkshire Tea we left with her with our thanks. Sanda explained to her about the Royal warrant on the box, though whether she even knew who Prince Charles is, I have no idea. Still, the picture of rolling hillsides, village houses and a game of cricket on the box itself provided a talking point!
With a bit more help from Zaw, we set off back to our hotel. Oh, and can you see another little basket in the boat there? Well, it did look so useful with that neat little lid, and can you believe it’s got a small lock on it? The lady selling them was rather persistent…
It seems a good time to include a picture of the front gates, too. A floating bamboo pole serves as a marker for the entry to a village and in a smaller format, as a front gate to someone’s home. To get through it, the boat motor needs to be lifted – after which, the boat can continue straight on through.
We went through the gate and back to the hotel, waving bye to our driver who was already on his mobile phone, having what looked like an intense conversation.
The question is, would we have dinner tonight? (we did!)