Jan 042017
 
 © Bettmann/CORBIS

© Bettmann/CORBIS

On this date in 1948 Myanmar, then known as Burma, became independent of British rule, and so today is Independence Day in Myanmar. British rule in Burma lasted from 1824 to 1948, from the Anglo-Burmese wars through the creation of Burma as a Province of British India to the establishment of an independently administered colony, and finally independence. Various portions of Burmese territories, including Arakan, Tenasserim were annexed by the British after their victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War. Lower Burma was annexed in 1852 after the Second Anglo-Burmese War. The annexed territories were designated the minor province (a Chief Commissionership), British Burma, of British India in 1862.

After the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, Upper Burma was annexed, and the following year, the province of Burma in British India was created, becoming a major province (a Lieutenant-Governorship) in 1897. This arrangement lasted until 1937, when Burma began to be administered separately by the Burma Office under the Secretary of State for India and Burma. British rule was disrupted during the Japanese occupation of much of the country during the Second World War.

During the 18th century Burmese rulers, whose country had not previously been of particular interest to European traders, sought to maintain their traditional influence in the western areas of Assam, Manipur and Arakan. The British East India Company, however, was expanding its interests eastwards over the same territory. Over the next 60 years, diplomacy, raids, treaties and compromises continued until, after three Anglo-Burmese Wars (1824–1885), Britain proclaimed control over most of Burma.

With the fall of Mandalay on 1 January 1886, all of Burma came under British rule. Throughout the colonial era, many Indians arrived as soldiers, civil servants, construction workers and traders who, along with the Anglo-Burmese community, dominated commercial and civil life in Burma. Rangoon became the capital of British Burma and an important port between Calcutta and Singapore.

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Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralyzed Yangon (Rangoon) on occasion all the way until the 1930s. Some of the discontent was caused by a disrespect for Burmese culture and traditions such as the British refusal to remove shoes when they entered pagodas. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement. U Wisara, an activist monk, died in prison after a 166-day hunger strike to protest against a rule that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while imprisoned.

On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered colony of Great Britain and Ba Maw the first Prime Minister and Premier of Burma. Ba Maw was an outspoken advocate for Burmese self-rule and he opposed the participation of Great Britain, and by extension Burma, in World War II. He resigned from the Legislative Assembly and was arrested for sedition. In 1940, before Japan formally entered the Second World War, Aung San formed the Burma Independence Army in Japan.

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Burma was a major battleground and was devastated by World War II. By March 1942, within months after the British began the war in Burma, Japanese troops had advanced on Rangoon and the British administration had collapsed. A Burmese Executive Administration headed by Ba Maw was established by the Japanese in August 1942. Wingate’s British Chindits were formed into long-range penetration groups trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines. A similar US unit, Merrill’s Marauders, followed the Chindits into the Burmese jungle in 1943. Beginning in late 1944, allied troops launched a series of offensives that led to the end of Japanese rule in July 1945. The battles were intense with much of Burma laid waste by the fighting. Overall, the Japanese lost about 150,000 men in Burma. Only 1,700 prisoners were taken.

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Although many Burmese fought initially for the Japanese as part of the Burma Independence Army, many Burmese, mostly from the ethnic minorities, served in the British Burma Army. The Burma National Army and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese from 1942 to 1944 but switched allegiance to the Allied side in 1945. Under Japanese occupation, 170,000 to 250,000 civilians died.

Following World War II, Aung San negotiated the Panglong Agreement with ethnic leaders that guaranteed the independence of Myanmar as a unified state. Aung Zan Wai, Pe Khin, Bo Hmu Aung, Sir Maung Gyi, Dr. Sein Mya Maung, Myoma U Than Kywe were among the negotiators of the historical Panglong Conference negotiated with Bamar leader General Aung San and other ethnic leaders in 1947. In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Myanmar, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members.

On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies and overseas territories, Burma did not become a member of the Commonwealth. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities, and multi-party elections were held in 1951–1952, 1956 and 1960.

The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma Proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British. In 1961, U Thant, then the Union of Burma’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations, a position he held for ten years. Among the Burmese nationals to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was a young Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of Aung San), who went on to become the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, and ultimately leader of Myanmar.

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Mohinga is the national dish of Myanmar. In Burmese it means snack (mo) soup (hinga) and is ubiquitous in Myanmar. It is a breakfast dish traditionally, but, like eggs and bacon in the West, it is now a breakfast food served ALL DAY. Mohinga is also served with all the trimmings at formal functions and nowadays it is also sold in dry packets as a ready-made powder that is used for making the broth.

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Street hawkers are the original purveyors of mohinga doing the rounds through neighborhoods where they have regular customers. They carry the soup cauldron on a stove on one side of a shoulder pole and rice vermicelli and other ingredients along with bowls and spoons on the other. It used to be available only early in the morning and at street pwès or open air stage performances and zat pwès or itinerant theatres at night. Trishaw peddlers began to appear in the 1960s and some of them set up pavement stalls making mohinga available all day.

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There are different varieties of mohinga in various regions of Myanmar, of course. Rakhine mohinga has more fish paste and less soup. Its ingredients depend on their availability. However, the standard dish comes from southern Myanmar, where fresh fish is more readily available. The main ingredients of mohinga are chickpea flour and/or crushed toasted rice, garlic, onions, lemongrass, banana tree stem, ginger, fish paste, fish sauce, and catfish in a rich broth cooked and kept on the boil in a cauldron. It is served with rice vermicelli, dressed and garnished with fish sauce, a squeeze of lime, crisp fried onions, coriander, spring onions, crushed dried chillis, and, as optional extras, crisp fried fritters such as split chickpeas (pè gyaw), urad dal (baya gyaw) or gourd (bu thee gyaw) or even sliced pieces of Chinese donuts, as well as boiled egg and fried nga hpè fish cake.

Mohinga

Obviously you are not going to be able to create mohinga at home in anything like an authentic way, but I’ll tackle the problem two ways. First a video:

Next, a recipe. Some of the ingredients are going to be difficult, if not impossible, to find in Western markets. Rotsa ruck !!

Mohinga

Ingredients

½ cup peanut oil
1 tsp turmeric powder
½ red onion, finely sliced
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, finely sliced
2 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2 tsp shrimp paste
1 tsp sweet paprika
3 tbsp cooked, crushed chickpeas
85 g toasted rice powder
4 tbsp fish sauce
2 red Asian shallots, peeled
2 hardboiled eggs, sliced
100 g boiled banana trunk or banana blossom
600 g cooked thin rice noodles
4 sprigs coriander, to garnish
4 snake beans, finely sliced
dried chile flakes

Broth

1 whole catfish, cleaned
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 litres cold water

Chile paste

3 lemongrass stalks, white part only, finely sliced
4 whole dried chiles
4 red Asian shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 cm ginger, finely sliced

Instructions

To make the broth, add the catfish, lemongrass, garlic, turmeric and water to a large saucepan or stockpot. Bring to the boil over high heat and skim any impurities that rise to the surface. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the broth then remove the fish meat from the bones. Set aside and reserve the broth.

Meanwhile, to make the paste, pound the lemongrass, chiles, red shallots, garlic and ginger to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.

Heat the peanut oil in a saucepan over low-medium heat and add the turmeric. Next, add the chile paste. Add the red onion, lemongrass, ginger and garlic. Cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the flaked fish and coat in the paste. Sauté over low-medium heat for 20 minutes. Add the shrimp paste and paprika. Continue to cook, over low heat, for a further 5 minutes to infuse flavors.

Return the broth to the stockpot, place over medium heat. Add the crushed chickpeas, rice powder, fish sauce and flaked fish mixture. Season with salt and black pepper. Reduce heat simmer for 30 minutes. Add the red shallots and boiled egg. Add the banana trunk.

Divide the vermicelli noodles among 4 bowls. Pour the broth over the noodles. Garnish with coriander, snake beans and chile flakes to serve.

 

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