Today is Martyrs’ Day (အာဇာနည်နေ့, pronounced [àzànì nḛ]) in Myanmar, a national holiday observed to commemorate Gen. Aung San and seven other leaders of the pre-independence interim government, and one bodyguard who were assassinated on 19th July, 1947. It is customary for high-ranking government officials to visit the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Yangon in the morning of that day to pay respects.
On 19 July 1947, at approximately 10:37 a.m., BST, several of Burma’s independence leaders were gunned down by a group of armed men in uniform while they were holding a cabinet meeting at the Secretariat in downtown Yangon. The assassinations were planned by a rival political group, and the leader and alleged mastermind of that group Galon U Saw, together with the perpetrators, were tried and convicted by a special tribunal presided by Kyaw Myint with two other Barristers-at-law, Aung Thar Gyaw and Si Bu. In a judgment given on 30 December 1947 the tribunal sentenced U Saw and a few others to death and the rest were given prison sentences.
Appeals to the High Court of Burma by U Saw and his accomplices were rejected on 8 March 1948. In a judgment written by Supreme Court Justice E Maung (1898–1977) on 27 April 1948, the Supreme Court refused leave to appeal against the original judgment.
Then-President of Burma Sao Shwe Thaik refused to pardon or commute the sentences of most of those who were sentenced to death, and U Saw was hanged inside Rangoon’s Insein jail on 8 May 1948. A number of perpetrators met the same fate, while minor players, who were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, also spent several years in prison.
The assassinated were:
Aung San, Prime Minister
Ba Cho, Minister of Information
Mahn Ba Khaing, Minister of Industry and Labor
Ba Win, Minister of Trade
Thakin Mya, Minister Without Portfolio, unofficially considered as Deputy Prime Minister of Burma
Abdul Razak, Minister of Education and National Planning
Sao San Tun, Minister of Hills Regions
Ohn Maung, Secretary of State Transport
Ko Htwe, Razak’s bodyguard
Tin Tut, Minister of Finance, and Kyaw Nyein, Minister of Home affairs, were not present at the meeting. Additionally, one of the assassins, Ba Nyunt, came to the office of Chamber of Deputies Speaker U Nu, who was not present because of a leave of absence due to minor illness.So Ba Nyunt could not find U Nu to kill. Later Ba Nyunt became the government witness in the trial process.
Many Burmese believe that the British were somehow involved in the assassination plot; two British officers were also arrested at the time and one of them charged and convicted for supplying an agent of U Saw with arms and munitions. A large part of the stockpile, which was enough to equip a small army, was recovered from a lake next to U Saw’s house in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
Soon after the assassinations, Major General Sir Hubert Rance, the last British Governor of Burma, appointed U Nu to head an interim administration and when Burma became independent on 4 January 1948, Nu became the first Prime Minister of Burma and he declared 19 July a public holiday.
I suppose I can be accused of being a tad too picky when it comes to giving you “authentic” recipes from around the world. I plead guilty. The simple fact is that when you’ve eaten asado in Argentina, fried noodles in China, or sashimi in Japan (or even something specific such as tripes à la mode de Caen in Caen), you get a bit defensive about recipes, not least because key ingredients are often available in local markets only. Here’s a couple of views of Myanmar cuisine I have tasted recently in Mandalay, one in a restaurant and one home cooked. Care to have a go? There are two fairly basic rules. First is that rice is the basis of the meal, whether it is plain boiled or fried with various ingredients such as fermented tea leaves or Chinese beans. Second, there are numerous dishes to add to the rice – all relatively small and all placed in communal dishes in the center of the table. The idea of a main dish is anathema.
Myanmar sits at the crossroads of several well-known cuisines – Indian, Thai, and Chinese – and is also home to a number of ethnic groups. A regular meal in a Myanmar household may consist of dishes from several of these cuisines although they all seem to have a hint that is uniquely Burmese. Hard to explain. The Burmese especially like sour pickled things and reasonably spicy/hot things (not desperately hot). Many of the pickles are fermented by rural women who come to markets periodically to sell them. They are typically wild greens that grow in the countryside and in streams. Finding an adequate translation into English of what I am eating is usually next to impossible (and you’re not going to find anything like them at the A & P). My host called one of the pickled greens I liked, “aquatic Morning Glory.” See if you can get hold of that !!
Breakfast where I live is always soup, rice, and some side dishes. One soup I like is labeled “fish bones with vermicelli.” This recipe will produce a vague simulacrum. Honestly – save your pennies and get on the road to Mandalay if you want the real deal. When this is served it’s normally accompanied with a variety of toppings to add: chopped coriander, chopped boiled egg, chopped green onion, and hot pickles. To my taste it’s a bit bland on its own, although the fish stock can be quite complex. The toppings complete the dish for me.
1½ cups chickpea flour
8 cups fish stock
½ lb cooked rice vermicelli
Put the chickpea flour and salt to taste in a medium bowl and add 2 cups of cold broth. Whisk well to make a smooth paste without lumps.
Bring the remaining 6 cups of broth to a boil in a large heavy pot. Turn the head down to a simmer.
Whisk a ladleful of hot broth into the chickpea mixture vigorously to temper and thin it, then pour it into the simmering broth in a thin stream, whisking constantly.
Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring to ensure that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
When all the chickpea mix is incorporated thoroughly, simmer for about 5 minutes until the soup has thickened and has a slight sheen. Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring for another couple of minutes.
Add the rice vermicelli and heat through.
Serve with toppings of your choice – certainly fresh coriander, green onions, and boiled egg.