Fermented Fish Paste and Other Culinary Treats

I met my nemesis in Myanmar at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was the food. In Indonesia I’d wondered at the Spanish girl who couldn’t stomach Indonesian food and had brought along enough chorizo and crackers from Spain to get her through our 3 day boat trip. Probably too pampered I had thought. Be careful what you judge is all I can say, because instead of 3 days I had 25 days of fermented fish paste looming ahead of me.

My apologies to any Burmese, but quite frankly fermented fish paste is not something I can eat with any great gusto. Once I tasted that, I was done for. Paul to his credit had no problem with the food despite a fish allergy. He stuck to rice and meat and a couple of veggie dishes and was fine. I on the other hand was seeing fermented fish paste coming at me before I even sat down at the table.

I’m sure that fermented fish paste is off the charts on the health-o-meter, seeing as it combines those two chart toppers ‘fermented’ and ‘fish’. But apparently I don’t care quite as much about health as I thought I did. Likewise we discovered that for Paul, quantity and good price are at the pinnacle of his food pyramid and Myanmar certainly hits the ball out of the ballpark on that.

Sabine and Nerys had similar thoughts about fish paste as I did. Sabine summed it up by saying, “There’s better food in prison.”

In a few places we managed to dodge the fish paste bullet by eating Shan noodles and Indian food. In Yangon we were such faithful customers at an Indian thali place that by the end of our four day stay our Indian waiter was spoon feeding Aaron his dahl and rice and feeding him dinner from his daughter’s plate. At least, I think it was his daughter. If not, then this was one boss with major boundary issues. 

I also found the milk tea had a strange flavour. I could only ponder that perhaps the waiters had a habit of stirring it with the same spoon as they served the fish paste. Maybe it was a bit like sand when you have a beach holiday. You find the stuff everywhere – in your suitcase, on your phone, toothbrush, underwear. Fermented fish paste might be like that too. You start cooking and before you know it fish flakes are turning up in all sorts of odd places, from teapots to salt shakers and cookie tins.

One evening early on in our visit we were so perplexed by what to eat that we ended up eating Melba toast for dinner. The kids at first couldn’t believe their good luck. Their Mama with a horror of wheat is freely handing out Costco sized mounds of Melba? Let’s just say that by the time they had eaten enough Melba to constitute a meal, they were not so sure about their good fortune, because afterwards they could barely scrape their tongue off the roof of their mouth, and scrape is the right word for what happened to their tongue in the meantime.

The day we left Myanmar we found ourselves once again stopping at Bangkok food stalls to devour curries, only this time I thought I could smell something a little different wafting in the air. I was horrified to smell fish paste. Mercifully, the flashback faded fairly quickly.