Burmese New Year 2024: ‘While there's a growing interest in global cuisines, many Mumbaikars may not be fully acquainted with Burmese food, culture’

17 April,2024 10:30 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Nascimento Pinto

As the Burmese-origin and Indians formerly based in Myanmar celebrate Burmese New Year, after observing the Thingyan Festival since April 13, there are Mumbaikars who celebrate it too. mid-day.com spoke to Ankit Gupta, who shares his experience of celebrating the festival and his Burmese origins in Mumbai

Burmese New Year is being celebrated on April 17 this year. Photo Courtesy: Burma Burma

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The Burmese community in Mumbai will celebrate their Burmese New Year today, as the Thingyan Festival that started on April 13 culminates into celebratory rituals and food on April 17 this year. Having first been introduced to Burmese cuisine at an ‘Atho Kadai', a street-side stall in Chennai's Perambur in 2018, this writer had the opportunity to relish -- ‘Atho', a street food snack; Egg Bhejo, eggs stuffed with wok-tossed vegetables, and Mohinga or Moinga, a delicious soup â€" bringing back sweet memories of a small kadai standing out in a bustling street because of its food and smiling faces. While the community is known to settle in Burmese colonies in different parts of the country including Chennai, among other metros, many of them moved to Mumbai and have called the city their home for many decades. Through all of this, it is their food and culture that keeps the community close-knit.

Even as Mumbaikars are busy with their daily lives of work, family and fun, it is the festivals that make them reflect on their individual culture and identity. It gets even better because the ‘Maximum City', as it is more popularly called, is celebrated as a melting pot of cultures and it is these festivals that are a microcosm into their lives. The communities include people that are not only from the different Indian states, but also from outside of it. Over the years, the city has not only seen the Iranis but also the Chinese make the city their home among others. While their population may not be large in number as compared to other communities, it is the festivals like Parsi New Year and Chinese New Year that bring them together more than other occasions -- at the family as well as community level.

One of the many communities that the city boasts of is the Burmese community, migrants who moved from Burma (modern day Myanmar) over the last few decades to make India their home. Interestingly, many of these are also Indians who lived in Burma and came back to the city but not without soaking and becoming part of the Burmese culture. One of the many is Urmila Gupta, whose Burmese roots and food, shaped her son, Ankit Gupta's love for Burmese food.

Owing to his Burmese roots and love for food, mid-day.com spoke to Ankit Gupta, who is the co-founder of Burma Burma in India, about his favourite festival memories growing up. He also dwells on the food and rituals, which form an important part of the festival. Incidentally, 10 years after Gupta opened his first outlet in India in the by-lanes of Mumbai's Fort area, he opened the second outlet in the city in Goregaon's Oberoi Mall in March, in time for Thingyan Festival.

What are some of your fondest memories of Burmese New Year growing up in Mumbai?
Gupta: Thingyan Festival or Burmese New Year was always special to us while growing up in Mumbai as it was a way of celebrating the culture of the country my mother grew up in. We felt extra special because this was a one-of-its-kind occasion that was unique and different from our friends and neighbours. Feasting and celebrations always go hand-in-hand and we would all gather to enjoy a delicious home-style Burmese meal with special festive dishes cooked by my mother and aunt.

Thingyan is also known as the Water Festival and we would start the festivities by splashing water at each other, an act that symbolised purification. We follow the ritual of paying homage to elders in the family by washing their feet before all the fun begins. My aunt and my mother would deck up the house with yellow flowers to try and recreate the traditional concept of Burmese adorning their homes with Padauk flowers that bloom in this season. They would prepare Mont Lone Yay Paw, a traditional Thingyan sweet made with glutinous rice flour dumplings filled with palm jaggery and topped with shredded coconut. It was our responsibility as children to then distribute this delicious sweet to our friends. The meal was always a sumptuous and delicious affair accentuated by laughter and bonhomie.

What are the celebrations with the food, rituals and culture for Burmese New Year like in your home?
Gupta: Burmese New Year celebrations at our home are marked by a mix of food, rituals, and festivities. We prepare traditional Burmese dishes like Tea Leaf Salad (Laphet Thoke), Coconut Rice and special condiments along with some of our favourite dishes like Shan Noodles with vegetables, and Sanwin Makin.

How have the celebrations changed over the years?
Gupta: For us as a family, it was always about lots of good food and unique sweets and that continues in a smaller yet traditional format. It's a day to have our extended family over and share a meal.

Also Read: Toasted pumpkin seed shrikhand to rose puran poli: Salivating Gudi Padwa special recipes

What are some of the unique dishes made for Burmese New Year in your home and by the community?
Gupta: Both at home and within the community, unique dishes like coconut rice with peanut chutney, pumpkin curry, and bitter gourd fritters are prepared during Burmese New Year, adding a special touch to the festivities.

Do you believe Mumbaikars know enough about Burmese food and culture?
Gupta: While there's a growing interest in global cuisines, I believe many Mumbaikars may not be fully acquainted with Burmese food and culture. There's certainly room for greater awareness and appreciation and that is why we felt it was an opportunity to showcase a special ala carte menu at Burma Burma not just in our restaurants in Goregaon and Fort but also a chance for our diners to experience a menu curated based on our team based on their visits to Burma over the years.

What are some of the signature dishes that you have added to the Thingyan Menu? Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Gupta: On our Thingyan Menu, we have added:

Sweet Lime & Shallot Salad: A zesty blend of sweet lime, garlic oil, roasted gram flour, shallot, and crushed green chillies, inspired by a fresh lime salad enjoyed by the locals in Yangon.

Assorted Fries Platter: Featuring mock mince samosa, sweet potato tempura, and rice crackers, paying homage to Burmese-love for fritters and all things fried.

Peppery Tofu & Onion Stir Fry: Slow-cooked caramelised onions with lemon leaves, soy, crushed pepper, and seared tofu, showcasing the Bamar cooking style.

Coconut Rice (Ohn Hatmin): Fragrant rice cooked with raisins and onions in fresh coconut milk, a ceremonial dish served on special occasions.

Pumpkin & Broad Bean Curry: A flavourful blend of yellow pumpkin and broad beans cooked with shallots, coconut, and chili. These are vegetables that grow in abundance during this time of year.

Banana Sanwin Makin: A traditional semolina cake with banana and strawberry baked in coconut cream, offering a sweet conclusion to your meal.

Plum Sour: A delightful drink with tangy plum puree, lime, ginger ale, and black grass jelly.

Curious about the Burmese New Year menu at the restaurant, this writer tasted the menu anonymously at the Fort outlet and was left pleasantly surprised. Simply because it presented unique flavours of the cuisine through ‘Village Set', a meal for two that showcases the flavours of the cuisine like a traditional Indian thali, and it was interestingly only vegetarian food.

Also Read: Sweet, sour, bold and spicy: What is Nikkei cuisine and why is it becoming more popular in Mumbai

We were welcomed with water rubbed on our hands with betel leaves. It was followed by a server, enacting a roadside-seller coming to us with a tray that had a choice of some bite-sized pickled plums, plum leather, coconut sweet and spiced raw mangoes that ignited fire for some Burmese food. With a kaleidoscope of colours showcasing the dishes, on a large plate made of cane, we started off with the Sweet Lime & Shallot Salad, which produced a burst of sweet and sour flavours that were refreshing from the first bite. The salad had flavours and crunch that are a striking feature in the cuisine. The assorted fries platter was familiar yet unique as it had a samosa (samosa with mock-mince), deep-fried tempura made from sweet potato, as well as rice crackers to keep you busy while you decided what to dig in next.

While the Peppery Tofu and Onion Stir Fry is spicy-sour with a hit of pepper that is surprisingly not heavy on the palate, the Roselle and Mushroom Stir Fry is tangy-sour pairing perfectly with a refreshing bite of mushroom and roselle with it. They can be eaten with palata, which are forms of bread. The coconut rice when eaten with the pumpkin and broad bean curry is comfort food in a bowl. Even as you are navigating these many flavours, the chilli tamarind relish is inviting but is balanced by the radish slaw with its mellow flavours that will make you halt and savour the food with each bite. The Banana Sanwin Makin is a unique dessert that is bound to surprise you but help you end your meal on a sweet note and yet reminds you of how Mumbai boasts of unique cuisines that are still waiting to be explored if you only care to steer clear of popular cuisines.

Also Read: Chinese New Year 2024: Here's why you can indulge in a delectable feast at Tango Tamari in Mumbai

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