Staring out from piles of watermelons, surrounded by fresh-cut flowers, squatting next to woven baskets of neatly tied crabs and chopping meat on a stump are the eager sellers of Myanmar’s ubiquitous outdoor markets. Myanmar market scenes may turn into supermarkets one day, the sad death spiral of “progress” but for now, they are alive and strong and one of the best stops in Myanmar. What follows is a photo bonanza that will put you in the middle of the action (without having to smell the fish heads).
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You awake early in the morning here and wander down to the market to find a vibrant fish market featuring fish from Inle Lake. The path between sellers is narrow and bustling in certain spots with buyers, so you negotiate carefully while taking in as much as possible.
Blacksmiths are pounding away at red hot steel as it is pulled from the coals just outside the area where the lake fish sellers are gathered. The finished scissors, knives and other metal tools are spread on a blanket in front, as well as at nearby stalls. A villager shows up with a broken tool that needs fixing and it gets added to the queue.
Avocados and Watermelon piled high.
The transaction that goes down countless times.
Some citrus, dried peppers, crushed red pepper flakes and tumeric. The latter two can come in handy when making Garlic Tumeric Oil. Chop up some garlic, add to hot oil in pan until golden and then drop in a pop of tumeric and crushed red pepper.
A stack of cheroots, or Myanmar cigars, sits on a sellers table. There are numerous types, flavoured with fruit (an Inle Lake specialty) or just the tobacco and some wood shavings wrapped in a leaf (tha-nat leaf) from a Sebesten Tree. They come in all different sizes. Reportedly, some of the best ones are made in Taunggyi. Also good places to find (they are available in most parts) cheroots are the Inle Lake region, the rest of the Shan State and Mandalay. They are also in Bagan but not as prolific in Chaung Tha.
Another leaf put into action, this time the Betel Leaf which is used to wrap up a mixture of areca nut, some lime and some tobacco amongst other things and used as a mild stimulant. The red spit can often be seen coating whatever lies in its path.
In the middle of the marketplace, a man chops wood, you assume used for cooking fuel purposes, or perhaps it is for the betel leaf seller.
A banana seller takes a mid-day break in the shade of the banana shack. The red bananas are sweeter and mushier than yellow bananas. Bananas are a great thing to sample in Asia (for instance, Vietnam) if you are coming from a country where your banana choice is limited to a single variety.
As you walk through this market in Yangon, you come across this rambunctiously, friendly crab seller. Did crab rangoon come from Yangon? Some claim such a thing but you wouldn’t know where the cream cheese would have come into play.
How long these fresh chickens remain fresh in the Myanmar heat is anyone’s guess but they don’t need sell by dates. Sometimes it seems places without a lot of refrigeration have fresher things.
A mosey on down to the Myanmar market can produce some fine ingredients for a fish stock or stew, although a morning purchase probably beats the afternoon one.
Or if dried sea or lakefood is your bag, you step right up to these dried delicacies. Often as you travel about the country you will pass areas where the villagers are drying the fish with time-tested methods involving the sun.
As you walk along the street, you notice a supermarket nearby with a flurry of activity entering and exiting. YOu wonder what draws people to an outdoor market or the supermarket. Perhaps it relates to efficiency and relationships and how important each one of those things are. It would be interesting to understand how all the various aspects—psychologically, politically, pathologically, economically and otherwise—play together to cause these vibrant markets to eventually disappear into staid supermarket experiences as cultures “progress”. In the meantime, some of us have the fortune to experience both, and it is definitely something to appreciate.
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