My family’s trip to Burma this past January coincided with my aunt’s and uncle’s. In honor of my grandmother, who passed away 17 years ago, they arranged an almsgiving ceremony at the Tipitaka Monastery in the centre of Yangon. As I’ve said before, the community is interwoven into the fabric of Burmese life. Almsgiving ceremonies, which are really communal feasts, including a donation of alms to the monastery, are just another manifestation of the this generous spirit. And the lunch served was absolutely delicious.
We arrived a bit late, owing to the city’s ridiculous traffic, consequently missing the water libation ceremony and formal offering of alms to the monastery. However, there was still plenty of food to go around. Caterers had been specially enlisted for the event. And so were event videographers, capturing the ceremony from start to finish. Practically everyone in my wider family’s social circle: friends, old classmates, acquaintances, cousins, were there.
The feast consisted of kyazan hinga (ကြာဆံဟင်းခါး), a mildly sour chicken consomme, traditional oil-based curries made with chicken, pork, goat and fish, a salad prepared with boiled snow fungus, and of course, a prerequisite dish, ngapi kyaw, dried shrimp fried with shallots, onion, and chili.
The one thing about Burmese food is how appetizing it is to eat with white rice. There is absolutely no way I could enjoy Burmese curries without several bowls of white rice. The nice contrast between the intense, rich flavors of the curries with the plain austerity of the rice. There’s even a word for this in Burmese, “mein,” (မိန်) a term whose English equivalent eludes me.
But what I looked most forward to was the dessert. I definitely indulged in several bowls of the the masterfully crafted ice cream, with bits of candied fruits.
Time definitely flies. I really couldn’t believe it had already been 17 entire years. It felt like just yesterday, me as a 9-year-old kid, by my grandmother’s bedside as she took her final breaths. One facet of Buddhism is its matter-of-fact treatment of the topic of mortality. My parents never portrayed death as something it wasn’t, or something to be irrationally afraid of. And for that, I guess I’m grateful.
Plus, good food definitely brings people together.