Beneath the political hurly-burly in Burma, there exist several threatened traditional ways of life that maintain the serene soul of a nation. Regrettably, most of this idyllic world is gone for ever after years of misrule by successive military juntas. But despite the harsh reality of life in the jungles of the remote part of eastern Burma where I was brought up, Mother Nature and folk wisdom provided us with regular meals, including my favourite dish: grilled baby wasps, the main source of protein during lean times. During the good times, we could even afford to feast on smoked jungle fowl cooked in marijuana sauce, not to mention poached python, curried in garlic and lemon-grass sauce. These dishes were eaten with brown rice and washed down with home-brewed rice wine and hot tea made with spring water.
Recipe for Poached Python curry
Python meat may not be available from your local butcher - indeed it is illegal to kill or eat python in some countries - but you can use the same quantity of monkfish or cod, as python is regarded as a terra firma fish.
Python steak (1kg)
Shallots (4-5, peeled and sliced)
Turmeric powder (1 tablespoon)
Garlic (5-7 cloves, peeled and pounded)
Ginger (2-3 inches long, peeled and pounded)
Kaffir lime leaves (finely chopped)
Lemon grass (ten stems, peeled; tender parts finely chopped and pounded)
Paprika (2 teaspoons)
White rice wine (4-5 pegs)
Salt (2 teaspoons)
Peanut oil (2 tablespoons)
Chillies or black pepper seeds (as much as you like, pounded)
Several pints of mountain spring water
First, boil/poach the steak with lemon peel, rough lemon-grass stems, skins of shallots, garlic and ginger in a couple of pints of spring water. When the flesh is soft, take the steak out and leave it to cool. Separate the bones from the flesh.
Next, fry shallots on low heat until slightly brown and add the ginger, garlic and all other spices. Turn the heat up and keep on stirring for a couple of minutes until a round, toasted aroma arises from the pot. Add flaked and diced python flesh. Add rice wine, a cup of water and salt. Reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes.
Serve this with a plate of piping-hot steamed rice, boiled seasonal jungle greens, wedges of lime and a pot of hot tea, or a glass of cold, crisp Chardonnay if you want to take the dish out of the jungle or the jungle out of the dish.
Pascal Khoo Thwe is the author of "From the Land of Green Ghosts: a Burmese odyssey" (Harper Perennial, 2004). He is currently writing and marinating a jungle cookbook based on recipes collected from various tribes of Burma