That’s a tricky question … so we’ll start with the basics. It is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, and the 40th-largest in the world. It has a population of over 55,000 with the majority being Buddhist. The capital is Yangon.
There has been a hell of a lot going on here so I’ve tried to do my best to summarise (very badly). There’s a bit more info here than I would usually go into, which is at the request of one of my intellectual readers!
The country has been called “Burma” in English since the 18th century.
General Aung San, who was generally considered the father of independent Burma was assassinated in 1947.
Burma became independent from the UK in 1948.
In 1962, left-wing general Ne Win staged a coup, banned political opposition, suspended the constitution, and introduced the “Burmese way of socialism.”
In 1987, Ne Win suddenly cancelled certain currency notes which caused a great down-turn in the economy as it wiped out the savings of the vast majority of people. The main reason for the cancellation of these notes was superstition on Ne Win’s part, as he considered the number nine his lucky number—he only allowed 45 and 90 kyat notes, because these were divisible by nine.
After 25 years of economic hardship and repression, the Burmese people held massive demonstrations in 1987 and 1988. These were brutally quashed by the State Law and Order Council (SLORC).
In 1989, the military government officially changed the name of the country to Myanmar. At the same time, they changed the name of Rangoon, the former capital, to Yangon.
Daughter of the assassinated general Aung San and leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which focused world attention on SLORC’s repressive policies.
In Nov 2005, the military junta, in a massive and secretive move, relocated the seat of government from the capital Yangon to a mountain compound called Pyinmanaa in Naypyidaw. The move perplexed many, and the junta was vague in its explanation, saying, “Due to changed circumstances, where Myanmar is trying to develop a modern nation, a more centrally located government seat has become a necessity.”
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Irrawaddy Delta and Yangon, killing 22,500 people and leaving up to a million homeless. Another 41,000 people were reported missing and feared dead. Most of the death and destruction were caused by a 12-foot high tidal wave that formed during the storm.
Days after elections in Oct 2010, the country’s first elections in 20 years, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed after nearly 20 years under house arrest, she won a seat in parliament and took office in May. Thousands of supporters gathered outside her home, where she gave a speech calling for a “peaceful revolution”.
The country’s first Parliament in 20 years convened in Jan. 2011 and elected Prime Minister Thein Sein as president. The military junta officially disbanded in March 2011. However, Parliament is civilian largely in name only. The military won about 60% of the seats in October 2010 elections, and another 25% are reserved for members of the military
In his first year as president, Thein Sein initiated stunning changes in political and economic philosophy that saw a loosening of the tight grip the authoritarian junta held on the country. He initiated talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, allowed her and her party, the NLD, to run in upcoming parliamentary elections, freed more than 800 political prisoners and signed a cease-fire with ethnic Karen rebels.
In Jan. 2012 the U.S. restored full diplomatic relations with Myanmar following a visit from Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State in Dec 2011.
In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi announced that her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), would take part in the election after boycotting the previous one in 2010, which was condemned for irregularities by international organisations.
In Feb 2016 Aung San Suu Kyi won the election in a landslide victory, but she cannot become president due to the constitution, which among other things:
i) prevents leaders having foreign relatives, her two sons are both British citizens; and
ii) demands the president has military experience, of which she has none.
According to Transparency International, Burma ranked 157 out of 177 countries in terms of perceived corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be. It is a composite index, drawing on corruption-related data from expert and business surveys carried out by a variety of independent and reputable institutions
And on to the cooking. Through my research I came across Mohinga (rice vermicelli with fish soup), which is the traditional breakfast dish and Burma’s national dish, Sanwinmakin (Semonlina cake) and Laphet Thohk (pickled tea leaf salad). Also popular are curries of many varieties. I chose Kyetha hin (chicken curry).
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
390g chicken breast cut into bite size
1/2 med onion, chopped roughly
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 strip of lemon peel, sliced
1/2 tsp ginger, grated
3/4 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 cups water
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp tamarind paste or use tbsp lemon juice
Fresh coriander, chopped
Pinch ground cardamom
Blend the onion, garlic, lemon peel and ginger with a little oil to make a smooth paste.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan and when hot add the paste, salt, turmeric & chilli powder.
Fry over a med heat for a few minutes stirring regularly and add a few drops of water if it starts to stick to the pan.
Reduce to a low heat and simmer for 10 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and its turned deep brown.
Add the chicken pieces, stirring well to coat with the paste.
Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. T
hen add the water, potato, tomato puree, fish sauce, tamarind or lemon juice and stir to mix well.
Cover and continue to simmer for another 20 – 25 minutes, until the potato is soft.
Turn the heat off, sprinkle over the coriander & cardamom.
Serve with boiled rice.