Sunday Salutations

The lost land is recreated through many trials
of boiling water and rice noodles.
She stirs the pot, letting the steam rise to
her face. The warmth engulfs her like
the embrace of Rangoon’s humid day.

It feels like home, she would repeat
but this home has rooms with familiar layouts
and the air tastes strange in her mouth. Things are askew,

out of frame, even when they appear as they have always been.
The furniture is shifted slightly, as if they were
forced to wear some ill-fitting garments.
There is no worn tract on the carpet from feet walking
back and forth, past and present;
no imprints of the couch, or of the chairs.

Salt and pepper do not help in this pot;
nor all the named spices found in the authentic
cook book; nor advice from her mother,
who dictates through the telephone, how much
turmeric, or fish sauce to put in or take out;
how many more minutes of low heat.

The morning will wear out in a few minutes
and noon will arrive with its usual bright cheer.
She stands by the stove, flipping through
the pages of her memory, looking for the missing ingredient.

This poem begins with a thought as I am trying to recreate mohinga (a rice noodle dish with fish broth) which is a morning staple in Burma. I can declare with confidence that there is no one in Burma who does not dislike this dish.We wake up to the smell of mohinga in the air, from the vendors on the streets, or from the kitchen. Most of the times, families do not cook this dish but instead this meal is brought to the breakfast table by a quick run to the morning markets where you will find at least one shop that sells mohinga; If you can make good mohinga, people will come from afar to line up at your shop. We ask each other, whose mohinga is it? We seek the popular place to try out; We are always on the lookout.

This food is sold at schools for lunch. It is prepared at large social gatherings for celebration, and offered to the monks on Buddhist holy days. It is a meal for both the rich and the poor. This meal is for everyday and for important events. We eat it on our birthdays. And on the seventh day of someone’s passing. When I think of home, I think of mohinga; The magic food that offers the promise of transporting me back to childhood, back to home, back to remembering love and warmth, friendship and family. And no matter how I’ve tried, I can never recreate this dish to capture its authentic taste. Sort of like the bygone childhood.

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mohinga and coconut noodles: photos by Thandar Lwin, my cousin who loves to cook and who makes us drool on Facebook with her heavenly meals. This is my salutation to her talent and to the quintessential mohinga.  There are many variations of the recipe and a version is found here. This site dedicates solely to celebrate mohinga.

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