Despite having lived in East Asia for over ten years, I tend to avoid eating the local cuisine where possible. This isn’t due to some politically-correct fear of cultural appropriation or some right-wing fear of cultural assimilation but due to a much more practical consideration. Most of what is on offer sucks. Big time. From kimchi, dog and chunks of raw fish in South Korea (where half the adults have intestinal marine parasites) to Vietnamese entrails and organs and now to the backwaters of Myanmar where nothing is served that does not come half-drowned in a lake of palm oil, even finding enough nutrition to sustain myself means that the majority of my calories come from Beer Chang and the rest from biscuits.
Tonight’s fiasco is typical in Myeik. I decided to walk to the Myeik Shopping Centre where I have now had three semi-edible chicken burgers. I know that I have seen the last of their ‘Western Breakfasts’ after I ate the entire supply of butter in the city (one individual serving of Anchor) and, although I sometimes wonder if there was a time when half the menu wasn’t obscured by electrician’s tape, I have long since stopped speculating what lies beneath the black plastic. It is as off-limits to the curious bystander as a heavily-guarded murder scene.
Arriving and sitting in the window to watch the sun peek weakly through the banks of clouds, I pointed at the picture of the chicken burger then to the picture of onion rings. I even smiled as I passed the menu back to their waitress.
She came straight back to the table, saying “Onion rings. No.” They do the same kind of hand gesture to show a negative as they do in Vietnam: the one that means something is dodgy or unlikely in the UK, and so I pointed instead at the potato croquettes.
Again she returned, laughing in embarrassment (which, despite years of being as culturally sensitive as possible, still winds me up), saying “Potato. No.”
I sighed, consoling myself that at least there would be chicken burger, drank some water, checked my emails.
Eventually she returned to say “Chicken. No.”
At that point, I snapped, “Oh for fuck’s sake!” and stormed next door to the Hong Kong Kitchen and its entirely Burmese menu but they didn’t know what ‘chow mein’ was until I typed ‘Chinese noodles’ into google translate. I managed about half before growing bored of it.
At least Chinese food is reasonably edible, but that’s mainly down to the huge amounts of MSG that they pour into everything they can to jazz up the underlying blandness.
When I paid and left, I walked downstairs to find the supermarket inexplicably closed for the day (Friday) and so now don’t even have biscuits for breakfast.
Beer it will have to be.