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Khetan Kyitauk: Food for All the People

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Min Tawlawi – Burma, also known as Myanmar, is known across the world as a very culturally diverse nation, with eight major ethnic people groups and 127 smaller ones among the population of approximately 60 million. They all are fiercely proud of their culture and traditions, including language, dress and of course, food.

There aren’t many aspects of culture that are shared across this diverse mix. However, one special food does seem to be commonly enjoyed. It is called Poung Tin in the north and east. In central Burma it is called Kyauk Nyin Kyi Tauk. And, in the south it is affectionately known as Khetan Kyitauk, or sticky rice roasted in bamboo.

Sticky rice roasted in bamboo
Sticky rice roasted in bamboo

Indeed, this dish is a common link to people groups throughout all of Asia. According to 80 year-old Mon grandmother, Tin Mya, living in Sangkhlaburi, in western Thailand, near the eastern border of Burma, people ate sticky rice roasted in bamboo at the beginning of civilization in the Asian region. Ancient people roasted sticky rice in bamboo before they could use clay, copper or iron pots for cooking.

Today, Khetan Kyitauk, or sticky rice, is very popular with people in rural areas in the south, who also make a business out of selling it in nearby towns and cities.
People in central Burma and eat sticky rice all year round. It is always available from vendors in places where crowds gather, such as in train and bus stations.

“We eat Khetan Kyitauk in our area instead of (boiled) rice,” Naw Thu Thu, a Karen from Tayork Hla Village, in Pa-an Township, in Karen State, said.

“People sell it in markets as well as at concerts. We also enjoy Khetan Kyitauk as a traditional food at concerts during the Karen New Year. We give it as a present, too. People from Myawaddy (in Burma) sell Khetan Kyitauk in Maesot, on the Thailand side of the Moei River.”

Khetan Kyitauk is called “Wahphalaung” in the Karen language. According to Sayarma Naw Yin Hla, a member of the Pa-an Karen Culture Committee, Karen people appreciate this food because it can be compared with the simplicity and honesty of the Karen people, in that it is plain white in color and simple to prepare. Karen people are simple and honest.

Likewise, it is an important traditional food for Chin people in Phalan, Harkar, and Ma Tupi in, Chin State, western Burma. Chin people offer Khetan Kyitauk in ritual ceremony and give it as a present to other people.

“We have sticky rice from our paddy field. We can easily get bamboo. We don’t need to spend money. It’s very simple to make. So, many people can make it. It is very good with roasted meat (from a wild animal). Some people sell Khetan Kyitauk as their business. Chin people from Tamu Township, in Burma, sell Khetan Kyitauk in Mizoram in India,” Salai Zar Bwe, from Ma Tupi Township, Chin State, said.

Arakanese, Chin, Myo Khamee, Dainet, Thet and Rohingya people living in Maung Daw Township, Arakan State, western Burma also enjoy sticky rice roasted in bamboo. Rohingya people say it is their favorite food.

“We don’t put coconut milk and sugar when we make Khetan Kyitauk, as some people do. So, it lasts longer than 3 or 4 days. It’s easy to make. People from Maung Daw cross the Nat River and sell Khetan Kyitauk in Tekanup Town and Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh,” a government worker in Maung Daw said.

Mon people like to eat it, too. They call it “Halam”  or “Phalan Kyitauk”.

Visitors at the famous Kyeik Hteeyo Pagoda, in Kyeik Hto Township, in Mon State, bought souvenirs, which were made with bamboo and Khetan Kyitauk as well.

Nan Thein Htaw, a 65 year-old Karen woman from Sangkhlaburi, Thailand, explained how to make sticky rice roasted in bamboo.

First, the strain of rice used contains more starch than other rice. It grows for about 6 months before harvest.

Sticky rice roasted in bamboo

“First, we have to soak pure sticky rice in water for 8 hours, then drain the water. If you want to put in peas, you have to the boil peas separately. Then you have to mix sticky rice and boiled peas with a suitable amount of salt. Second, we have to choose the right bamboo tree, because not every bamboo can be used for making Khetan Kyitauk. It must not be more than one year old and have a thin layer of membrane inside the trunk. The varieties known as Tin bamboo and Kyet Khet bamboo must be used,” Nan Thein Htaw explained.

“The bamboo must be clear of insects and still green as well. It must be at least 1 foot long length between sections and one and a half inches wide,” she added.

“Each one foot section of bamboo is filled with the desired sticky rice concoction. But, we cannot fill it full. About 2 inches of space must be left at the top. The remaining 2 inches of space is for water or coconut milk. Then, we have to close the ends of the bamboo with banana leaves before roasting the bamboo sections in a fire with medium temperature. After we roast the bamboo for about an hour, the sticky rice boils inside. Then we have to cut away the outer covering of bamboo with a knife. After that, we get that good smell of Khetan Kyitauk. It’s ready to eat,” Naw Thein Htaw said, patiently explaining how to make Khetan Kyitauk.

Foreigners like the smell of Khetan Kyitauk,” Mi Ngwe, a restaurant owner at Kin Moon camp in Kyeik Hteeyo Pagoda, said.

Some businesses in Three Pagoda Pass and Sangkhlaburi export Khetan Kyitauk as far away as Bangkok, Mahar Chai, Pukhet, and Pattaya city.

Sticky rice roasted in bamboo
Sticky rice roasted in bamboo

“We export two kinds of ready-made Khetan Kyitauk, one is only made with sticky rice and another one is a mixture of sticky with coconut milk and sugar,” Mi Taw Layee, who produces Khetan Kyitauk in Sangkhlaburi town, said.

“Some people sell only the bamboo required for Khetan Kyitauk,” she added.

“I can finish my breakfast with a cup of coffee and a piece of Khetan Kyitauk. It’s full of nutrients. I can easily buy it. It is also cheap. So, many people can buy and eat it. I like to eat Khetan Kyitauk even though I come from a western nation,” Mrs. Nila, who is from Belgium and working at an NGO for 2 years in Sangkhlaburi town, said.
Khetan Kyitauk is an important part of the traditional diet of ethnic people across Burma and across the Asian region. They love to eat it and also love to share it with foreigners, who may not know about it yet.

They are proud that it is made from natural food in a very simple way and is very healthy and nutritious.

Different people practicing different beliefs can eat it. It’s only made with organic substances. No chemicals are needed to make it. It’s simple organic food that Asian people have enjoyed since the dawn of civilization.

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