Jungle "Hut Cuisine": Smoked Pigeons with Marijuana Sauce

In the evening we would go shooting wood pigeon among wild marijuana fields. The birds were high on the marijuana seeds and barely able to fly but fluttered helplessly in the bushes. Their spasmodic, interrupted flights, together with their strange little cries made me think of drunken people trying to waltz. We stuffed the barrels of our home-made guns with pebbles and shot the pigeons down. Just the sound of gunshots seemed to stun them and they dropped from the trees at our feet. We killed them by seizing them by the legs and bashing their heads against trees. They made an excellent dish. We cooked them with marijuana sauce according to the local recipe. Here it is — Smoked Pigeons with Marijuana Sauce: ‘Smoke the birds with the twigs of marijuana for a day. Stuff them with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, ginger with a pinch of salt and wrap them in banana leaves. Boil or bake according to taste.’

Although we used marijuana for cooking, smoking it was strictly forbidden by the rebels. You could end up condemned to the stocks, plagued by mosquitoes, for three nights if you did that.

When the rainy season began we caught frogs. There was some danger in this, for we were not the only party who preyed on them. We usually made sure of first killing the frog-eating snakes, and then caught the frogs afterwards. Pythons, like frogs, are quite delicious to eat. They taste like smoked salmon. We also hunted moles, guinea-pigs and rats. We hung and smoked the rodents for three days before cooking them. Rat soup, minced moles and roast guinea pigs were our common recipes. The local people liked to hang the meat of porcupines until it stank like that of a corpse before they cooked it with herbs. It tasted delicious, but we had to eat it holding our noses.

At the end of 1988 we were invited by the Karen villagers to share a Christmas meal with them. The main dish had a strange flavour — the meat in it tasted like dog meat with a strong whiff of garlic and lemon grass. After the meal, our hosts didn’t wash their fingers, but sniffed at them for some time. Before we went home they told us that we had been eating monkey. Suddenly, I wanted to throw up. For the Karen, the meat of monkey was a typical Christmas dish, like turkey or goose in the West. They believed it was a gift from God, and that even the smell should not be wasted.

Tender wild banana trunks were available throughout the year, and we used them in soups along with lentils and vegetables. Truffles and wild mushrooms were in season at the beginning of the monsoon. During the cold season, when the bamboo shoots had matured, bamboo mushrooms became available.

We had more than one way of cooking rice without pots and pans, depending on the situation we were in. It could be cooked in bamboo stems: you soak the rice in green bamboo stalks for half an hour, and stuff the open end of the bamboo with grass. Roast the bamboo slowly over the fire until the rice is cooked, then peel off the bamboo skin. In this method, the rice comes in cartridges. Another method we called ‘rebel style’. The rice is soaked in a towel, linen or sarong for more than an hour. Dig a hole in the ground, one foot deep, bury the rice bag, then make a fire on top. Steamed rice will be ready within fifteen minutes. We used this method often when the rebels were on the run.

SOURCE: From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey, by Pascal Khoo Thwe (HarperCollins, 2002), pp. 215-217

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