A taste of Burma in Vancouver

Shortly before a coup that resulted in the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Straight paid a visit to Amay's House

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      This weekend, I planned to write about Amay's House (5076 Victoria Drive), which offers authentic Burmese cuisine in a casual setting.

      One of the first things you notice in the room is a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

      She was once seen as an icon of democracy for standing steadfast against the military dictatorship in Burma, a.k.a. Myanmar, during 15 years of detention.

      However, State Counsellor Suu Kyi has come under severe criticism in the past three years for not publicly condemning genocidal attacks on the Muslim Rohingya minority.

      But less than 72 hours after the visit to Amay's House, Suu Kyi and President Win Myint are reportedly under arrest. This came after the armed forces again took control of the Southeast Asian country, which is home to 54 million people.

      The military has justified its coup by claiming fraud in a November election that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won. The losing party, the USDP, was backed by the military.

      It's sad to think of how this news is being received by Burmese expats, including staff at Amay's House.

      During our recent visit, we ordered chicken biryani, which was Indian inspired but differed from this dish in South Asian restaurants. 

      It was warm, savoury, and cardamom-scented and it had its Burmese styling. But it was mellower and simpler than the more heavy-handed Indian chicken biryani, which is a fiery mix of rice, chicken, and spice.

      This one is worth trying for those who like rice dishes.

      The chicken biryani at Amay's House doesn't look anything like this dish in Indian restaurants.

      Beef rendang is a classic curry in Malaysian and Indonesian culture, originating in West Sumatra. At Amay's House, the beef rendang is light, tender, and aromatic, with Malaysian and Indian influences.

      In between bites of the plentiful portions, we sipped on steaming hot jasmine tea, which came on the house.

      The connection to India shouldn't come as a huge surprise given the country's history. While only two percent of the Burmese population traces its roots back to India, there were much stronger links during colonial times.

      In the 19th century, the British East India Company took control of Burma. Over several decades, Indians came to the country in substantial numbers as soldiers, workers, and traders.

      In the Second World War, the Japanese Army and Burmese nationalists pushed British and Chinese forces out of the country. Suu Kyi's father, Aung San, was a student activist when he was recruited by the Japanese to aid these efforts. He played a key role in Burma achieving independence from the U.K. after the war ended.

      Historian Thant Myint-U's outstanding 2011 book, China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, described how this Southeast Asian nation fell increasingly into China's orbit under the military dictatorship in the 1990s and early 2000s.

      The Indian influence, once such a hallmark in the colonial era, has diminished considerably. But it lives on in Burmese cuisine in restaurants in the West, including Amay's House. 

      Today, Thant Myint-U is feeling pessimistic in the wake of the coup.

      "The doors just opened to a very different future," he tweeted. "I have a sinking feeling that no one will really be able to control what comes next.

      "And remember Myanmar's a country awash in weapons, with deep divisions across ethnic & religious lines, where millions can barely feed themselves."