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Crossroads of Taste buds: Examining curry throughout Myanmar and SEAsia

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Importation & Adaptation

Raul Ivan Gutierrez
April 9, 2019
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The earliest recordings of curry that we have at our disposition come from around modern-day Southeastern India or Southwestern Pakistan from around 2600 BCE. 
These recordings seems to emphasize the necessity of incorporating leaves from the curry tree into the dish.
These early renderings of curry were either wet curries-like sauces- or dry curries- like a fine powder. (Possehl)
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As Indianization came before the whole of Southeast Asia, their cuisine was of no exception, and curry made its way in. People adapted the newfound dish to their own local tastes/spices. One major consequence of this was the fact that the curry tree was only able to be successfully grown on a commercial scale, even to this day, in Cambodia and the island of Java. While first only a medicinal food, curry quickly became a dish of the elite, who had access to spices only being to be cultivated in India. Eventually, it fell to the masses, becoming a classless dish enjoyed by all. To this day, the adaptation of curry can still be seen in how it is sold and distributed to vendors. (Koenigii)
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In this modern 21st century age of rapid convenience, even ancient gastronomical traditions such as curry have had to face adaption to these current times. Condencing the most basic, and inexpensive curry ingredients such as turmeric, coriander, cumin, ginger, and possibly anise, into single, ready-to-serve, portions, this product reflects a changing time for not only the world in the age of globalization, but in realm of gastronomy as well.  
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The packaging used to transport these curry servings seems to be an attribute to classic minimalist packaging used in the 1960's across countries at the beginnings of industrialized foods. With not so overly calligraphic font and simplistic illustration of a curry tree, the message of အများကြိုက်မဆလာ (everone's favorite curry) is easily and readily legible to any curious shopper.

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The most notable aspect of the backside’s design are the words အများကြိုက်မဆလာ (everyone’s favorite curry) across the middle in bold, red letters. Next to it is the distinctive curry tree illustration. We can also see the message ဟာချီဦမြင့်ဦး၏ယနေ့နာမည်ကျော်လူကြိုက်များနေတဲ (The most poplar spice mi of our time specially manufactured by Haji Myin U) at the very top in Burmese and at the bottom in English.
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At the very top of the front packet we can see the message နာမည်ကျော်လူကြိုက်များနေတဲ (Most famous spice mix of our time) again on this side, next to the حلال (halal) logo implying that this food product complies with Islamic dietary law laid out in the Qu’ran. Below the logo of the Ku La Le Curry powder we see two messages that are worthy of interest. The first being အမြို့မြို့ဆိုင်တိုင်းတွင်ရနိုင်ပါသည်။ (available in all cities) and အတုအပသတိပြုပါ။ (beware of imitations). The first message tells you to whom this product is intended for: for people living go-go lives in the hustle and bustle of modern cities such as Yangon, Kuala Lampur, or Chicago. The second is a reflection on the weak copyright laws that still exist in Myanmar. Weak copyright laws make it easier for intellectual property theft to occur. Most of Myanmar’s current copyright laws are merely outdated from the British colonial era. (Thiha.)
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Throughout multicultural societies such as those in SEA countries, ethnic and religious diversity has been upheld as a great importance.
The gravity of this harmony can be seen in the halal ( حلال) logo in the top right corner.
Halal is the Arabic word for permissible, meaning that for Muslims, this food is clean to eat and follows the strict dietary guidelines specified in the Quran. 
Many products with throw on the halal logo on their packaging, however, simply to reel in the largest possible consumer market for their product. This is done out of mere capitalist intentions, not because they necessarily value racial harmony. (HMC)
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Hajji Myin U is the founder of the company, with his name carrying a notable honorific. 
Hajji, an Arabic honorific, is given to Muslims who are able to, who have successfully completed their Hajj, a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
His name is an indicator of his faith, so any Muslim shoppers can take solace in the fact that his product keeps into consideration their duty to adhere Islamic law to the best of their ability.
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I saw a woman who I believed to be of Burmese origin, around maybe 25-35 years old, grab a package of the instant curry off of the shelf. I followed her to the checkout counter, where my prediction that she was Burmese was more so confirmed based around the fact that she began speaking to the cashier/shopkeeper in Burmese. When she was finished paying for her items I greeted her with a quick "Hello, minglaba." Which seemed to have caught her interest in what I had to say. I asked if she had some time to talk to be about the curry packet I was holding in my hand that was the same to the one she had just bought. She gave me a slight nod but seemed to be in a rush. I asked her simply why she liked that product in her basket. She responded because it was quick to prepare that you could easily change the spiciness of the dish with a few simple spices.  At this point, the shopkeeper, who was only about four feet away, took notice of us. He responded to a question that I had not even thought about. "These packets are not so popular in Myanmar, where they come from. But here in America, they don't stop selling. Everyone moves so quickly here so cooking needs to be quick!" He gestured at us while snapping his fingers. "Everyone cooks here! or else there is no time to eat!" Almost as though implying only one group of people cooked back in Myanmar. 
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Possehl, Gregory L. The Indus Civilization: a Contemporary Perspective. Vistaar Publ., 2004.

“Curry Leaf Tree (Murraya Koenigii).” Heritage Garden, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), heritagegarden.uic.edu/curry-leaf-tree-murraya-koenigii.

“Fraud in the Halal Food Industry.” Halal Monitoring Committee, 14 Dec. 2018, halalhmc.org/news/flashback-food-fraud-fraud-in-the-halal-food-industry/.

Majumdar, R. C. Hindu Colonies in the Far East. South Asia Books, 1991.

Thiha. “What's New,...” Consult, Consult-Myanmar Co Ltd, 8 Mar. 2018, consult-myanmar.com/2018/03/08/whats-new-copycat/.

Ruthven, Malise. Islam: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2000.

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