Sweet Savouries from Toddy Palms

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toddy palm

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Toddy palms are not merely decorative, not just a prop to put on a postcard above the little pagoda, its fronds way-laying the crescent moon in her heavenly path.

The toddy palm juice shimmering with the colours of the jay's wing is a drink worthy of Omar Khayyam's song. When taken in moderation, it is a healthy strengthening drink for young and old. It helps people to bear the burning heat of summer in the Central Myanmar areas.
Products of toddy palm juice are many and varied. The syrup obtained from boiled juice is used in preparing indigenous medicines. When it is mixed with pop corn it makes a delectable sweet, that goes well with green tea.
The well-known and popular product is jaggery, sugary chunks, conveniently bite-size, sweet and tasty. Jaggery is a must in every Myanmar home. Children love it. Adults find it a soothing moderator after a rich heavy meal. Just take a bite and chase it down with hot green tea, it is refreshing.
Jaggery is an essential ingredient in recipes for Myanmar snacks; pan cakes, puddings and many of the sweet crispies. It is also a standby for minor ailments like colds and stomach upsets. Thin jaggery syrup flavoured with betel leaves helps to soothe the patient with a bad cold and slight temperature. Jaggery crushed and fried in cooking oil is a welcome diet for children with stomach upsets that cause too much bowel action.
Toddy palm gives delicious snacks even before it reaches the age of juice giving. It begins the supply right from the time the seeds take root in the ground. Toddy palm roots are dug out of the ground, when they are about twelve or fourteen inches long, shapely tapering ones with loose brown sheaths.
The roots are roasted onopen fire until the sheaths are burnt away and the white soft kernel inside is brown with a few black spots sprinkled over. The nutty smell of roasting brings the children to the fireside. It is one of the happy accidents that toddy roots come in season in the cold months of November and December. Children can hardly wait till the roots cool off. Risking burnt fingers they snatch them up and peel them with mild cries of distress; sucking the fingers every now and then. Now comes a very delicate operation. There runs down the root a cleavage line right in the middle.
You begin at the small tapered end to break oh, slowly please along the line and the root almost divides itself into two parts. Once you master the art, it is as easy as tearing along the perforated line. There, lo and behold, a long thin white stick comes out. It is in fact an embryo palm frond.
From then on granny takes over. With great care she spreads out the tender frond. She then tears the tiny strips along the line and weaves them into small animal figures, toy mats and boxes, there are ohs and ahs of appreciation as children fondle the toys.
It is good that children have almost forgotten the roasted kernel of the toddy root; because it gives the adults time to cut them into bite size and heap them on the plate. There is a bowl of sesamum oil and salt. You dip the root in oil and season it with salt and take it with green tea as chaser.
Young green toddy fruits provide a white kernal, soft, cool and sweet; an ideal fare for hot summer days. Ripe fruits give a yellow custardlike substance, that is squeezed out of the fibres covering the seed. The custard is mixed with lice batter and steamed in small cups. They are delicious with finely shredded coconut.
One word of caution though. Do not, for goodness' sake, try to make those custard cakes at home. I tried it once and it was such a disaster an unholy mess of yellow that I feel jaundiced even at the mere thought of it. Better buy it ready made from the market.

 

 

 

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