Building Communities. Through Food.

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Hpa-an skills training

During the last week of March 2015, Harmoneat staff traveled to Hpa-An, Kayin State, to deliver a joint project with Veranda Youth Community Café.

The pilot project, Building Skills and Strengthening Communities, aims to build the hospitality skills and employability of youth in Hpa-An. At the core of the initiative is an aim to demonstrate to students and the wider community the ways in which food can strengthen the ties within, and between, communities.Group Photo Before Cooking Commenced.jpg

10 students participated in the first installment of the pilot project, involving three and half days of vocational “Food and Beverage” training and a range of community-building activities. Students were taught how to cook ethnically diverse foods from all over Myanmar – a process that not only developed students’ kitchen skills, but introduced discussions on Myanmar’s cultural, religious and ethnic diversity.

As participants increased their awareness and understanding of how food is linked with individual and community identity, they discovered the idea of food as a tool to illustrate the commonalities between diverse groups of people.

This whole month of April will see the students undertake a volunteer placement at Veranda Youth Community Café. Here they will gain practical experience in a real working restaurant, growing their new knowledge and skills in a professional environment. The ethnically diverse dishes to be taught to participants in this volunteer placement will feature as daily or weekly specials at Veranda, inviting the broader Hpa-An community to share in Myanmar’s deliciously-diverse cuisine.

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At the end of the one-month work experience placement, a large community event will be hosted at Veranda to celebrate participants’ achievements in completing both their training and work experience.

This “Hpa-An MasterChef” competition will provide a supportive forum for students to demonstrate their newly acquired hospitality skills. The event will also be an excellent opportunity to bring members of the Hpa-An community together, exploring and celebrating the local cuisine of Kayin State together.

The psychology of food and community

Different parts of our brains do different jobs. While the brain’s left hemisphere processes the details of non-living objects like words and tools, research shows that the right hemisphere codes our perception of living organisms. The right hemisphere oversees our interactions with other people, our emotions, and our ability to see the “bigger picture”.

The right hemisphere’s preference for sorting this kind of information “flows naturally from its interest in whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves, and its capacity for empathy,” explains Professor Iain McGilchrist in his award-winning book The Master and his Emissary.

It also turns out that there’s a strong connection between food, music and this social hemisphere of the brain.

“Food however, and musical instruments, presumably because of the intimate way in which they take part in the life of the body, sort with the living rather than the non-living” in the right hemisphere of the brain, says Professor McGilchrist.

We’re hard-wired to perceive food as a personal interaction. Food is a living experience; a social phenomenon. This perspective has existed in the blueprint of our brains and cultures since we evolved as a species.

Food and community are inextricably linked, together with our ability to empathise with other human beings and to see the bigger picture. We can continue to develop this connection between sharing meals and building communities, towards developing better understanding of each other and creating a shared vision for a shared future.


Harmoneat launches community projects with skill-building in Hpa-An

January 2015 - Story by Maddie Gange



The Harmoneat team is excited to be engaging in some of our first community building projects, and expanding our reach beyond Yangon!

Between January 13-15, 2015, Harmoneat delivered an Introduction to Food and Beverage training for young people in Hpa-An and surrounding areas. Harmoneat’s Operations Manager, Community Projects Advisor and two volunteers traveled 6 hours from Yangon to the capital of Karen state, to work in partnership with an exciting new initiative, Veranda Youth Community Café. With high rates of unemployment and few training opportunities for young people in the area, Harmoneat was thrilled to provide vocational training in food and beverage service to 30 participants from the community, ranging in age from 16-30 years old.

The training was a great success, with participants having the opportunity to learn about, and practice skills in customer and food service in a welcoming, interactive and enjoyable environment. In addition, participants explored the many foods of Myanmar, and concluded that although there are many different people and cultures in Myanmar (and around the world), we are all united by our common love and need for food. However, they were a little shocked to hear that Australians eat kangaroo!

Harmoneat was excited to find that many of the participants had already considered the important role that food plays in building communities and positive relationships. The three-day training was a fantastic opportunity to see this play out on a small scale, with participants learning about each other and sharing their enjoyment and experiences of food with those that they had not met before. In the future, Harmoneat looks forward to further engaging with the youth of Hpa-An, and developing community food projects together.

IMG_1922.JPGFollowing the training, participants overwhelmingly expressed their readiness and desire to get jobs in the food and beverage industry. During debrief, participants highlighted that the most important things they gained from the program were general knowledge and skills in food and beverage service, the opportunity to make new friends, and an understanding of how they can connect their communities through food. Harmoneat is incredibly proud of all of the participants, and cannot wait to support their future achievements!

The Harmoneat team would like to thank Shine and the management team at Veranda Café for providing training support and for being such hospitable hosts. We would also like to thank Australian volunteer, Tom Martin, for presenting some of the training sessions at such short notice. The participants thoroughly enjoyed learning about juggling dishes and Tom’s personal accounts of working in the hospitality industry. Finally, Harmoneat would like to thank all of the participants for being such enthusiastic students. We are still recovering from joining our enthusiastic hosts on the bike-riding trip, which seemed to change from some casual sightseeing to an intense 5-hour mountain-biking adventure! 


Bright colours representing a beautiful cuisine

December 2014 - Story by Nilar Win 

Mg Mg, a Burmese chef who prepares delicious meals, says that colours represent Myanmar cuisine. The colour that is emphasized “depends on the dish. If the main ingredient is red, we prepare it as a bright red curry. For lentil soup, we prepare as a bright yellow dish. I would say that Myanmar foods represent colours," he says.

His favourite Burmese cuisine is sweetish pork and his recommendation to a foreigner who has never tried Myanmar cuisine would depend on the place where they come from and the tastes they are familiar with. “For Indian and Chinese people, as they are Asian, it is easy to recommend a dish for them. For Europeans, it's different. For instance, for a Russian, I would recommend dishes with a strong taste of meat, like beef or mutton with less oil,” he explains.

The ingredients used for daily cooking of Myanmar dishes are mostly local products. Myanmar people traditionally use garlic, onion and red chili for color and paste. In terms of fragrance, fresh vegetables such as parsley and coriander are the main sources. Mg Mg believes that Myanmar cuisine has changed considerably over the years. “Myanmar foods have entered international competitions. In Japan, Myanmar's Shwe Taung noodles are well known. We have seen international acceptance,” he states.

Nevertheless, he points out that in terms of food decoration, it is simplistic. “By and large, Myanmar meals include rice, a main dish of meat, fish paste and fresh vegetables, and a bowl of soup. Myanmar people hardly decorate their dishes, but prefer to eat a variety of simplistic dishes in their everyday life. That is how Burmese people really eat in daily life. We hardly decorate the dishes. 

Mg Mg's Recipe of tomato and fish paste curry

3 tomatoes     
1 teaspoon of fish paste  
A few green peppers
2 Onions
2 cloves of garlic
3 teaspoons of oil
A pinch of chicken powder

Firstly, slice the tomato, mince onion and garlic, and remove the stalk of green pepper. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a pan with medium heat.
When the oil is hot, add the minced onion, garlic and fish paste to the pan. Stir well and fry them for a while until their fragrance can be smelt.
Add the sliced tomato and cook for about ten minutes.
Add the chicken powder for flavour and stir well
Finally, add green pepper and cook for 2- 3 more minutes. Then the tomato and fish paste curry is ready to serve.

Home is where the food is

December 2014 - Story by Nilar Win 

“When I am away from my country, I miss Mohingha the most, which is a traditional Burmese rice noodle and fish soup,” Thurein says to Harmoneat. Thurein is a humanitarian worker, currently working in Uganda, and he has been away from his home country of Myanmar for eight years. Mohingha is his favourite Burmese food, along with many members of the population who eat this dish for breakfast and as a light snack.

backpacker in Paris (1).jpgTo prepare a bowl of Mohingha, you will need fish soup, which contains fish, roasted rice powder, fish sauce, roasted peanut powder, onion, garlic, lemon grass, banana leaves and duck or chicken eggs (optional). The soup is neither thick nor clear, and is served with thin rice noodles. Many people also enjoy adding fried chickpeas or gourd (similar to squash), chili powder, coriander and a little bit of lime. The diversity of ingredients makes Mohingha a fusion of different flavours.

Some of the required ingredients in Burmese dishes, such as fish paste and dry chili, are not readily available in the foreign countries where Thurein works. In order that he can continue to cook traditional Burmese meals while away from home, he usually brings these ingredients with him. “Apart from ingredients for cooking, I also bring other Burmese foods, like pickled tea leaf salad with assorted fried beans and dried fish,” he states.

The thing he likes most about Burmese foods is that they are prepared with many side dishes. He thinks that this is a unique representation of the Burmese eating culture. “The second thing I like about Burmese food is that it has a variety of choices and traditional foods from different ethnic groups like Shan noodle and Rakhine Mote Ti.” In Myanmar, cuisines are quite diverse, and Indian, Thai and Chinese foods are commonly cooked as well. As a result, these dishes “become part of the Burmese food culture,” he says.

When Thurein has to recommend Burmese food to foreigners, he suggests they try pickled tea leaf salad, Mohingha and Rakhine seafood dishes. He invites tourists to come to Myanmar to taste its interesting and diverse foods, and see the untouched nature of its beautiful environment.


Yangon Social Enterprise Expo 2014

November 2014

On 22 November, Harmoneat was thrilled to be one of 20 organisations to recently feature at the 2nd ever Yangon Social Enterprise Expo. The event proved a great opportunity for the Harmoneat team to meet so many inspiring young entrepreneurs doing such fantastic work across Myanmar. Can’t wait for the next few months of community projects, and hopefully we’ll be back again bigger and better for the 2015 Expo.


Welcome to the high season!

November 2014

Yangon is expecting a record number of tourists this dry season – 5 million are estimated to visit the country in 2015. And November – February is the perfect time to make the most of cooler temperatures and dryer days. As luck would have it, Harmoneat has been busily preparing to make the most of the influx. Our new cooking instructor, Lu Lu, started in November, our brand new menu was rolled out this week, and we’re now on TripAdvisor! As always, all profits go towards our community projects – which will also be starting in the coming months. So what better time to book your cooking class today!    

A day with Harmoneat

November 2014

Harmoneat recently played host to the incomparable Sam Sin - friend and blogger. Sam kindly contributed a blog on her experience with the team! Thanks Sam and hope the UK's not too cold for you!   

At Harmoneat’s most recent cooking class we warmly welcomed Lu Lu to the Harmoneat team as a Cooking Facilitator to lead on Harmoneat’s cooking classes and market tours.


The cooking class started with an 8:30am tour of the Thein Byu Market on Bo Min Ying Street, about 10 minutes stroll from the Harmoneat premises. Thein Byu is a typical Myanmar market selling fresh vegetables, meats and seafood locally sourced and sold by the weight so you can buy exactly what you need for the day. The majority of the organic produce is grown in the Shan state in Eastern Myanmar, home to the famous ‘Shan Noodles’ (check out http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/lifestyle/dining/12234-shan-noodles.html).  It is still common practice to frequent the market on a daily basis to buy the freshest produce to cook an array of delightful dishes in anticipation of the return of your family after a long day at work. Going to the market is social occasion for most people as they get to know the stall holders and have a chat to catch up on the days’ news. Many people in Myanmar are unable to afford refrigerators and frequent power cuts also mean that fresh produce can spoil easily in the hot weather.


After a wander around the market stalls with some introduction to some of the lesser known ingredients common to Myanmar cooking, the group headed towards a local tea shop to share a cup of tea and some snacks whilst watching the world go by. Men, women and children go to tea shops on a daily basis, often visiting the same one so they can meet with friends. Tea shops are a very social space where individuals can openly talk about issues over a refreshing cup of tea and escape the heat of the day.

The menu for today’s cooking class was varied and with Chicken and Potato Curry, Duck Egg Curry, Steamed Sea Bass with Ginger and Garlic, Hot Tomato Dip, Pennywort and Carrot Salad, Stir-fried Watercress, and Sour Vegetable Soup. All served with steamed white rice!

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Myanmar family evening meals are often made up of several dishes; usually one curry dish, a stir fried vegetable dish and salad. Not forgetting the obligatory sour vegetable soup and steamed white rice! Meals are always served ‘family style’ with the dishes in the middle of the table and each person having their own plate of steaming hot rice. Eat with a spoon and fork or your hands, it is up to you! Feel free, you’re amongst family...

Traditionally Myanmar curries fall into two categories; red or yellow. The curry paste is usually made fresh every day using a pestle and mortar. The red curry paste uses rehydrated dried red chillies, garlic, ginger and onion. The yellow curry paste is made using the same ingredients but minus the chilli. Yellow curry paste is often used for dishes that require less spice and for those who are unable to eat very spicy foods for health and dietary reasons. The red curry paste made for this cooking class was used as a base for the Chicken Curry, the Duck Egg Curry and the Hot Tomato Dip. The curry paste is very versatile as different ingredients and extra spices added during the cooking process bring out completely different results!

If you like what you see and would like to join in on an upcoming class, you can book online http://www.harmoneat.com/cooking-classes/book-now/ or send an email to harmoneat@gmail.com.

Traveling Tagine brings Morocco to Yangon

October 2014

Harmoneat’s first evening expo proved an overwhelming success with the team playing host to Traveling Tagine. With all proceeds supporting Harmoneat’s community projects, a generous crowd gathered to learn how to make some Moroccan delicacies – with some uniquely Myanmar variations! After demonstrating their fish tagine, Camille and Youssef’s feast proved popular with all. A big thanks to everyone involved, and we can’t wait for our next expo night. Myanmar Christmas feast anyone? 


Harmoneat welcomes Traveling Tagine to Yangon

October 2014

Harmoneat cooking school is welcoming Traveling Tagine to Yangon this month, with a special day dedicated to sharing food knowledge and fusing delectable cuisines! On the 30 October, Harmoneat will showcase our home-style Burmese cooking, sharing our favourite recipes with our guests in a morning market tour and cooking school. In the evening, Camille and Youssef from Traveling Tagine will host a cooking demonstration at the Harmoneat kitchen, showing our guests how to make traditional Moroccan tagine and other associated treats. All proceeds raised from the demonstration will support Harmoneat's community building work, set to get underway in December 2014.

Book now at bookings@harmoneat.com

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International Alert showcase Burmese cuisine as part of their Conflict Kitchen series in London

September 2014

International Alert is an international peace building NGO that have been working for 25 years to build peace in countries in conflict and within different contexts. This week, they have launched a new initiative in London called Conflict Kitchen, a series of pop-up restaurants focused on highlighting areas of conflict and bringing people together through food to learn and share knowledge of these places.

The first in the series of restaurants is Burma, so we spoke to Phil Champain, Director of Emerging Programmes at International Alert to tell us a little more about Conflict Kitchen.


Tell us how Conflict Kitchen came about?

“We’re always trying to find innovative ways of bringing people together and a central focus of our work is dialogue. It struck us that dialogue is a word that is used quite generally and thrown around, but what does it actually involve? When we came to thinking about it, we thought there are many different types of dialogue and rituals whereby people come together and try to resolve differences. And often these rituals involve food.

“In Israel and Palestine there is the drinking of bitter tea when you have the parties coming together to try and resolve differences and there’s a meal when parties are reconciled. So food is often a central part of what helps communities come together and talk about difficult issues. It provides a focus and it’s also quite symbolic. I suppose it goes back to biblical days and the breaking of the bread.

“Conflict kitchen is an experiment to see if we can use food as a focus to bring people together through different contexts and start conversations about places affected by conflict. We’re not interested in it being a workshop or seminar, it’s very much a meal, but we wanted it to provide a focus for people to learn and share their knowledge.”

You mention you don’t want Conflict Kitchen to be a workshop or seminar – what are you hoping people will take away from this initiative?

“I hope people will take away knowledge and understanding of the place, in this case Burma, and that they will go away with a greater appreciation of the complexities of the conflict. I think people can view conflict quite simplistically; they think, ‘why can’t they just bash their heads together and sort things out?’ Its obvious one side is wrong and the other right but in reality it’s not like that. Israel and Gaza are a case in point really. It created a lot of debate that was quite superficial. It’s easy for people to blame another side and to label them as mad, insane or evil, but when you dig beneath the surface, there’s a lot of complexity to a conflict and the reasons people do what they do. I hope people will go away with some appreciation of the different perspectives.“

Areas of conflict are often highly publicised by the media, however there are many places, such as Burma, that don’t garners as much media attention. Is this one of the reasons you chose Burma for Conflict Kitchen?

“Partly. At International Alert we try and shine a light on forgotten conflicts and raise awareness of these places that are neglected. The crisis in the Middle East tends to overshadow everything else.

“Part of the reason is also what chefs you can get! Apparently there’s only one Burmese restaurant in the whole of Europe, I can’t validate that but there are certainly not many around. That indicates something about the country. It has been closed to the west for decades and it’s only now beginning to open up and people are being reminded of where it is.”

What are they ways in which you hope to engage people coming to Conflict Kitchen?

“I think there are two ways in which you can use this concept. One is what we are doing now. It is for the general public and is awareness raising; quite informal but targeting the general public and, in that sense, providing an environment whereby people can taste food from a country they know little about.

“We are putting basic information on placemats and menus, so there will be details about where to food comes from and a background to it. There will be question cards in the middle of the table, they could be a ‘did you know?’ fact or a question, such as ‘why were sanctions dropped in 2011/12’, or ‘why were sanctions put in place to begin with?’ It’s a way of stimulating conversation; I guess it’s a bit like a Christmas cracker.

“I think there’s another way you can develop this concept, which is more targeted to particular groups that are in conflict with each other. Is it possible to bring together groups of Buddhists and Muslims to cook, eat and have a dialogue together? That is much more targeted towards groups who are in conflict and is about finding a space where they can have these conversations.”

Do you plan on taking this concept further afield?

Yes, we’d like to develop the concept further. I think this time it’s experimental, this is the first time we’ve done Conflict Kitchen and we would certainly like to develop it, particularly in countries that are in conflict. We’ve been working in Burma since 2012, and we know it’s a very difficult environment to work in. It’s still very difficult to have open discussions and open dialogue about issues, and there’s quite a lot of polarisation of positions of ideas.

More information http://www.international-alert.org/

Article by Holly Alsop, September 2014

Harmoneat completes the largest crowdfunding campaign in Myanmar's history

24 June 2014

Harmoneat's crowdfunding campaign finished last week, and we have been overwhelmed with the response! Overall, Harmoneat raised AUD30,900 which will help us set up our community-building program and cooking school. Thanks to all who donated to the campaign and stay-tuned for exciting progress. You can still check out our campaign page here.


Harmoneat in the news

4 June 2014

Check out Harmoneat's crowdfunding campaign in the news

Track our crowdfunding progress through our video diaries!

22 May 2014

Want to know how we're tracking? Check out our video diaries to stay connected as we try to set up Yangon's first food truck! 

Harmoneat launches crowdfunding campaign

20 May 2014

Want to help get us on the road?

Visit www.startsomegood.com/harmoneat and contribute to our crowdfunding campaign! 

 Donate Directly, Through Paypal.