The Burmese Coconut Tree


A friend of mine is married to a chef. He was recently invited to do a cooking presentation in Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar).  I would love to know what he is preparing for them. Perhaps it includes coconut.


The Origin of the Coconut

Many hundreds of years ago a raft with three people on it reached a city on the Burmese coast. The three strangers were taken before the king. In answer to the king’s questions, the strangers said that they had been set adrift on a raft on the orders of the king of their own country across the sea, because they were found guilty of certain crimes. One of the strangers was a thief, another a witch, and the third a mischief-maker who harmed people by his tittle-tattle.

The king gave a house and one thousand silver coins to the thief, and allowed him to settle in Burma. “He was a thief only because he was poor,” explained the king, “and now that he is no longer poor, he will make a good subject.” To the witch also the king gave a house and a thousand silver coins and allowed her to settle in Burma. “She bewitched people merely out of jealousy,” explained the king, “and she was jealous of others only because she was poor and unhappy. Now that she is rich, she will no longer be jealous of other people’s happiness.” But the king ordered the mischief-maker to be executed at once. “For,” said the king, “once a mischief-maker, always a mischief-maker.” So the mischief-maker was taken to the place of execution, and his head was cut off.

The next day one of the king’s officers passed by the place, and to his surprise he found the head of the mischief-maker rolling about on the ground. He was the more surprised when the head of the mischief-maker opened its mouth and said repeatedly, “Tell your king to come and kneel to me here. Otherwise I will come and knock off his head.” The officer ran back to the palace and reported the matter. But nobody believed him and the king was angry, thinking that the officer was trying to make fun of him. “Your Majesty can send another person along with me,” suggested the officer, “and he will surely bear me out.” So another officer was sent along with the first officer to the place of execution.

When they reached there, however, the head lay still and remained silent. The second officer made his repot, and the king in anger ordered the first officer to be excutied at once as a teller of lies. So the unfortunate officer was taken to the place of execution, and his head was cut off in the presence of his fellow officers. When the execution was over, the head of the mischief-maker opened its mouth and said, “Ha,ha, I can still make mischief by my tittle-tattle, although I am dead.” The officers, realizing that a gross injustice has been done to the dead officer, reported what they had seen and heard and the king was full of grief an remorse.

The king, realizing that the head of the mischief-maker would make further mischief by his tittle-tattle if it was to remain unburied, ordered that a deep pit be dug and the head buried inside it. His orders were obeyed and the head was duly buried. But the next morning, a strange tree was seen growing from the place where the head had been buried. The strange tree had even stranger fruit, for the latter resembled the head of the mischief-maker. The tree is the coconut tree. It was originally call ‘gon-bin’, which in Burmese means ‘Mischief-maker tree’, but during the course of centuries, the pronunciation of the name has deteriorated, and it is now called ‘on-bin’ or ‘coconut tree’. And, if you shake a coconut and then put it against your ear, you will hear a gurgling noise for, you see, although now a fruit, the head of the mischief-maker still wants to make tittle-tattle.



Maung Htin Aung was born on 18 May 1909. He was the great grandson of a military officer who fought in the first war against the British in 1826. There were two more wars against the British and eventually Burma was completely overtaken in 1885.

Maung Htin Aung was part of an aristocratic family and received a Bachelor of Laws from Cambridge Univiersity, a Bachelor of Civil Law from Oxford University, a Master of Laws from the University of London and doctorates in Anthropology and Literature from Trinity College, Dublin.

He wrote books on Burmese history and culture. The above is an excerpt from his book Selections from Burmese Folk-Tales published in 1952 by Oxford University Press.

A later edition: Burmese Folk Tales is available at Amazon.com


Burmese Coconut Rice

Serves 8

5 cups rice
3 coconuts
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1/3 tsp salt
2 onions

Grate the flesh of 3 coconuts. Pour some hot water and squeeze the milk through thin muslin. Repeat till all the milk is extracted. Wash rice thoroughly. Put rice into pot. Add this milk until it stands ¾ inch above the rice. Peel, quarter and wash the onions. Add to the rice, oil, sugar, salt and onions. Stir till well mixed. Cook till the milk is evaporated and the rice tender.


Ginger Beef














Ginger Beef

1 lb beef cut into strips (something tender)

1/4 onion, chopped fine

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped fine

1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped fine

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 cup water

1 1/2 cups rice

2 cups broccoli florets, frozen.














Stir fry the beef in a little oil along with the onion, ginger and garlic.

Add the soy sauce and water.









Add the rice.

Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

IMG_0054Add the broccoli and simmer another 5-10 minutes until rice is done and broccoli is heated through.


Food Friday: One Dish Dinner


















I make this a lot.  It is easy to throw together after a hard day at the office.














One Dish Dinner

1 lb chicken (or tofu, or beef) cut into cubes or strips

½ red onion

2 cloves garlic

6-7 sun dried tomatoes

1-2 tsp Basil

1 tsp salt

Black pepper

2 tsp Paprika

Put some oil in a large pan with a lid and cook the chicken with the onion and garlic until done.  Add spices and a bouillon cube.














¾ cup rice

1 ½ cup water

Add the rice and water and cover.  Lower the heat and simmer about 15 minutes.














Cut into smallish pieces:

½ small eggplant, peeled

1 medium zucchini, peeled

½ green pepper

Put some oil in another pan and fry up the vegetables so they are just softening.














Check the rice at 15 minutes and throw in the vegetables.














Continue to cook about another 5 minutes until the rice is done.



Food Friday: Sweet and Sour Meatballs



















Sweet & Sour Meatballs

1 lb hamburger

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1 egg 1 tsp salt

dash pepper

6 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp oil

1 cup pineapple juice

2 Tbsp cornstarch

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp vinegar

Pineapple chunks (optional)
















Mix hamburger, cornstarch, egg, salt and pepper together.  Form into small balls (about 1/2 inch).  Brown them in a little oil.  Set aside.

Put water, oil, juice, and 2 Tbsp cornstarch in a saucepan over low heat.

Add remaining cornstarch, sugar, soy sauce, and vinegar stirring constantly until thick.

Add meatballs and pineapple chunks to sauce.















Simmer 1 hour.

Serve over rice

Food Friday: Peanut Chicken





















This is a variation of the West African Ground Nut Stew.  I adapted it to serve to people when I lived in Moscow.  I could find the ingredients and it was mild enough that everybody liked it but it was also a little different.
















Peanut Chicken

2 green peppers

1 medium onion

2 Tbsp oil

1 (6 oz) can tomato paste

2/3 cup peanut butter

3 cups chicken broth

1 tsp salt

2 tsp chili powder (or real chillies)

1/2 tsp nutmeg

4 cups cubed cooked chicken

6 cups cooked rice















Fry onions and green peppers in oil.
















Combine tomato paste and peanut butter, stir in broth, salt, chili, and nutmeg.

Add peanut mixture to the green peppers and onions
















Stir in cooked chicken and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes.

Serve over rice.



Food Friday – Ginger





This time of year we, in the West, think of ginger in terms of Christmas and the Holiday season.  Gingerbread houses, gingerbread men, ginger snaps and other delicious sweets.  Ginger originally came from South Asia but is now used all over the world.  It’s medicinal properties include easing:  nausea, throat and nose congestions from colds, migraine and cramps, muscle and joint pain, and can even act as an aphrodisiac. In Burma they use it in a salad called gyin-thot, in Jamaica they make ginger beer.

Here is one of the many ways you can use ginger.  I hope you like it!


Ginger Stir Fry

Mix together and set aside:

  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp vermouth
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp sugar


  • 1 lb beef sirloin steak, cut into 1/8″ strips
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, diced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh ginger, diced
  • 1 green pepper cut into strips (and/or red pepper)
  • 1 cup broccoli cut into small pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup stock
  • sesame seeds












Add the beef to the soy sauce mixture and toss. Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok.  Add the beef, garlic, and ginger.  Cook until meat is browned.










Add the vegetables and cook over high heat, stirring so they don’t burn. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the stock and cook another minute or two. Serve over rice with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. Don’t forget to cook the rice!