Along with that of China, the cuisines of India and Thailand, which are popular throughout the country, are generally considered to have had significant influence on Myanmar's food. But for me, the main characteristics, especially of Bamar and Shan cooking, are freshness and simplicity, not spice. Chiles are used sparingly, usually in the form of nga yoke thee hmont, a mild chile powder that tastes like sweet paprika. Other staples are lemongrass, onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and fish sauce. Shan cooking borrows several ingredients and cooking techniques, such as sesame oil and superquick stir-frying, from Yunnan, the Chinese province with which the Shan people share a border. But none of the food I've tasted in Myanmar bears more than a passing resemblance to other Asian fare. "It's the food that a Jewish grandmother might cook if someone had taught her about lemongrass and cilantro," notes Irene.