It’s not hard to fall in love with the energising tastes of bawngsa kan, which is beef stir-fried with copious quantities of tamarind, ginger, and chilli peppers. However, it might be difficult to locate the dish at American dining establishments.
The Zomi people are an ethnic minority group having its origins predominantly in Myanmar (also known as Burma) and India. This dish is traditional to their diet. Many are refugees who fled their home nation to avoid authoritarian government and religious persecution in their native country because of their Christian beliefs.
According to Hau Suan Khai, the chairman of Zomi Innkuan Oklahoma, a local community group, there are between 7,000 and 9,000 Zomi people living in the city of Tulsa, making it the biggest Zomi population in the United States.
But even among Tulsa’s restaurants, finding Zomi dishes may be challenging since they are sometimes included as afterthoughts on the menus of Zomi-owned establishments that focus on other types of cuisine.
At Zogam Cafe, a restaurant that also serves Thai and Malaysian cuisine, you may have a Zomi dish called lothang kang. It consists of veggies that have been cooked with a substantial quantity of garlic. A tamarind-rich beef curry known as bawngsa meh is one of the dishes that can be found on the menu at Kai Burmese Cuisine, along with an occasional special of sagoi, which is a sausage packed with pork, banana blossoms, ginger, and garlic. Asian Star, a Chinese restaurant, used to offer bawng sungkua, which is a soup made from cattle intestines; its owner, Lian Haunung, wants to introduce other Zomi specialties, such as vaimim cim, which is a soup made from maize and rice.
This weekend, though, Zomi cuisine won’t be buried deep inside a menu; rather, it will take centre stage as the featured item. Zomi Khawmpi is a conference that takes place every other year and is projected to gather between 5,000 and 7,000 Zomi people from all across the United States to the Mabee Center in Tulsa to participate in sports, compete in a beauty contest, and consume delicacies that are customary to their culture. On Friday and Saturday, there will be over a dozen outdoor booths where people may purchase Zomi meals to eat at home.
The mountainous regions of the Chin State in northern Myanmar, as well as the Mizoram and Manipur states in northeastern India, are where the substantial soups and ingredients like maize and potatoes that are characteristic of Zomi cuisine had their start. The most common spices are tamarind, ginger, and garlic.
However, for many Zomi people who live here, the secondary purpose of the conference is to familiarise other attendees with their cuisine. They are members of a minority in Myanmar as well as in the United States, and they saw the event as a way to ensure that their culture and food will continue to exist.
The proprietor of Asian Star, Mr. Haunung, expressed his satisfaction with the way in which the conference prioritised the holding of sessions to explore ways in which to assist Zomi migrants. Tens of thousands of people are currently living in refugee camps in Malaysia, Thailand, and India, where they often do not have access to appropriate medical treatment or education.
“It is vital to demonstrate our new generation our traditional meals,” said Cing Sian Piang, 36, who will be selling mehkha kan, which is bitter melon stir-fried with chilies. Mehkha kan is one among the traditional dishes that will be sold.
The conference takes place at a time when Tulsa’s restaurant sector has expanded its variety of offerings and earned notoriety on a national scale. This year, the James Beard Foundation is honouring five area chefs with nominations for several honours.
The Zomi people and the Tulsa people first became connected via their shared religious practises. The first people to settle in the area did so in the 1970s in order to attend Oral Roberts University, which is an interdenominational Christian institution. In the years that followed, the government of Myanmar, which is ruled by the military and where the majority of the population is Buddhist, subjected Zomi people to forced labour and pillaged their houses as well as their churches. Because of its sizeable Christian population, Oklahoma quickly became a shelter for those seeking refuge. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Tulsa saw a significant increase in the population of Zomi people, many of whom had been evacuated there by Roman Catholic charitable organisations.
After all, food is merely one aspect of a culture’s overall makeup. Co-owner Vung Cing proudly displays a framed photograph of a hornbill at Kai. The hornbill is the symbol of the Zomi people and their homeland. The walls of Zogam Cafe are adorned with photographs of Myanmar as well as the flag of Zomi, which is red, yellow, and green. In Tulsa, a cultural centre known as Zomi Innpi has been open for business for the last four years. The facility displays traditional relics like as clothes and musical instruments. In addition, the Jenks Public School District in Tulsa maintains a library collection of literature written in the Zomi language.