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The Sweet Cigars of Inle Lake

By Dave Fox
Nam Pan Village, Burma (Myanmnar)

As our boat ride on Inle Lake continues, we buzz from a lotus weaving workshop to a cheroot factory….

Women and teenage girls sat cross-legged on the floor of a rickety building, hand-rolling cigars and cheroots. (Cheroots, from the Tamil word curuttu — to curl or roll– are cigars with the ends snipped off.) One of the older ladies, who seemed to be in charge, told me they each roll 500 cigars a day.

SONY DSC

While anti-smoking campaigns are growing in much of Southeast Asia, local cigars (sometimes, huge ones) remain popular in Burma, particularly among older people in rural areas. Wikipedia speculates that in India, cheroots have been associated with resistance to tropical diseases, perhaps by hiding the aroma of sweat, which attracts mosquitoes.)

SONY DSCYou’ll spot these local, dark-green cigars throughout the country, but Inle Lake is known for its flavored cheroots. The only tobacco in them is often the single leaf that holds the rest of the ingredients together.

Rolled inside that leaf is an elaborate blend of dried banana and pineapple, star anise, brown sugar, tamarind, honey, and rice wine, among other ingredients. (And in case you’re wondering, that’s as mind-altering as they get.)

Photo: flickr/magical-world (Vera & Jean-Christophe)

Photo: flickr/magical-world (Vera & Jean-Christophe)

The factory sells them to tourists at 1,000 kyat (US $1.20) for a packet of ten small ones, bundled in a rubber band and wrapped in newspaper. Twelve US cents for a hand-rolled cigarillo? By local standards, that’s an inflated price.

Many Burmese subsist on around one US dollar per day, which makes mass-market cigarettes unaffordable. Local cigars, however, sell in markets for as little as 200 kyat – around 25 US cents – for a packet of 20. (And that’s the price I was quoted. If you can convince them you’re Burmese, you might get a better deal.)

Photo: flickr/worak

Photo: flickr/worak

At the factory, the boss lady offered me a free sample. I’m not a smoker, nor do I have any idea about the health risks of inhaling honey and dried bananas. But I do love me some star anise, and the blend sounded too intriguing to pass up.

I have to confess, it was love at first puff – sweet, delicious, and nothing like a Marlboro. The ladies reeled me in with their “first one’s free” ploy. I bought a packet of ten cheroots, feeling secure in the fact that I won’t be coming back to Inle Lake often enough to get hooked on them.

Published on Friday, January 25, 2013

3 Responses to “The Sweet Cigars of Inle Lake”

  1. Ewa
    February 7, 2016 at 3:25 PM

    I am in love with them too! <3

  2. Cece
    March 19, 2016 at 7:07 PM

    I’m not a smoker myself but like you, I was in love after the first puff. Bought a 50-pack for 6000 kyats. Now I’m down to my last two and I really wish I had bought more.

  3. August 9, 2016 at 3:54 AM

    I’ve always been a big fan of cigars. I even write for a cigar magazine. My friend recently brought me a Burmese cheroot from his travels and I really enjoyed it.

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