Jaggery, which is a brown-colored block harvested from toddy palm juice, is a traditional dessert served after lunch and dinner to help digestion. Nowadays, some local restaurants still offer jaggery after a meal but most people have forgotten the traditional sweet.
One day, a girl happened to try eat her jaggery as a dessert after her meal and she couldn’t finish the whole block. The ‘Tree Food’ Myanmar traditional jaggery brand idea started from that day.
That girl is called Cho Lei Aung. She is now 29 years old and had been studying to become a doctor but she found she couldn’t motivate herself to follow this career because her true hobby and interest is art.
“At that time, I attended painting class and thought about becoming an artist but it is difficult to earn a living with that career. The Tree Food brand idea came to me when I found I couldn’t eat a whole piece of jaggery,” she said.
She added that, “I didn’t want to waste the rest of the block and I thought, ‘why don’t people make jiggery in smaller pieces so that there is no waste?’ That was in 2014.”
Next, Ma Cho Lei Aung wanted to find out the about the production of jaggery and went to the nearest toddy palm tree area in Bago.
“I asked the toddy palm tree owners why they didn’t make small-sized pieces. They said it is difficult and they couldn’t make it,” she said.
But she wouldn’t give up and knew there must be a way. She tried to make bite-size pieces in her own kitchen. She found making food to be like making art. Eventually she was able to make it happen.
“We ate jaggery as much as we could when we were young but it disappeared from our minds when we became adults. Also we found many other food and snacks around us so we forgot about it,” she said.
One day when she was shopping and saw chocolates which are a special food with many flavours and types. She saw people buying it as gifts in which case the packaging design was very important. It was at this moment she decided to produce jaggery in a similar way to chocolate – with different flavours and beautiful, high quality packaging that people would want to give as a gift.
“After many tests, I found four flavors that people would like including ginger, lemon, plum and yogurt as well as the original flavor.”
Eventually, she transformed the product into an organic Burmese souvenir and now she crafts every piece of jaggery by hand. Tree Food was launched in 2015.
“The meaning of the brand name ‘Tree Food’ aims to reflect the toddy palms that it comes from,” she explained.
The first edition of Tree Food was sold in bottles and then she changed the packaging to handmade paper bags with her handwriting and drawings.
“I just wanted to save costs and was trying to use my art on my food. At first, I just asked a few shops that I knew to sell my jaggery,” Ma Cho Lei Aung said.
She doesn’t have her own outlet but is selling online and at supermarkets like Citymart, Ocean Supermarket and so on.
Each of the bags cost 2,500Ks and they can be bought in other locations such as Mandalay and Taung Gyi.
She added that, “Food is more than the definition of food. It’s an art. Putting many different things together seems easy but it’s actually very artistic.”
Now she is planning to launch a new product – Myanmar La Phet (Tea Leaf) – in a similar style and with different flavors.