Burmese cuisine may not have struck the international food scene yet, but that doesn’t mean foodies can’t rejoice at the plethora of tastebud-tingling options in Myanmar.
The flavors in Myanmar’s diverse dishes have been influenced by many different cultures, including Chinese, Mon, Shan, Thai, and Indian. As a foodie myself, those are a few of my favorite cuisines – so it’s no surprise that I was impressed by the flavor profiles of the country.
Depending on what dishes you’re offered, you’ll have tastes of India, China, and Thai prominently on the palate. The ingredients used in Burmese dishes are often highlighted in a way that showcases one ingredient, while mixing others to form a well-rounded and layered flavor profile.
There are plenty of spices in Burmese cuisine that combine to make amazing flavors. Many are typical Indian spices like curry, mint, and chili, but there are also pickled tealeaves, ginger, and kaffir lime used in the preparation – giving it that Southeast Asian taste.
One unique flavor that may stand out to those not used to it, is ngapi. This is a salty, fermented fish or shrimp paste, used in everything from soups and salads to condiments and main courses. Ngapi is considered the cornerstone of Burmese cuisine, and although it may not sound very appetizing to a western palate, when added with other spices and ingredients, it truly enhances the dish (think fish sauce in a Pad Thai).
Dishes are typically served with some sort of starch, and more often than not this will be rice or rice noodles – which is no surprise given that Myanmar is the sixth-largest producer of rice in the world.
The more Indian-influenced dishes may have bread as the starch, like aloo puri (puffed bread with potato), which is typically served with curry.
Before diving into Burmese cuisine, you should know that food in Myanmar is closely linked to traditional medicine, and it is believed that there are two classes of foods: heating and cooling.
Heating foods include chicken, durian, bitter melon, ice cream (strangely), chocolate, and mango. While cooling foods are pork, dairy products, radish, eggplant, and cucumbers.
These classifications are made based on the food’s effect on the human body, and are similar to the Chinese classification of foods used in Chinese traditional medicine.
Like in most Southeast Asian countries, street food is a big part of the food scene in Myanmar, and the meals on the curbside are not to be missed.
There can be some concern of unsanitary conditions, so have a look at the stall before you order. Check the cooking surfaces and make sure they’re clean, and always go to a busy stall – preferably one that is busy with local people, as they know the best spots.
In Yangon, make sure you try the south-Indian inspired dosa sandwich, the tasty quail egg snack mont lin ma yar, and classic shan noodles.
In Mandalay, don’t miss mont di, which is thick rice noodles with chickpea flour. There’s also a lot of skewered meat to try on most street corners.
Aside from the meals I’ve already mentioned, there are a few delicious plates and bowls that you simply can’t miss when visiting Myanmar. They include (but are not limited to):
There are so many different types of curry in Myanmar that it can be hard to choose which one. In my experience, you can just order a different curry every day and it will have a unique flavor and spice to it. Add in a different protein like fish, egg, shrimp, pork, chicken, or mutton and you’ll have enough combinations and variety to outlast your 30-day tourist visa.
This dry noodle dish is a favorite among backpackers in Myanmar. It’s cheap, delicious, and filling. The dish consists of thick, round rice noodles, topped with chicken, fish cake patties, bean sprouts, and a sliced hard-boiled egg on top.
This is one is typically a breakfast dish, but you can sometimes hunt one down for lunch or dinner. It’s basically a hearty soup made with rice noodles, a spice and herb based broth, and often finished off with crisp banana tree pith.
The Burmese version of pad Thai, this tasty rice noodle dish is typically found in the southern coastal areas of the country, and is made with a variety of meats, seafoods, raw bean sprouts, beans, and fried eggs.
Another staple of the country, biryani is a rice dish that finds its roots in India, but the Burmese have perfected their own version using tasty ambrosia, as well as the typical veggies, spices, and meats.
You really can’t go wrong with a nice slab of pork, chicken, fish, or shrimp on a stick! Accompany it with some rice and a small curry, and you’ve got yourself a cheap and delicious meal.
As with most countries in the region, the very best variety of the food is found in the larger cities – but that’s not to say that you can’t find some delicious dishes in small villages and towns that are well off the tourist trail.
Check out the Green Elephant Restaurant in Bagan for delicious and spicy curries of all sorts, but their seafood curry is to die for. There are also locations in Yangon and Mandalay.
Hands down, Yangon is the best place to try street food in the country. With so much to choose from, you can eat on the curb every day for a year, and still have more places to try.
This dish is best tried anywhere in the south of Myanmar! If you love pad Thai, you’ll love the Burmese version too.
You really can’t go wrong with a nice, tasty, sticky-rice with shaved coconut in Yangon. Finish off a day of food delights with this sweet and decadent snack.
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