When most people think of travelling to Burma (Myanmar), the images that typically register first are those of golden Buddhist temples, the stupa-dotted plains of Bagan, traditional leg-rower fishermen at Inle Lake or the Teak Bridge in Mandalay.
But a table of Burmese food? Not usually.
Prior to our visit to Burma, we hadn’t heard much at all about the food. To be fair, it competes in a region with some distinct and memorable cuisines — among them Thai, Chinese and Indian. As we travelled through Burma, though, we realized that Burmese cuisine is in fact a remarkable fusion of all three. And when your food is served to you with trademark Burmese hospitality and kindness, it’s that much better.
As we are apt to do, we sought out food markets just about everywhere we went in Burma and would point to different dishes, ask what they were named and then sample them. Whether we ate at street food stands or in more formal restaurants we found food to be varied, accessible and tasty. And low prices enabled us to sample widely.
A note regarding food hygiene: Although we ate food on trains, in street stalls and in markets, we never got sick during the month we spent in Burma. However, we almost always ate vegetarian food. We find that eating meat, particularly in markets and at street food stalls in hot climates, usually carries a risk we prefer not to take. We also washed our hands frequently and followed this basic travel health advice.
1. Mohinga (or mohinka)
Mohinga could be considered Burma’s unofficial national dish, especially when it comes to breakfast. This fish-based broth soup features rice vermicelli with oodles of onions, garlic, ginger and lemon grass, and tops it off with sliced banana blossom, boiled eggs and fritters (akyaw). Some may consider soup for breakfast a strange choice. Don’t knock it until you try it. Mohinga is not only truly delicious first thing in the morning, but it’s also a healthy and hearty way to keep you going for much of the day.
Although hotels in Burma often offer fried eggs and toast for breakfast to satisfy western palates, some may make you a bowl of mohinga instead, if you ask nicely.
Note: For more on Burmese soups check out Legal Nomads’ It’s Always Soup-o-Clock in Burma.
2. Lahpet thouk
This is a famous Burmese salad made from pickled tea leaves. It’s also served with an array of crunchy and flavourful toppings, including fried peas, peanuts and garlic, toasted sesame, fresh garlic, tomato, green chili, crushed dried shrimp and preserved ginger. The whole thing is then dressed with peanut oil, fish sauce and lime. Like a party in your mouth.
3. Kausuetho (khow suey)
Yellow rice noodles mixed with an Indian-style spice masala, various herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice or vinegar. A fine blend of flavours and textures. You’ll often find this dish sold in food markets and from food stalls at open-air markets. Definitely worth seeking out.
4. Burmese thali
Just as it is in nearby India, a thali suggests a full meal including soup, rice, vegetables and a combination of curries. In Burma we always opted for vegetarian thalis and would find ourselves with colourful, delicious piles of mung beans, green beans and various vegetarian Burmese curries fanned out before us. Burmese thalis are usually not too spicy, but there’s usually a bowl of hot sauce on your table if you require more heat. You’ll find thalis served everywhere across Burma, from formal restaurants to roadside bus stands.
Although samosas (fried triangle-shaped pastries usually stuffed with a potato-spice blend) are Indian in origin you’ll find them absolutely everywhere in Burma — on the street, at bus stands, inside trains and at restaurants. One of our favourite ways to eat them is distinctly Burmese; in soups like samusa thouk where the samosa is sliced and scattered over a light broth and topped with fresh herbs, onions and greens.
6. Barbecue Street in Rangoon (Yangon)
If barbecue is your thing, then head to Rangoon Chinatown (between Mahabandoola and Anawrahta streets) where you will find a street flush with grills and a vast selection of meats and veggies you can throw and fire atop them. We opted for veggies and ended up with a delicious meal of grilled okra, broccoli, mushrooms and tofu. Perfect with a cold, draft beer.
7. Chapati and Curry
Although this combination surely has its roots in the Indian subcontinent, the Burmese put their own twist on it. Order a stack of freshly cooked chapatis (lightly fried Indian flatbread) and choose either a vegetarian or meat curry to accompany it. Tear off pieces from your chapati stack, dip them in your curry and scoop them into your mouth for the perfect flavour delivery device. Look like a local, and eat like a king for just a couple of dollars.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Burma encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.