Tradition dictates that Myanmar food is typically eaten before the cool breeze of the morning is replaced with the scorching heat of the afternoon, and again as the calm evening approaches. The best way of eating the local way is to have a quick-pouring bath, dress comfortably, and take your place at the table. The traditional way of eating food is to only have the full meal on the table with no wine or titbits around to distract from the dishes. However, the eating style in Myanmar has evolved over time, and you may find foreign wine or local beer present accompanying Burmese food. Fret not, the authenticity and unique taste of the nation’s food has remained.
The cuisine of Myanmar is not as well-known as say the Indian, Chinese or Thai, countries that border this great nation. But the food does have hints of influences of these neighbours, adding further texture and depth to an already exquisite and amazing taste. The traditional table in a Myanmar household setting brings a sense of togetherness as families sit closely to enjoy a hearty meal together. The dining tables are usually round and low with reed mats as your seat. Sitting in front of a table full of food and, dressed in comfortable loose-fitting clothes – this is the ideal way of truly enjoying Myanmarese food, the Myanmarese way.
The locals love eating in the most appetising way, and to them, nothing beats a good balance of consistency and flavours in their meals. People of Myanmar have a distinctive combination of flavours, or what is known as the ‘Burmese palate’:
Ngan, chin, cho (salt, sour and sweet)
Pu (hot), sut (stinging hot), shane (trace of sting)
Kha (bitter), thet (trace of bitter)
Lay (heavy flavours of saltiness, sweetness and others)
Myanmar traditional food goes a long way back and is as old as the country’s culture and arts. Traditional dishes in Myanmar are different, unique and just as delicious, no matter where you eat them in Myanmar. As a traveller to Myanmar, you will be able to experience these tastes at stalls, tea shops and restaurants that are in every town and city. Tasting the local cuisine will give you and your taste buds something you’ve not tasted anywhere in Asia or the world!
Tea shops aren’t just places to sip tiny cups of sweet, milky tea. They are the perfect place to try different dishes and get yourself well-acquainted with the taste of Myanmar. The tea shops will also reflect the influences of the owners – whether they are ethnic Burmese with rice and noodle dishes, have south Asian influences of India in their curries and bread or Chinese with steamed buns and baked sweets; your taste buds will rejoice.
Mohingha, or rice noodles with fish is Myanmar’s unofficial national dish often eaten as breakfast and also a popular snack. Rice noodles are paired with light chickpea mixed with fish soup, served with shallots, banana stem and other tasty condiments. Combined with pu (hot), ngan, chin, cho (salt, sour and sweet) flavours, this meal will definitely make you come back for another bowl. Many stalls and shops in Myanmar serve Mohingha in the morning, and every vendor has his or her own way of making Mohingha due to the variety of ethnicities in the country.
Chicken Feet is another interesting dish that is eaten as a salad! It oozes flavours of soy sauce, lemon, vinegar and brown sugar, with the crunchy bite of roasted sesame. If you can get over the fact they are chicken feet, you will be pleasantly surprised and will even order more varieties. Another type of salad is the lephet or pickled tea leaves. The leaves are crushed and mixed in with slices of tomatoes, shredded cabbage, some deep-friend beans, a dash of nuts and peas and dressed with garlic oil. The entire dish is then topped off with slices of chilli and garlic! You can eat this as a snack or side dish at the main meal!
If you are on a diet and are shunning anything oil-based, you may want to reconsider for the sake of buthi kyaw, which is battered deep-fried slices of bottle gourd – tempura the Myanmarese way! Dip this into a dip made from tamarind and you will be in heaven. The country has a bit of a love affair with friend food, so it is best to keep your diets at home and fully experience a country of samosas, spring rolls, breads and akyaw – friend garnish!
Speaking of fried garnish, give the Tohu Nway or Shan Tohu a try! Topped with nuts, seeds and parsley, this noodle dish comes from the Shan region of Myanmar. It’s main ingredients include rice noodles, ground chickpeas and tofu. You can opt for a variety of minced meat, which is typically dressed in a salty, creamy sauce. Another well-known Shan dish is the nga htamin or fish rice. The rice is cooked in turmeric and moulded into a hot ball or disc of rice. It is topped with flakes of freshwater fish and garlic oil. Yes, garlic oil is big in Myanmar! You can eat your nga htamin with side dishes such as leek and lotus roots, rinds of deep fried pork as well as cloves of raw garlic (well, we did warn you!).
Myanmarese cuisine is delicious, but it can be an acquired taste for some. It will definitely give you something to talk about when you return from your very exciting adventure into the heart of Asia.