THE wonderful thing about eating Burmese food is that much of the cuisine is a blend of other Asian food. Here you can find Chinese, Indian and Mon influences. Rice and noodles are pretty important to most meals but so too are the soups, tea and coffee, salads, curries and sweet dishes.
As popular as the traditional food is, you’ll also find pizza, fried chicken shops and even burgers these days in the cities. But whatever you do eat shouldn’t break the bank. Street food is extremely cheap, though you can expect to pay more in restaurants.
Here’s a selection of some of the more traditional foods. Some might not look particularly like what you’ve seen elsewhere, but do be adventurous. The Burmese (Myanmar) people also like to combine sweet and sour flavours.
This dish is eaten for breakfast and consists of rice vermicelli in fish soup, spring onions, coriander, onions and crispy fried fritters. It is considered to be the national dish of the country so make sure you try it when you’re here. Mohinga can vary a little from place to place.
Fried chapati with peas/potatoes
Another popular breakfast is this Indian inspired concoction. The chapatis are blistered so they are crunchy and then eaten after dunking into the peas/potatoes.
Salads and soups are served to accompany most meals, although often they are just as tasty as the main dish. Rice and noodle salads are also commonly found throughout the country. One of the most popular is the Lahpet thohk that contains pickled tea leaves, fresh tomatoes, garlic, green chilli, shredded cabbage, fish sauce, sesame or peanut oil and lime.
The other accompaniment to the main meal is the soup, probably because the Burmese don’t drink with their meal and this helps wash it all down and bring out the flavours of the food. There are such a variety of soups available it’s hard to pull just one out as an example. Soups can be mild or spicy, sweet or sour, thick or clear. Young vine of gourd soup is a good example of a clear soup.
Tea is always provided at restaurant tables and is free of charge. As in China, the Burmese tea is rather watery with little flavour but it does help wash down the food and it is safe to drink. Alternatively tea, and perhaps a fritter or some other snack, can be purchased at road side cafes around the country. Simply pull up a tiny stool, right by the roadside, and people watch and sip your tea. A fantastic, cheap way to kill some time, relax and do the local thing. Coffee can also be purchased in a similar fashion but it’s normally with hot water and a 3-in-one powder.
Roti with sugar
Street hawkers sell sweet dishes throughout the cities and you may come across things like baked semolina. My favourite though was roti with sugar that I found at a stall on one of the streets leading off from Sule Pagoda in Yangon. It’s exactly what it sounds like – flat bread sprinkled with sugar, oh and condensed milk. Delicious.