Upon visiting Myanmar I had no idea what to expect in terms of cuisine, but sandwiched in-between two countries with some of the best food on earth, Thailand and India, it was hard not to expect great things.
Sadly, our first few days in Yangon proved disappointing and we felt lost, confused and unsuccessful in our quest to figure out what “Burmese food” actually meant.
Simon and I did what any perplexed traveler would do, and downloaded Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown: Myanmar” to get some inspiration. With a little more knowledge and new-found motivation, we set out across Myanmar with one goal: to try our best to stay away from the shi$%y Western food adaptations and get to know Burmese cuisine.
What to Eat in Myanmar
1. Burmese curries
Rid your mind of any preconceptions you have about curry when coming to Myanmar.
Instead of a dish mostly consisting of the sauce, Burmese curry focuses more on the meat. Whether you order beef, mutton or fish the meat will come out in a pool of flavorful oily sauce in a small dish. To accompany the dish you will also be served rice and numerous other spices and side dishes.
What makes this dish special is the way its eaten- anyway you like! If you want you can eat the meat as is, or you can mix it into your rice with as many spices, sauces and side dishes as you wish, creating something completely unique to your palate. While some curries in Myanmar are especially oily, I didn’t mind as I usually took the meat out of the sauce to chop up and mix into my rice anyways.
We also found that the best curries we had were eaten on plastic stools at popular outside restaurants. If it is busy with locals, it’ll probably be good.
2. Burmese BBQ
Step one: stumble across a street-side restaurant with sticks of random meats and seafood.
Step two: take a plastic basket and fill it with as many of the meats/seafood on a stick as you wish.
Step three: Order a beer and sit on a plastic table in the street and wait for your food to be barbecued and brought out to you.
Step four: Dip in the various sauces and eat! This casual street-side meal was probably one of our favorites, and the whole fish we choose to include into our basket of random edibles was delicious.
3. Street-side lassis
Interestingly enough, the lassis in India (where they originate) weren’t exactly my cup of yogurt. They were usually room temperature and not as amazing as I was told to believe.
When I got to Myanmar, my feelings on this sweet or tart yogurt based drink completely changed. In fact, I think I had at least one every day. My favorite lassis came from a random, yet busy, street stall in Yangon. These lassis were served with a layer of thick tart yogurt on top and sweet liquidy yogurt underneath. Mixed together with ice, it was the perfect refreshing dessert to cool us down after each hot, sticky day.
4. “Indigenous herb” salads
If I could take one dish from Myanmar and eat it again, it would have to be the salads.
These dishes of marinated vegetables are taken to a whole new level here, and I think I had some of my favorite all time salads. Best when ordered from small tea shops or local curry restaurants, these salads are hand mixed with a combination of herbs, vegetables, nuts and who-knows-what-else (it doesn’t matter they are delicious).
A few times I wrongly thought they had avocado in them because they tasted so buttery.
Though the most well-known salad is the “tea-leaf” salad, my favorites are a tie between the “indigenous herb” (I don’t know if that was just a bad translation at a tea shop) and the pennywort. Flavorful, buttery, crunchy, creamy…amazing.
Tips for what to eat in Myanmar:
- Dig deep: Many of the touristy sites offer restaurant after restaurant offering Western adaptations. Before you resort to those places, or find yourself eating chowmein every day, ask or research where the locals go or find a popular tea shop, and eat there instead.
- Watch for ice: Many of the lassis, especially from the street, use ice. We happened to have no problems with it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if it is purified beforehand (if they understand that is).
- Feel Myanmar first: The “Feel Myanmar” restaurant recommended in Lonely Planet and featured in “Parts Unknown” is a good intro to Burmese food but we didn’t find it to be the most delicious of our trip. Still, go eat there as one of your first meals to get a feel of what Burmese curry is like and don’t be afraid to ask one of the many waiters inside the restaurant to point out the food for you. Make sure you go inside the restaurant to be able to see all the curries and salads on display to make your choices.
Curious about my other feelings on Myanmar? You can check out my last post here.
Have you been to Myanmar? What did you think of the food?