Myanmar may be a less popular tourist destination compared to its neighbours, Thailand and India, but that’s all the more reason you should visit Myanmar! Now is the best time to hop onto one of the hot air balloons in Bagan that overlooks thousands of temples as the sun rises, or to watch the ‘leg-rowers’ skilfully cast their nets over Inle Lake. But if food is one of your concerns when planning a trip to Myanmar, fret not! Burmese cuisine isn’t as well-known as Thai or Indian, but by the end of this article, you’ll definitely be excited about trying it.
1. Tea Leaf Salad (Lahpet Thoke)
Photo Credit: @rangoonsisters
In most Asian countries, it is rather uncommon for people to order salad from a sidewalk food cart, but not in Myanmar. This unique Burmese dish may seem simple in terms of the ingredients used and its presentation, but is packed with big flavours. The key ingredient is fermented tea leaves, locally known as lahpet, which delivers a strong tartness to the taste-buds. There’s also a good contrast of texture from the shredded cabbage, tomatoes, crunchy deep-fried beans, peas, and peanuts. Sliced chili, sesame seeds, and roasted garlic chips are added before all the ingredients are tossed in a dash of garlic oil, fish sauce, and lime juice. The earthy, tangy kick will definitely whet your appetite for more dishes to come!
Where to Try:
Wai Wai’s Noodle Place
No-4A, Thukha St, Sanchaung
11am – 10pm
2. Burmese Curry Rice Set Meal
Photo Credit: @gchung29
Rich in herbs and spices, curry is a popular dish in Southeast Asia that comes in wide varieties across different countries. In Myanmar, however, the experience is slightly different because it often comes as a set-meal. You will be spoiled with the choice of meat — chicken, beef, pork, mutton, and fish — as well as an option for vegetable curry. There is no better way to eat curry than to have it with rice. The set-meal comes not only with rice, but also with
a bowl of soup, a mixture of fresh, parboiled, and cooked vegetable dishes, as well as dessert! Some places also serve various dips for the vegetables and you definitely need to try all of them to get a complete picture of Burmese flavours.
Where to Try:
Ma Mae Naing (Unforgettable)
Kayay St, New Bagan
6.30am – 10.30pm
3. Buthi Kyaw
Fried Gourd. Photo Credit: ဝါးတီး စားတီး
Myanmar is a haven for deep-fried food, and there is one particular fritter you need to try: Buthi Kyaw. This thin, crispy chunk of bottle gourd is popular, especially among tourists, and goes really well with sweet and sour tamarind sauce. You can easily find deep-fried fritters in coffee shops, so get yourself a cup of tea while enjoying the laid-back pace of life in Myanmar.
Mohinga with chickpea fritters. Photo Credit: @foodandfootprints
If the Burmese were to crown a national dish, it would unanimously be Mohinga. Although labeled as a breakfast dish, Mohinga is a comfort food that you can have any time of the day. It comes as thin vermicelli soaked in a thick fish broth with strong herbal and shallot flavours. You can also get some chickpeas, crispy fritters, and boiled eggs to complete your meal! While the fishy smell might put you off at first, this dish is a must-try for first-time visitors.
Where to Try:
Daw Phwa May Mohinga
27 Thumana Street, Thaketa township
5am – 8pm
5. Shan-style Noodles
Photo Credit: @saba_streetfood
If you are intimidated by Mohinga, you can still get a taste of Burmese noodles with Shan-style noodles. Originating from the Shan region in eastern Myanmar, Shan-style noodles can now be found all over the country. The clear soup might look simple and unappealing, but appearances can be deceiving! Take a bite from the thin, flat vermicelli and marinated meat (chicken or pork). While it’s available all day, most shops will run out of Shan-style noodles by the evening as it is highly demanded by the locals.
Where to Try:
Doe Shan Lay Noodle Shop
Corner of Myanmar Gon Yi and 90th St, Mingalar Taung Nyunt township
6. Mont Lin Ma Yar
Photo Credit: @eliz.warner
Some of you may have tried this in Thailand or Vietnam before! These golden deep-fried balls are more famously known as the “couple snack” because each ball consists of two halves. As you bite into their chewy interior, you will find quail eggs, chickpeas, and spring onions inside. Its small size and light flavour make Mont Lin Ma Yar a popular snack across the country.
Photo Credit: @sasmitaedo
By now you will have realised that noodles are a staple food in Myanmar. Another noodle dish that is worth mentioning is Kyay-Oh, which is essentially noodle soup with tofu, quail eggs or poached eggs, marinated pork balls, and other pork parts. With its increasing popularity, there are now more variations to this dish — fish, chicken, crab, wanton, and a dry version, just to name a few.
Where to Try:
Multiple outlets spread across Yangon!
8. Chicken Feet Salad
You might have come across a similar dish in traditional Chinese restaurants, but the Burmese chicken feet salad has its own appeal. Savoury, tangy, sweet, spicy — this salad is easy on your palate but so addictive. The only gripe for me is that the bones always get in my way when chewing them, but other than that, this is one appetiser that I’d love to have every day!
Where to Try:
9. Shwe Yin Aye
Photo Credit: @foodholic_ei
This chendol-like dessert is a perfect way to end your culinary journey on a sweet note! A bowl normally comes with steamed sticky rice, chendol, coconut milk agar, sago pearls, white bread, and coconut milk, but do take note that different shops offer different toppings for Shwe Yin Aye. Some people may find this too rich after a heavy meal, so my suggestion is to share this with your friends and loved ones!
10. Shwe Kyi Sanwin Makin
Shwe Kyi Sanwin Makin usually comes in rectangles or squares, but don’t you think the round one is so pretty? Photo Credit: @subtilittle
Semolina cake is very famous in India, but did you know that the Burmese also have their own rendition of it? Those with a sweet tooth will easily fall in love with Shwe Kyi Sanwin Makin — a semolina cake (sanwin makin) with poppy seeds (shwe kyi) and caramelised coconut. The coconut cream gives a rich flavour to this dessert (and also makes it a sinful delight for those who are on a diet!), and it’s definitely a lovely sweet treat to have for tea time.
While Myanmar is famous for its breathtaking views and rich culture, its amazing food landscape is waiting to be discovered by travellers. There is no reason why you should skimp on your meals in Myanmar as the food there is friendly to your wallet. It’s time to pamper your tastebuds with another culinary gem in Southeast Asia!