The Flavours of Myanmar

Germany has scrumptious schnitzel, England has perfect pies and France has its brilliant baguettes. But what does Burmese cuisine have to offer? Writer, eater and traveller, Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads talks us through food culture in Myanmar and her top five things to eat.
Burmese Pa-O tribe women at street stall in Sanghar
Burmese Pa-O tribe women at street stall in Sanghar

Sandwiched between such culinary powerhouses as China and Thailand, Myanmar may have a softer series of tastes in comparison, but dismiss its food entirely at your peril. There are a plenty of delicious meals, curries, snacks and soups to discover in Myanmar. Sample them all with Insight Guides' A Taste of Myanmar trip

As with other countries in Southeast Asia, morning markets are an ideal place to sample a region’s culinary offerings. While foods do vary provincially, the local dishes will almost always be found at the dawn markets, tiny stalls tucked away amid piles of fruit, meat and vegetables. From early morning mohinga soups to fried snacks or fermented salads, setting your alarm clock for a dawn rise is worthwhile. Rise and shine early as part of Insight Guides' A Taste of Myanmar trip, and discover the best breakfast in town.

As well as the markets, Myanmar’s teahouses offer a place to sit and people-watch alongside a snack and a drink. Order steamed buns or a light naan bread served with beans for a perfect mid-morning stop. More than just a place to go to eat, teahouses in Myanmar serve as a social and business hub for the local community. Experience it yourself, as you watch life unfold from a Yangon teahouse, as part of Insight Guides' A Taste of Myanmar trip.

A mouth-watering spread of Burmese foodA mouth-watering spread of Burmese food. Photo: Shutterstock

Given that refrigeration is not particularly prevalent in Myanmar, it is best to sample the heartier meat curries at lunch when they are fresh, from pork belly to chicken to fish, almost always with rice. Often these pots are kept out for the afternoon, so the most prudent thing would be to eat when turnover is at its most hectic – around noon. Wandering the main streets of larger towns like Yangon or Mandalay will lead you straight past bustling eateries at noontime. Explore both places as part of Insight Guides' A Taste of Myanmar trip.

Restaurants and smaller stalls offer a variety of food to try, with noticeable influences from different countries in the region.  Given the size of the country, Burmese cuisine has a surprising breadth of flavours – all the more reason to sample as many offerings as you can when you visit.

Five Burmese dishes not to be missed

1. Snack: beans and naan bread

A staple at almost every teahouse, these fluffy naan breads are cooked throughout the day and served with a tiny bowl of spiced beans for dipping. An excellent mid-morning snack.

2. Salad: fermented green tea leaf salad

One of the more memorable Burmese dishes, fermented tea leaf salad is usually served with rice on the side and topped with fried mung beans, an ideal accompaniment to the slightly oily, crunchy shredded cabbage and tea leaf main ingredients. A must-try.

Green tea leaf salad, a traditional Burmese dish. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Soup: mohinga

Slurped up for breakfast (but available at other meals as well), basic mohinga consists of a fish-based broth with rice noodles, with variations based upon region. I’ve had some that are spiced with curry and with chunks of fish, and others that are of a clearer broth with pork or other meat. The best solution? Try them all of course!

Mohinga, a Burmese staple. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Rice: biryani

Sweet and spiced rice with chicken and vegetables makes biryani a satisfying meal. It provides a change from the soups and curries – variety for your tastebuds.

5. Clay pot magic: spiced noodles in a clay pot

The clay pot is fabulous to cook in and a feature in signature dishes from China to Vietnam and elsewhere. In Burma, thick noodles and fresh vegetables are added to a clear, spiced broth to simmer until the flavours are set.

Taking a holiday to Myanmar: how to get started

Insight Guides can help you with planning, organising and booking your trip to Myanmar. Simply, get in touch and share your budget, interests and travel style. Our local experts will create an itinerary exclusive to you and your requirements, which you can amend until it's just right. Alternatively, browse and modify ready-made holidays to create your dream trip today. 

For more inspiration, take a look at our online guide to Myanmar to plan your visit and discover when's best to go, the top attractions, historical highlights and some of the best cultural features.

This blog was originally published on April 24, 2013