Myanmar is a poor country. Most people do hard work in the fields or other forms of manual labour. So food is more a necessity for most people than a complex social practice. (In other words people have more important concerns than chasing down the best noodle soup.) While its cuisine is less varied and famous than some of its neighbour countries there are many delicious things to discover in Myanmar. The cuisine has been influenced by Indian, Chinese and Thai cooking so there is a lot of variety in dishes around the country. We both had severe food poisoning (source unknown) at the beginning of our stay in Myanmar, so for a while we were less adventurous with food than we would usually be. This great because we have lots of food left to try on our next visit… 🙂
Myanmar grows a lot of peanuts, sesame, rice and a wide variety of beans which are often used in sauces and salads. As there are a lot of rivers, lakes and the sea, fish both fresh and dried is a popular ingredient. Eggs are also important. We got them almost every day for breakfast and mixed in with noodles and fried rice. Furthermore, there are lots of chicken roaming Myanmar.
Regional foods are shaped by the locally available ingredients. For example in the area around Kalaw (close to Inle Lake) the people grow tomatoes and chilies. So their staple food is a spicy tomato chilli curry that they eat with red rice, which they also grow. This kind of curry and rice are often eaten three times a day, with some variation of vegetables thrown in the mix. In Inle Lake they grow tomatoes and spring onions. So many dishes there have those two ingredients.
One dish that is eaten throughout the country is tea-leaf salad. This and soccer seem to be among the few things all the different people of Myanmar can agree on.
Many times we have read that Myanmar is the only country in the world that not only drinks tea leaves but also eats them. We were very intrigued. Tea-leaf salad is a hearty snack food (it kind of has the consistency of cole-slaw) made from pickled tea leaves, roasted peanuts and beans (really no veggies or salad in there). It is yummy, and a must try in Myanmar.
Fish is abundant in Myanmar. Grilling things is also popular. Grilled fish was always fresh and tasty. We tried to avoid the ones with tiny forked bones, although only semi-successfully.
Mohinga is a thick and fragrant fish soup eaten with rice noodles. The main spices are ginger, lemongrass and garlic. It is the most popular street food for breakfast and cooked in huge quantities on markets. It comes with fried dough, duck egg and green condiments like spring onion or fresh coriander. See recipe here.
Bananas come in all shapes and sizes in this country. Mostly cheap, they seem to be available all year long, everywhere. See our banana market post for more info and pictures.
Banana Milk Cookies
They are delicious butter cookies filled with banana milk cream that does not melt in heat. Plus they were handy to carry around. They are one of the few sweets we found that are actually produced in Myanmar. Despite having many resources Myanmar does not produce a lot of things as of now. Most other snack food we found was imported from neighbouring countries.
Both the Myanmar and the slightly stronger Mandalay beer are really nice. Beer houses are popular hangouts for men all over Myanmar.
Mandalay rum sour
Myanmar grows sugar cane and limes and makes their own spirits, one such is the Mandalay rum. Combine it with lime and sugar cane and you have a neat sundowner.
Sugar cane juice
You can find this juice anywhere with sugar cane plantations. But we saw a lot of it in Myanmar and it is both delicious and entertaining when the cane gets squeezed through the machine, so it gets a mention. My personal favourite version features lime and a tad of ginger.
Top weird thing people put in their mouth: Betelnuts
You can see and smell people, well men mostly, spitting red everywhere you go in Myanmar. They are chewing betel nut (areca nut) mixed with lime, sometimes tobacco or spices and covered in a betel leaf that are sold on smal street side stalls. The nuts act as a mild stimulant like caffeine and turn people’s teeth red. The health effects are disputed but it seems to be a cause of oral cancer if chewed frequently.