10 food shouldn’t be missed in Myanmar

1. Ngar Hta Min

A brilliant dish from the Shan region, Ngar Hta Min is a delicious fish-tomato rice or fish-rice cake – a comfort food best suited for rainy evenings or cold nights in the hills. It’s a simple dish prepared by making small round balls from a mixture of pre-cooked tomato, fish, rice and potatoes together, and garlic, chilli and fish oil for flavour.

2. Tea and Snacks

Burmese take their tea very seriously. A cup of black tea is sweetened with condensed milk to make it richer. It can be enjoyed all day long at tea stalls along most roads, and if you’re not into milky tea, Chinese green tea is also available. And the tea doesn’t come alone – any decent tea stall will have a gamut of snacks – flatbread sprinkled with sugar, fried pakoras, fritters, fried bread sticks, Buthi Kyaw (bottle gourd pieces, batter fried) and others – served to you with the tea. You pay for only what you eat but the idea is to present the temptation and before you know it, you’re through half the selection.

3. Mont Lin Ma Yar

Within the same category as above but sold independently is a gorgeous looking snack Mont Lin Ma Yar – informally called the ‘husband and wife snack’. While walking in downtown Yangon, you’ll come across many hawkers selling these golden muffins. They are made with rice flour batter in a special iron mould. The batter is divided into two sections – the first half contains only batter and the second half is topped with quail egg and roasted chickpeas. Both the halves, the “Yin and the Yang”, are then joined together to create the Mont Lin Ma Yar.

4. Shwe Yin Aye

On a hot day in Myanmar, an iced dessert cannot be too far from your thoughts. Shwe Yin Aye is similar to Chendol from Indonesia and is prepared with steamed sticky rice, coconut milk jelly, tapioca seeds, coconut milk, sugar, bread and ice. You can eat this dessert with different combinations of seaweed, agar-agar, palm sugar, etc.

5. Myanmar Curry-Rice meal

The local set-meal is not just comfort food but an experience in itself. It comes with a slightly oily curry (choose from chicken, fish, mutton, beef, vegetable or pork), rice, a bowl of lentil soup and six vegetable side dishes (expect to find potatoes, pumpkin, okra, broad beans, leafy vegetables, tomato salad, etc.) and a garlic chili dip. The variety of side dishes and spice levels may differ from place to place but this culinary experience remains the same.

6. Mohinga

A savoury fish noodle soup which is indisputably the ultimate breakfast dish of the country. A fish flavoured rice noodle soup, it is delicious and available almost everywhere in Myanmar.

A word of caution here, though, it is a fish soup in its true sense – cooked with fish, fish paste and fish sauce. If the smell of fish bothers you, clip your nose and but do have it.

7. Sanwin Makin

A traditional Burmese sweet which draws its inspiration from Indian semolina desserts, these cakes are common treats available on the street. In addition to semolina, coconut milk/cream, egg, cardamom and sugar also go into preparing these cakes which are then topped off with a sprinkling of poppy seeds.

8. Shan Noodle Soup/Salad

More popular in the Shan region, it consists of flat rice noodles in a flavoursome broth with shredded chicken or pork, a sprinkling of toasted sesame with garlic oil and pickled vegetables on the side. It is served more in the boat noodles (a popular Thai dish) tradition – serving size is small and probably good for a snack. But it is a snack that is deliciously addictive, so don’t be alarmed if you end up having 3-4 bowls or more. It is also served without soup like a salad.

Better to arrive at these shops early enough as this dish is eaten more as a breakfast or snack item and the popular shops run out of it by the evening.

9. Burmese Salads

The food in Myanmar is often unassuming. Some dishes may not look like much but are indeed delicious. Among these is the whole range of Thoke (salad in Burmese) – simple but delightful, and super healthy to boot.

The most common salad you’ll find is tomato-peanut salad followed closely by Lephet Thoke or pickled tea leaf salad which is probably more well known outside of Myanmar.

Other Thoke include Gin Thoke, or ginger salad, which consists of shredded ginger and cabbage, toasted chickpea powder, yellow lentils, peanuts, and lots of lime; Myin Kwa Yuet Thoke which combines pennywort leaves, tomato, peanut, garlic and lime juice; and Shan Tofu Thoke (tofu here is a misnomer) which is made of chickpea puree with a consistency of tofu. Probably the simplest of all is a salad of sprouted whole yellow peas with chopped tomatoes and onions with a dash of lemon. Interesting, huh!

10. Burmese Yoghurt drink

This refreshing glass of sweet blended yoghurt can be a very effective cooling agent when the Burmese heat becomes unbearable. Quite similar to Indian Lassi, Burmese have their own version of this drink where the sugar is replaced by palm sugar syrup. Don’t be afraid to try some add-ons like chocolate fudge, sticky rice or coconut shreds which add to the experience.

Beware! the base level of sugar is quite saccharine. Ask the vendor to go easy on the syrup if you are not into super-sweet.

Next time anyone tells you that Myanmar cuisine is similar to India or China, take them along to explore the cuisine with a fresh perspective.