What to eat in Myanmar? Everything from Mohinga, a fishy fermented rice noodle soup, to Ohn No Khao Swè, coconut chicken noodles, should satisfy the most critical of epicureans. This is a country of food-lovers for foodies.
During our recent month in Myanmar the food was, in a word, fantastic. The breadth of the cuisine, from hearty breakfast noodles to light salads and substantial curries, and the conditions in which we ate them, from street food stalls to family eateries, made for many memorable meals.
Having been back from Myanmar for a while, here our five favourite dishes from Myanmar that still stick in our minds. We’ll be making these at home for sure in Siem Reap. Here’s what to eat in Myanmar:
What to Eat in Myanmar – Our Favourite Dishes
The rice noodle dish that kick-starts the day across Myanmar, mohinga (pictured above) is considered by many to be the country’s national dish. For foodies, eating a bowl is a quintessential culinary experience, as necessary to sample as phở is in Vietnam.
Made with fish stock, pounded fish, and featuring chunks of fresh fish (traditionally daggerhead, but these days anything from carp to barramundi might be used), a good mohinga should be served with fresh fermented rice noodles.
Because of the time and care it takes to make a good broth, when you find a great mohinga stall, it’s tempting to keep returning to the same one. Don’t. Be adventurous, because the variations you’ll experience are fascinating. While it’s served thick and hearty at good restaurants and hotels, which can afford premium ingredients and have the luxury of allowing it to sit and simmer and reduce for hours, the broth is generally a lot thinner and with fewer ingredients on the street.
As with most good Southeast Asian noodle soups, you need to adjust the flavour with the condiments provided to suit your tastes. Add a couple of halves of hard-boiled eggs, sprinkle on some sliced spring onions and coriander, squeeze on a little lime juice, add some fried shallots and red chilli flakes or paste, and you won’t talk for the next fifteen minutes as you slurp the bowl down.
Ohn No Khao Swè — Coconut Chicken Noodles
We love Chiang Mai khao soi and spent a lot of time seeking out the best versions of the noodle dish during our recent month in Northern Thailand. However, I think we’ve come to love Myanmar’s ohn no khao swè more, since we were we were presented with the fragrant Burmese-style version on our first morning in Yangon at the Strand Hotel.
Generally served with chicken, this coconut-milk based noodle soup is almost as ubiquitous as mohinga, and is often found alongside it on the menu at restaurants. On the street, vendors will specialise in this soup alone, as they would mohinga.
Just add the usual condiments to taste – lime and chilli powder or paste are essential – and this light coconut curry broth really comes alive. While it’s a heavier start to the day than mohinga, making a choice between the two is a difficult one! If I had a choice, I’d opt for both.
Fermented Tea Leaf Salad
Probably the most distinctive dish that’s eaten across the nation is the fermented tea leaf salad, laphet thoke. This pickled tea leaf salad can be served complete, with sesame seeds, roasted peanuts, soy beans, dried shrimp, and thin tomato wedges mixed through, and topped with garlic oil, fish sauce and lime juice.
Or the components are offered separately, generally at a ceremony of some kind or as a gesture of hospitality to welcome someone to one’s home, and each guest gets to pick and mix ingredients to create their own salad to their taste.
While the tea leaves retain some of their bitterness, the mix of all the ingredients for a couple of mouthfuls makes it hard not to go back and mix up another bowl. It’s quite addictive.
To sit down at a table and be served an array of Burmese curries, accompanied by salads, condiments, and rice was always a joy throughout our trip. Oily, salty and full of flavour, the local Burmese curries, called hin, are unlike those from Thailand (particularly the curries featuring coconut milk or cream) and are a bit more similar to those from Goa, if we had to compare.
Chicken, beef, seafood, and vegetables are commonly used in the curries, but locals eat the protein sparingly — it’s all about mixing the gravy with the rice. It’s rare that someone will visit a curry house or a curry vendor and not order or leave with less than five or six dishes, as well as accompaniments.
One of our favourites turned out to be golden egg curry, where the eggs were boiled, then fried, split in half, and added to a tomato-based sauce — it’s one to always look out for as it’s a bit lighter than many of the curries that will be on offer.
The Westerners who complain about what to eat in Myanmar are usually the ones who whine about the Burmese curries. While they are oily and salty, they are absolutely delicious when you get good local advice and eat at the right places.
Shan Tofu Noodle Soup
We had been up at the crack of dawn to visit Nampan market on Inle Lake and after two hours of watching food being prepped, fried, grilled, and eaten at countless stalls while taking photographs, we were ready for some breakfast. However, we had been warned not to eat at the markets because of concerns about food hygiene. Whenever we get this warning, we smile, nod, and go and eat anyway.
There was one noodle shop in the market that was so busy that the locals waiting by the tables for a free spot were virtually salivating and giving slow eaters the evil eye. I found Lara and told her to come and check the place out. Before we knew it a couple of spots at a table freed up and we were soon eating one of the best noodle dishes we’ve ever had, ever — tohu byawk (shan tofu).
The tofu is made from stone-ground chickpeas, heated on a stove to thicken them to a creamy, custard-like texture. The mixture is spooned onto blanched fresh rice noodles and while this version is vegetarian, carnivores like us can have it topped with a sautéed mix of minced chicken, turmeric, shallots, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, paprika, and other seasoning.
There are all kinds of condiments on the table, but the guy opposite me eating with his family ended up using nearly half a jar of a thick, homemade chilli-garlic sauce. Given the texture of the chickpeas, the chilli-garlic sauce rounded out the flavours nicely. When it comes to what to eat in Myanmar, I have to say that if you only seek out one dish, make it this one.
Myanmar Street Food Eating Tips
Now that you know what to eat in Myanmar, some tips on how to eat, especially street food. We ate everywhere in Myanmar, from tea shops and blue plastic stool, dirt floor eateries at markets to rustic family owned restaurants and five-star hotels. We were not ill once from the food in Myanmar and never broke into an imodium blister pack.
- Use common sense.
- Look for good turnover of food and customers.
- Check the hygiene practices of the vendors.
- Wash your hands before eating or use antiseptic wipes or gels.
- Wipe the utensils you’ll be using with boiling water if provided or the same wipes.
- Drink only bottled water.
Follow these practices and your chances of staying well during your visit to this fascinating country will improve dramatically. Click this link for more tips on eating street food when you travel.