Burmese cuisine is lesser known as compared to Indian, Thai and Chinese food despite her being bordered by these countries. Taking her geographical location as a reference point, the nation’s culinary traditions reflect the influence of her neighbours.
Many Burmese dishes carry familiar hints of Thai or Indian flavours that could be easily discerned through its strong tastes and flavours. As the tourism industry in Myanmar is still in her infancy stage, most of the local foods can be found by the roadside with no fixed address.
Most stall owners are unable to speak proper English, but you’ll have to agree that food is a universal language that unites us all. Tip to ordering: point to what the locals are eating and use your index finger to imply “One please!”.
1. Chicken Feet Salad
Often underrated and under-appreciated, chicken feet is actually quite delicious. Other than preparing it our usual yum cha way, Burmese douse it in a homemade sauce.
It is the sauce that makes this chicken feet salad (S$2) a delicacy in its own right with its intense flavour, thanks to a mix of soy sauce, lemon, vinegar and brown sugar giving it a sweet edge and crunchy bits of roasted sesame. Sweet and savoury, juicy and tender, this is how this salad dish tastes like. Very appetizing!
You can find this along 19th Street, Chinatown Yangon.
2. Burmese Rice
Like in most Southeast Asia countries, rice is a staple in Myanmar. Very similar to our economical rice (Chap Chai Peng), one will choose curried dishes, stewed meats, sautéed green vegetables and seafood dressed with garlic and chilli paste.
The vegetable dishes cost about S$2 and the meat dishes cost about S$3. A complimentary plate of fresh vegetables is commonly eaten with various condiments such as chilli powder and ground chilli peppers.
A plate of fresh vegetables, along with various condiments such as chilli powder and ground chilli peppers, are commonly eaten together with the dishes. At the end of the meal, green tea and palm sugar (jaggery) would be served.
What I liked most about the Burmese rice experience is the low table where we have to be seated down on the floor to a veritable smorgasbord of dishes, which gives a really homely feel while dining together.
Address: Aung Thukha Restaurant 17 (A) 1st Street, West Shwegondaing, Yangon | Tel: +951 525 194
3. Burmese Paratha
Burmese paratha with sweet pea pyote (sweet bean paste) is a unique blend of Burmease and lndian influences. I can’t say for sure if every Burmese paratha is this crispy but the one at Lucky 7 Tea House is and they really nailed it. It is easy to appreciate anything crispy, isn’t it?
At this tea house, teashop boys clad in numbered jerseys (the smaller the number, the higher the seniority) dash from table to table to take orders and serve you. The community vibe is also very welcoming.
Address: Lucky 7 Tea House 49th Street, Mahabandoola, Yangon
Bread and eggs combination all seemed quite similar and familiar, but Nutrient (S$1.50), which is essentially eaten during a breakfast in Myanmar came with buttered bread soaked in milk, and layered with soft boiled eggs. Topped over with Milo powder, pudding and raisins.
The savoury taste from the egg yolk and sweetness from the undissolved milo powder was a tad weird on the palate. Nonetheless,aptly named, the dish is packed full with nutrients, and everything that you need for a hearty kick start to the day.
This kind of diversity is best found at local teahouses such as Lucky 7 Tea House.
Address: Lucky 7 Tea House 49th Street, Mahabandoola, Yangon
5. Shan Tohu Noodle (Tohu Nway)
Poured over a bed of noodles, the thick and yellow gravy in this rice noodle dish is made with grounded chickpeas and tofu from the Shan region of Myanmar.
Shan Tohu (S$2) is kept warm throughout the day to keep it in its semi-liquid state. While the sauce is salty and creamy on its own, it is mellowed down when tossed with the rice noodle and minced meat. Depending on the chef’s preference, nuts, sesame seeds or parsley would be used as garnish.
Address: West of the Sule Pagoda, which is in the centre of downtown Yangon
6. Fried Tohu (Thoke)
Fried Tohu (S$1.50/portion) is a true Asian fusion dish. The use of tofu and chickpea is a nod to both China and India influences. The tohu is sliced quite thickly to ensure a juicy and soft centre when pan-fried.
I had mine as a dish with rice though it is more traditionally known as Tohu Thoke, which translates to Tofu Salad, which didn’t look any thing close to the familiar greens we would expect.
However, in Myanmar, anything can be made into salad. Tohu Thoke is served with ingredients arranged beautifully in an assortment of colours from the toasted peanuts, savoury dried shrimps, nutty sesame seeds, and so much more.
7. Myae Oh Myee Shae (Claypot Noodle)
Myae Oh Myee Shae (S$2.50) Essentially a claypot noodle in Myanmar, it is a popular Chinese-inspired dish that can be found along the streets of Chinatown. The noodle is served in a bubbling savoury broth topped with slices of soft-braised pork belly or shreds of beef, and three different types of vegetables for good measure.
The stall that I went to feels like it’s bursting in all its seams with plastic stools and long metal tables crammed side by side. But sometimes, the tinier the place, the richer the experience.
8. Fried Burmese Tempura
I found this snack in Bagan, an ancient city in the Mandalay region of Myanmar, but am told that you can find it along the side of the road in Yangon throughout the evening.
These deep-fried snacks consist of leafy vegetables, onions, sweet potatoes, tofu and mock meat, served with a sweet and tangy sauce.
It was a wonderful contrast of earthy, crisp and chewy. In fact, the vegetables are savoury and flavourful on their own without needing the accompanying sauce. The tofu, equivalent to our tau pok is my favourite, which is crispy and balances the tastes of the other ingredients.
You could tell that Burmese love their deep fried food.
9. Burmese Sweet Snack
Burmese sweet snacks somehow always include grated coconut. It is essentially grated coconut with coconut milk wrapped in rice paper.
The presence of coconut milk is similarly used in Thai cuisine. You could also add strands of noodles in it for a textural contrast or simply to make it a more filling snack. Think grated coconut in chee cheong fun. For a dessert, this isn’t overly sweet.
Address: Bogyoke (Scott) Market. Bogyoke Aung San Road.
10. Kyay-Oh (Noodle Dish)
There are no shortage of noodle dishes in Myanmar, but this one at YKKO, a local favourite store in Myanmar, is especially noteworthy. YKKO gives you many options: pork, seafood or mixed, in soup or dry, and with rice noodles or wantons.
To really indulge in Kyay-Oh, go for the bite-sized wantons; they make for an amazing noodle substitute. The wanton skin is thin and springy with a subtle savoury flavour from the meat wrapped within. It smartly elevates this noodle dish and will not leave you feeling weighed down. Pictured above is the mixed and dry with wantons. A bowl that warms the soul and leaves one sighing contentedly.
Address: No. 35, Insein Road (near Hledan Junction), Kamayut Township, Yangon | Tel: +951 512 543
Some call it Burma; some call it Myanmar. Nomenclature aside, this country is making significant progress in opening up to the rest of the world. The world is watching Myanmar and they’ll be watching it with increasing attention on her food. December (Visa exemption starts then) is the time to make travel plans to this country.
Also, I did not add Mohinga (Fish soup rice noodle) into this list as it is one of the already known dishes of Myanmar.
Let us know if you have more Burmese dishes to share!