The most important tip I can give you on Burma local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Burma, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in
Burmese food is a blend of Chinese, Indian and Mon influences. Rice is at the core of most Burmese food, and good vegetarian food is widely available. Some types of traditional Burmese food can be extremely pungent, but a lot of restaurants serve dishes with strong Indian and Chinese influences, so if you are comfortable with those, you won’t have much trouble.
Food is inexpensive at most restaurants (costing from MYK500-3000 per item at most local restaurants, but can go as high as MYK8000 at posh restaurants), but there are upscale restaurants in Yangon and Mandalay for upmarket food. Because the Burmese cuisine is a medley of many regional influences, it has many characteristics. Seafood is more common along the coastline, while preserved meats are more common in inland areas. Many Indian, Chinese, and Shan dishes are served throughout the country.
Some dishes to try are: Mohinga (pronounced mo-HIN-ga) is a dish of rice vermicelli with fish gravy(orange in colour) and is usually accompanied by corriander and with chilli powder (the Burmese eat chilli). Its taste can range from sweet to spicy, and is usually eaten during breakfast. It is considered by many to be the national dish of Myanmar, and is widely available throughout the country, albeit in slightly different styles in different regions. Onnokauswe (pronounced oun-NO-kao-sui) is a dish of thicker noodles in a thick soup of coconut milk added with chicken. It is often served with a variety of condiments accompanying it ranging from fried fruit fritters to solidified duck blood.
“Khao Soi”(means noodle in Burmese) often found on the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand is derived from this Burmese counterpart. It is also comparable to the more spicier Laksa often found in Peninsular South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore. Laphet thote (pronounced la-peh THOU) is a salad of fermented tea leaves and a variety of nuts.
It is commonly mixed with sliced lettuce, and is eaten with rice. The dish originally comes from Shan State. Nan Gyi Thoke ( pronounced nan gyi thou) is a special dish of rice noodle salad with chicken sauce. It is mostly eaten in middle part of Myanmar . Shan food The Shan are an ethnic group who inhabit Shan State around Inle lake, near the Thai border.
Their food is marvelous and spicy. It can be found in Yangon if you search. Curry Myanma people have a very different definition of curry than other countries. It is very spicy compared to Indian and Thai options, and although you may find it served at room temperature in cheaper restaurants, in a typical Burmese home all curry dishes are served hot.
The Burmese curry does not contain coconut milk, unlike its south-east Asian counterparts, and has a large quantity of onion. Myanmar is the highest per-capita consumer of onions in the world. Quite often Burmese curries are cooked with lots of oil, possibly due to a widely regarded notion in the country’s culture that being able to afford cooking oil(along with rice and salt) is considered a sign of wealth. Black Canyon Coffee Found in Mandalay (Next to Sedona Hotel) and in Yangon (next to International Hotel) offers air-conditioned dining and Starbucks-style coffee for all those yearning for caffeine. Most Burmese restaurants are served cafeteria-style where you go to a counter of pre-cooked items and pay for what you select (tourists pay a higher price than locals, but still in a reasonable $10/meal range). Burmese cuisine itself is very unhealthy with a lot of deep fried items swimming in oil, so Thai and Chinese restaurants will be a good option to look for a break.
What to Drink in Burma
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18. Tap water in Myanmar is not safe to drink. Most restaurants, with the possible exception of roadside stalls, now use packaged ice made from bottled water, so ice should be safe. When out and about, even the locals drink bottled water and that’s your safest option. Bottled water is readily available just about everywhere. As of May 2013, the standard going rate is MYK300 for a 1L bottle of mineral water. Similar to Chinese Tea Yenwejan is usually provided free at restaurant tables. While not flavourful, it is boiled water, and so safe to drink (do not drink plain water – even in restaurants – unless it is bottled water).
However, an overwhelming number of restaurants have extremely poor sanitation and do not necessarily wash the cups properly. Dried tea leaves similar to Laphet thote’s tea leaves (except these are wet) are added to the boiled water to give Yenwejan its flavor. Be sure to order it with Laphet thote (Customary/Good combination). Myanmar’s rich and creamy milk tea (very similar to that you find in India or southeast Asia) is an absolute must.
This is normally to be had at cafes rather than restaurants (you’ll see them packed full of people drinking milk tea). Milk tea is often served with samosas and other condiments which you will be charged for if you eat, and passed on to others if you do not eat them. Alcohol is frowned upon by conservative Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, but consumed widely, mostly among men, even practicing Buddhist men. The beer culture is prominent and the brand “Myanmar Beer” is most popular in the country.
Other popular brands are Mandalay Beer, ABC Stout, and Tiger Beer. A draught Myanmar beer (5%) is around MYK600, a bottle of Myanmar beer (650mL) is around MYK1700, a bottle of Mandalay beer (6.5%, 650mL) around MYK1200. However, many of companies are government-owned and/or have links to the drug trade. Toddy juice (ta-YEI) is popular in central Myanmar, and is made from fermented palm sugar. An alcoholic drink popular in the Shan State is Shwe le maw, and is reportedly very strong. It is also possible to buy full strength Beer Chang imported from Thailand; exports to most countries are not nearly as strong.
The best way to enjoy fresh, chilled beer is to sit at a restaurant that displays the Myanmar Beer sign and ask for a glass of freshly poured draught beer. You can do this by saying “See beer one” which translates to “Give me one glass of draught beer.” If you’re from a Western English-speaking culture this might seem rude, but in fact it’s perfectly culturally acceptable and is not too different from how the locals order it. Draught beer is the most reliable way to get chilled beer. The bottled beer tastes inferior and is most likely not as cold as the draught beer. Beware of alcoholic drinks served in the far northern states. The locals refer to it as alcohol which does not burn when lit, and it is widely suspected to be an opiate concoction rather than a fermented beverage. There are a lot of nightclubs, including those attached to the five star hotels (eg Grand Plaza), and also local entertainment centres (eg JJs, Asia plaza).
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.