Burmese Cuisine

Thanks to centuries of trade, occupation, and migration, the cuisine of Myanmar has influenced, and been influenced by, its neighbors India, China, Laos, and Thailand, well before they were so demarcated by national borders. Steamed rice is always served along with some half-dozen small dishes, generally curry, vegetables, and fish. Chicken and fish are quite popular, as Buddhists avoid beef and Muslims pork, although you’ll be able to order all four at any restaurant that’s neither vegetarian nor halal. Freshwater fish and shrimp are served salted, fried, dried, fermented, and made into a paste. One of the most popular cuisines is that of the Shan states, distinguished by its many salads. One of the most popular is a Shan dish called laphet, made with pickled tea leaves, fried broad beans, peanuts and garlic, green chilies, tomato, and preserved ginger and tossed with peanut oil, fish sauce, and lime; it’s tart, sharp, and refreshing.

The farther north you go toward the border, the more Chinese cuisine you’ll see. In the areas that cater particularly to tourists, such as Bagan, restaurants serve a smattering of Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Burmese dishes. Mandalay has lots of Chinese and Indian restaurants, and it’s here that you’ll find some of the best Indian street food, including hot-off-the-grill chapatis and buttery naan.

In general, Burmese food is not very spicy, but those who like it hot can certainly ask for extra chilies. Curries are enormously popular in Myanmar, eaten with white rice. Burmese curries tend to be oilier than their Indian and Thai cousins.

As in its neighboring countries, eating is a communal experience here; everyone will have rice, and then can serve themselves from the array of small plates on the table. At some Burmese restaurants, it’s buffet, and the waitstaff will keep refilling your bowls until you’re stuffed.

You'll see street snack vendors all over Yangon, with rows of them lining the sidewalk on both sides of Bogyoke Aung San Road near Bogyoke Market and the Shangri-La. The most common snacks include:

Shwe gye: This semisweet banana cake, sold in neatly sliced hunks, gets its distinct flavor from semolina and coconut milk. You'll be thinking about it long after you leave Yangon.

Dosa: The southern Indian snack is known in Burmese as toshay and also referred to as khout mote (literally, "folded snack") and mont pyar thalet. The crepes are made with rice flour and come in sweet (shredded coconut and palm sugar syrup, sometimes red bean) and savory (tomatoes, chickpeas, cabbage, and sometimes chili).

Buthi kyaw: Battered, deep-fried chunks of gourd are far from healthy but taste delicious dipped in the accompanying sauce (slightly sour and a little spicy).

Mohinga: Eaten nationwide, this popular breakfast dish is rice vermicelli in a fish broth made from fresh fish, onions, garlic, lemongrass, banana tree stem, and a dash of ginger.

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