Myanmar Food – the next worldwide trend for foodies?
Some food trends around the world come and go, while some really stick around and become more then a trend. Take for example Thai food, a novelty up till only 20 years ago, yet so common in any town around the world nowadays. Other popular food trends have been the food trucks, healthy and organic food, all kind of seeds and nuts, fusion food and all various other trends. We never had a worldwide trend for Burmese food, although the country is squeezed in between 3 famous food nations. India with its curries and species, China with its wide variety or food and Thailand with the spicy food. To make it even more astonishing, I bet that almost every capital city in the world has a Chinese, an Indian and a Thai restaurant yet none of them have a Burmese restaurant.
Rich food is only for guests
So apparently you will have to travel for Myanmar to get a taste of the Burmese food as its not available elsewhere. Is it worth it? Not every tourist who has been to Myanmar has fond memories of the food. “Too greasy, too oily and too many curies with the same taste” is often a remark we hear. Is this really the case? Seems odd that the food culture in one of the poorest countries is based on expensive ingredients like oil and meat!
There is a Myanmar culture that explains this foreign perception of oily food…….. it’s the Myanmar hospitality. Myanmar people are very friendly and generous hosts who are eager to give their guests the very best. As Myanmar people think that “the best” is often equal to “the most expensive”, many foreign (or local) visitors are given the richest food (or what many western people perceive as the fattening food).
The real Myanmar food?
So if visitors get the expensive food, what do the ordinary people eat? In a poor country like Myanmar, most people, (certainly in the country side) can’t afford to waste money so traditionally they cook at home with cheaper ingredients like vegetables and herbs, leaving the restaurants to focus on foreign tourists (giving them the rich food). Are you looking for the real Myanmar food? Probably the best place is when joining for a home-cooked meal with a local family. Even then it’s best to do this unexpectedly to avoid that the Myanmar hospitality concept of providing the most expensive food for foreign guest kicks in and you’re served another oily curryJ. You will probably be served a generous portion of steamed rice together with all kind of salads (some of them partly boiled and mixed with chicken, peanuts and a bit of chilli), vegetable dishes and often some kind of fish (fish paste, steamed fish etc). Many people around Myanmar are not eating “any animal with 4 legs” for religious reasons, while others eat little meat for financial reasons (it’s expensive) so vegetable dishes are common in a home-cooked meal.
Tasting real Burmese food before it becomes a worldwide trend?
Planning to visit Myanmar and want to taste some good Burmese food? Here are 5 suggestions on how to choose carefully where to eat and what to eat.
- Some of the street food is excellent, a real treat. Choose a food stall that is busy with local people, point out what you like and enjoy. Ask the street vendor NOT to add ajinomoto (MSG. In Burmese language: ( ………………which is pronounced as a tsjo mo ma thei ne).
- When ordering in a restaurant try to look for the Myanmar salads (order 3 different ones!), vegetables and order only 2 main dishes and a lot of side dishes. Ask the chef to prepare the food as if he is cooking it for his own family.
- A beer station is a beer station, it’s not a restaurant to taste Burmese food but it’s seen as a place to fill your stomach. It’s great for beers but not the most fantastic place for food so don’t complain about the quality of the food. It’s like going to snack bar or McDonald in France and complain the French food is not good.
- If invited by local people to their house please don’t finish all the food that is served. Traditionally the guests (foreign or local) are invited to eat first (the rest of the family will wait and eat later, often separately in the kitchen) so you will be served a lot of food but please make sure enough is left for the rest of the family. It’s always polite to bring a present. Good presents ideas? A souvenir from your home country, a picture book, locally bought notebook, pens, a longgyi, cookies or other sweets. Give the present on arrival (but don’t be surprised it won’t be opened in front of you, it’s to avoid being perceived as greedy) and don’t forget to make pictures afterwards with the whole family and share these with them.
- Try the teashops, especially in the morning where typical Myanmar dishes like mohinga (breakfast soup with fish), ohno kaukswe (coconut noodle) and pickled tea leaves salad are one of the favourite dishes nationwide.
So next time when visiting Myanmar please do try to look behind the traditional chicken curry and try to taste some of the other exciting Burmese dishes. They are definitely worthwhile being compared to the Thai, Chinese and Indian food served worldwide.
Burmese Kitchen – an initiative from Khiri Travel to let tourists experience the huge variety in healthy Burmese home cooked food.
The Khiri staff in Yangon are originally coming from all parts of the country and they LOVE food. We noticed that not all tourists shared that same passion for Myanmar food (as they were often being served oily curries and missed the variety or missed some different tastes). Khiri therefore initiated “Burmese Kitchen” – serving home-cooked food to Khiri clients and support local people with a passion for food to start their own “pop-up style” restaurant. The focus is always on the good taste of food cooked from natural ingredients from the region.
Some special meals are part of a Khiri excursion, some can be purchased separately (buy a meal voucher from Khiri for “Burmese Kitchen” and make a reservation). Are you a real foodie? Then Khiri is convinced you are going to love all of these special meals we offer:
Yangon – Taing Yin Thar
The only place in Yangon offering traditional food from all over the country. Taung Yin Thar means “tribes” and the food reflects that. We have pre-selected some of the best dishes for you including several salads from all over the country and Shan style grilled fish.
Hsipaw – Northern Shan style food
This former royal town offers some of the best Shan style food including the famous Shan noodles, tofu salad and vegetable dishes. Enjoy a special meal, served for you in one of the local monasteries that was frequented by the royal family of this area.
Kyaukme – as your mum cooks at home
There aren’t many restaurants in Kyaukme, people don’t need them – they know very well how to cook excellent food at home. Khiri selected some of the best house wives in town to cook typical Shan food of these area. It’s always a surprise what you get as it’s prepared according to what’s available in the market that day. The dinner will be delivered at your hotel in typical Burmese Tiffin boxes.
Bagan – curries from the dry zone served at a monastery
The dry zone (as the area around Bagan is called) is not known for its fertile lands as the main crops grown are rice, peanuts, sesame seeds and tamarind. The food created from it is delicious though and we will serve you some beautiful food in a traditional monastery.
Meiktila – food from the heart of the country
In the heart of the country we convinced a lady with a passion for food to start a pop-up catering service and cook a good dinner for us. A typical milk curd curry is served together with salads and soup. All send to your hotel in typical food carrier boxes you see all over the country.
Inle Lake area – Pa O tribal food
The tribe with the indigo dresses and the colourful orange or red head turban are not only good farmers and negotiators at the market. They also prepare excellent food. You will try in a local house in a Pa O village a freshly prepared lunch with pumpkin, ginger and other ingredients from the field.
Inle Lake area – Intha food in the middle of the lake
While the Shan and the Pa O people live around the lake, the Intha people traditionally live ON the lake, literally in houses built on stilts on the lake. A home-cooked Intha style lunch including noodles, salads, soup and exotic looking food wrapped in banana leaves is prepared for you in a pop-up restaurant created to support the Intha community.
Inle Lake area – authentic Shan cooking class in a house on the lake
Shan pumpkin soup, vegetable curry, tomato salad from the floating gardens form the lake and a Shan noodles are some of the dished you will learn to cook today. Visit the market in the morning to buy all ingredients and find yourself cooking in a local house on a traditional wood fire stove. Chef Tin Tin has always been a star in the kitchen and we’re happy to have been able setting up this cooking class for her.
Mawlamyine – home cooked Mon food at a local house
We bring you to the home of a local Mon family who has prepared an excellent lunch with fish and vegetables for you. The Mon culture which was once one of the first civilisations in SE Asia is slowly fading, some traditional Mon dishes should be shared with the rest of the world and there is no better way than tasting these in the home of a Mon family.
Hpa An – typical Kayin soup in a traditional village
Ask anybody in Myanmar about the typical food of the Kayin and they will say it’s the soup. During a walk through the Kayin community we will make sure you will taste their traditional food during lunch.
Ngapali – Home cooked Rakhine lunch in traditional fishing village
We take you to meet your host family for a day at a traditional Rakhine fishing village about 30 minute by boat from Ngapali beach. Taste the excellent fish, home cooked vegetable and don’t forget the spicy chilli sauce the lady of the house makes. A great meal right on a pristine beach in a remote village.
Mrauk U – taste the culture of this former kingdom in a local house
Is there is something fishy about this? That’s right!! The Rakhine people are known for eating a lot of fish and a lot of chilli. We will take you for a dinner in a local house in Mrauk U to have a great dinner.