Officially known as Myanmar, Burma is a country whose national identity has been shaped by many influences. Burmese food embodies this cultural mix, spiced with rich flavors from countries such as China, India, and Thailand, along with its own unique qualities. We investigate the best Burmese dishes and highlight some of the restaurants in Rangoon where you can find them.
A national dish of sorts, mohinga is a soup-based dish that is often eaten at breakfast. This fish broth is flavored with ingredients such as ginger, garlic, lemon grass, fish sauce, turmeric, ngapi and banana stem. Cooked or dried fish can be added for further nutrition, while thin rice noodles fill out the bowl. As a breakfast staple, the best place to taste mohinga is in a Burmese household, however if that is not possible, Myaung Mya Daw Cho is a favorite amongst locals and travelers alike, serving incredible mohinga throughout Rangoon.
Another flavor favorite is shan tofu, deep fried tofu that can be prepared in a variety of ways. Tofu is used in a lot of Burmese recipes, and therefore the methods of preparation have developed in various ways throughout Burma’s history. Deep-frying tofu gives the soybean curd a distinct crunch, while the inside remains soft, creating a delicious mix of textures. Cut into different sizes, shan tofu is sometimes prepared into small ‘tofu chips’ served with chili and spice dipping sauces, while large pieces are opened up and used as a shell for other ingredients. Padonmar Restaurant on Kha-yae-pin Road is a popular destination for both Burmese and Thai dishes, offering a great range of tofu-fused cuisines.
Delving into their salads, lahpet thoke (tea leaf salad) is a popular dish throughout Burma. Lahpet refers to fermented and pickled teas and each region of the country has its own varying kinds with distinct tastes. Fermenting a mix of green and black teas with different flavors, lahpet thoke is served either on a plate separated into sections to allow the diner to chose their combination, or presented already mixed together with other vegetables and ingredients, the latter being the more common method, while the first is reserved for special occasions. On the corner of May Kha Road and Parami Road, Taing Yin Thar is a popular restaurant that features a range of dishes from different regions in Burma, making it a great place to sample the varying tastes of lahpet thoke.
Highlighting their Indian influence, samosas (or samusas) are also very popular throughout Burma. Fried or baked pastry holding mixtures of lentils, onions, beans, potatoes, cabbage and more; samosas can be full of surprises. In Burma, samosas are often prepared with salads or soups, allowing the pastry to soak up extra flavor. Ready to eat, samosas are found in nearly all food markets and street stalls, and Mahabandoola Road is a great place to experience this in Rangoon.
These dishes are just the tip of the iceberg and Burmese cuisine holds so many more rich flavors, recipes and experiences. Although not a common restaurant style to see outside of its borders, Burmese food is growing in popularity, with new restaurants opening up across the world and renowned chefs experimenting with its flavors. Burmese gastronomy could soon be the next big thing on the international restaurant scene.