What's the food like in Burma?
The traditional breakfast is varied, composed of fried rice and peas, nan pya (Indian bread) and cream or goat-leg soup, monhingar, nangyi, coconut noodles, assorted fried vegetables, steamed glutinous rice and peas, traditional snacks or bread and butter. It is usually washed down with Chinese or strong green Burmese coffee or tea.
A typical lunch or dinner consists of a main dish, a side dish, a sweet or sour soup and a form of fish paste or shrimp paste. The main dish typically features pork, chicken, mutton, beef, fish, shrimp, duck, eggs, or catfish, that’s cooked, stewed, fried, steamed, roasted, broiled, boiled or simmered in various ways. Ngapi, which means pressed fish, is a speciality present at most meals. Another common dish is balachaung, a fried shrimp paste with crushed garlic, onions and chillies. Side dishes are usually a salad made with vegetables combined with meat, fish or shrimp. Soups are either sweet or sour and mostly vegetables with meat or fish. A popular finish to a meal is the betel chew. The dried areca nut is wrapped in the betel leaf with a lime paste. Sometimes tobacco, peppermint or other spices are added. For dessert try, Shwe Kyi, a rich semolina pudding or Kyauk Kyaw - a seaweed jelly with a layer of coconut milk layer on top.
Traditional ethnic specialities include the Khauk-Swe that is composed of wheat noodles in a broth made with chili-marinated chicken; it is typical of Shan cuisine. Other Shan dishes are ttamin chin, a rice salad made with turmeric and khauk sen, rice noodles with fish. The Mon food usually contains chillies and curry. The Rakhines cuisines enjoy spicy curries and seafood is popular. Talapo is a Karen dish made of rice and bamboo shoots, lemon grass and fish paste that is certainly worth a try.
Ethnic dishes such as Chinese and Indian foods are popular as well, but these can only be found in the larger cities and towns. Burmese are lovers of snacks and you'll find plenty of street stalls selling these towards the evening.
Fresh lemon/lime juice mixed with water is one of the most refreshing drinks in the tropics as is tea. Chinese tea is generally preferable to the over-strong, over-sweet and over-milky Burmese tea. Sugar-cane juice is a popular street-side drink and stronger refreshments include orange brandy, lychee wine, white liquor or the local jungle liquor, fruit juice, water-buffalo milk and Mandalay beer.
Safe eating while travelling in Burma
Still a country in the process of developing, food hygiene in Burma is not great. Due to the undrinkable tap water and lack of education regarding safe sanitation, there is a greater risk of encountering food problems than other areas of the world. In order to eat as safely as possible, travellers should avoid anything that could have come into contact with tap water (salad, ice, unpeeled fruit, raw vegetables) and stick to pasteurised dairy products. Hot food should only be eaten if it is piping hot and street food should be avoided if it looks old or like it has been sitting in the sun for too long. Common sense is key when it comes to eating in Burma – if your food doesn’t look or smell right, don’t take the risk.