Sunday, December 29, 2013

Burmese Food - Curries and Such

Burmese food as I've experienced it is an interesting blend of Chinese and South Asian flavors, much like other Southeast Asian cuisines. It tends to be rather heavy and oily, but deliciously so, with lots of savory and fragrant dishes.

Mohinga is the famous national dish, noodles cooked in a spicy and pungent fish curry, flavored with lime and coriander among other herbs. Our host at the guesthouse made us her version of mohinga for breakfast one morning, claiming that she makes the best in all of Myanmar! I have to admit it was really good.

The photo below is of another curried noodle dish that I ate at a large roadside restaurant called the Lucky Flower. The Lucky Flower caters almost exclusively to locals. We only ended up there because we had just made friends with a local travel agent who brought us to lunch. There was very little pretense - simple dishes, cheap prices, minimal service. I'm not sure exactly what was in my bowl - some sort of meat and egg, and it was certainly not the most presentable in terms of appearance, but the broth was great!  

We also had the chance to experience some higher-end restaurants, including House of Memories, a restaurant inside a historical colonial house that contains the secret office used by Aung San, the father of Aung San Suu Kyi. Here I ordered really great grilled prawns with vegetables and pineapple.

One memorable meal was at a place that our driver took us to. It had an easy way of ordering - all the dishes that are available are presented behind a glass counter, and you just point at whatever looks good and the server will bring it in a small portion to your table. We picked a variety of different curried meats, seafood, and vegetables.

Fruits are for sale by vendors all over the city. There are giant durians, dragon fruit, and an abundance of citrus fruits. Lots of little stands offer fresh squeezed fruit smoothies.

On one of our last days we went to the popular restaurant called Feel Myanmar, which has a similar system of ordering where you look at all the dishes on offer and point. Again, we picked out a variety of foods that looked good. 

Fish, or other seafood, was always a staple in our meals! 

All the food is served with a big vegetable platter made of lightly steamed greens with a type of fish dip. These platters usually include green beans, leafy greens, and sometimes eggplant.

On our last night we experienced a Yangon Food Tour, where a local guide takes you across different eateries throughout a night and you can enjoy four courses across the range of Burmese food. Our first course consisted of fried appetizers - fried corn, potato, tofu, and pennywort leaves, eaten at a casual restaurant near the shores of Inya Lake. 

Then we went to a seafood restaurant and had some prawns and soft-shell crab. 

Our third stop was at a tiny roadside shop famous for its various salads. I think this may have been where we contracted food poisoning, due to eating raw vegetables, so do be careful if you ever want to try these dishes! They were delicious and spicy though - very very spicy! All of us were sweating and tearing up due to the raw chilis and peppers. In order to combat the spice, our last stop at a teahouse allowed us to enjoy avocado shakes and lime juice. 

Across my five days I got to experience a lot of different parts of Burmese cuisine - many unique dishes that I can't find authentic versions of elsewhere. There isn't too much of a possibility of eating other foods, since due to the economic sanctions on the country, you can't find many of the multinational chains that have spread to much of Asia, including McDonalds and Starbucks. At the most, we saw some regional smaller fast food places that I've seen in Singapore, but nothing that would be recognizable by people in other parts of the world. 

The sanctions have also prevented the import of many western products. When I fell ill from food poisoning, I went to a higher end grocery store, something reminiscent of Whole Foods, where I found Vitamin Water and other foreign made items. However, upon reading the label of the bottle of Vitamin Water I found that it had been made and marketed for Singapore. I suppose that Myanmar had imported the product from Singapore. Some of the other things I bought, such as a small box of cornflakes and a package of saltines, I later discovered had been expired for several months. With the gradual lifting of some sanctions, I hope the situation will improve, though hopefully in a way that does not erode the traditional cuisine.  

1 comment:

  1. Wow, hopefully in the next decade we will see Myanmese food spread outwards and also for imported good in Myanmar to be more in-check and not expired and still on the shelf. During my time in Yangon, my favorite things were the mohinga and the spicy salads, which were tear-inducing spicy for me as well!