Burmese food often gets a bad rap... people say that it’s “too greasy, too oily and there are too many curies with the same taste”. But is this really the case? Whilst it can be oily and does lack the diversity of neighbouring Thailand, with the right advice, we are confident you will come back from Myanmar with some tasty and memorable food experiences. Leave the touristy restaurant and typical chicken curry behind and experience some traditional, home-cooked meals. You will find a wonderful offering of salads, noodles, seafood, soups, curries and more - all served with fresh vegetables and fragrant spices! These are our secrets to finding the best food in Myanmar...
Colourful display of food at the local markets.
Myanmar signature dish - pickled tea leaves salad.
What Is The Real Burmese Food?
Burmese food has a unique balance of sour, salty, spicy and bitter flavours with Mon, Indian and Chinese influences. The true pleasure of eating Burmese food is due to the sheer variety of dishes that are served in a single setting, creating a smorgasbord of mouthwatering flavours.
You will experience a smorgasbord of taste sensations.
At the core of a Burmese meal is rice (T’ămìn), which is served with a variety of dishes that use a range of local, mostly seafood and plant based ingredients. With any main course in Myanmar, whether it is a curry, fried dish or salad, a large number of side dishes will follow and tasting these delightful dishes adds to the enjoyment of the dining experience. Side dishes could range from an Indian influenced lentil or dhal soup (peh-hìn-ye), to a tray of fresh vegetables and dips and are usually served with unlimited supply of green tea!
An authentic cooking class with Tin Tin - a Myanmar local.
Rich Food For Guests
So why do some people find Burmese food to be so oily? There is a Myanmar culture that explains this foreign perception of oily food and that’s the Myanmar hospitality. Burmese people are very friendly and generous hosts who are eager to give their guests the very best. They think that “the best” equals “the most expensive”, so many foreign (or local) visitors are given the food that is rich in fat and oil. Yet these visitors have not tried the myriad of fresh local dishes that are served in the home – the best place to experience Burmese cuisine!
Eating With the Locals
Probably the best place to eat in Myanmar is with a local family, having a home-cooked meal and this is something that a lot of tourists miss out on.
A typical meal served in the homes is 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 do not eat “animals with 4 legs” for religious reasons, while others eat little meat for financial reasons (it’s too expensive), so vegetable dishes are common in a home-cooked meal.
Tips For Eating In Myanmar
Whether you eat with a home-cooked meal with a family or want to try a local restaurant, here are six suggestions on how to choose where and what to eat.
1. Eat where the locals eat.
Some of the street food is excellent, and is a real treat. Choose a food stall that is busy with local people, point out what you like and enjoy. Always remember to ask the street vendor NOT to add ajinomoto (MSG pronounced a tsjo mo ma thei ne).
Local woman preparing street food.
2. Ask the chef to "cook for their family".
Ask the chef to prepare the food as if they are cooking it for their own family and this should help you avoid the typical oily touristy meal. You could try ordering three different salads with a serving of vegetables, two main dishes and a lot of side dishes.
3. A beer station is a beer station – not a restaurant!
A beer station is a beer station, it’s not a restaurant to taste Burmese food but it’s seen by locals as a place to fill your stomach. It’s great for beers but not the best place place to eat, so don’t expect good quality food.
4. When eating with the locals - don’t finish all the food!
Traditional Burmese table setting experience at one of our traditional; cooking classes.
If invited by locals to their house for a meal, don’t finish all the food that is served. This is because traditionally the guests (foreign or local) are invited to eat first and then the rest of the family will wait and eat later, often separately in the kitchen. So when you are served a lot of food, don’t eat all of it and make sure enough is left for the rest of the family.
5. Always bring a gift - but don't expect them to open it in-front of you.
When visiting locals, it’s always polite to bring a present. What are some good present ideas? A souvenir from your home country, a picture book, locally bought notebook, pens, a longyi (a sarong like cloth worn by locals), cookies or other sweets. Give the present on arrival but don’t be surprised if it isn’t opened in-front of you as it’s to avoid being perceived as greedy. Also, don’t forget to take pictures afterwards with the whole family and share these with them.
6. Experience breakfast at a tea shop.
Try the tea shops, 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.
Local women at a market in Myanmar.
Burmese Kitchen Initiative
So next time you are visiting Myanmar, go beyond the traditional chicken curry and taste some of the other exciting Burmese dishes whether you are with a local family or in a restaurant. They are definitely comparable to the Thai, Chinese and Indian food served worldwide.
Fresh fruit in Myanmar markets.
At World Expeditions we want our travellers to get the most authentic experience possible, that’s why we offer a Burmese Kitchen Initiative where you will picnic or dine with locals in a “pop-up” style restaurant to enjoy a more home-cooked style meal. The focus of these home-cooked style meals is to always use natural, fresh ingredients from the region. This initiative is also helps promote local community involvement and developing small businesses.
So do you want to experience the real food of Myanmar? Our trips, listed below feature our unique local dining experiences.
Best Of Myanmar
Bike, Hike, Kayak Myanmar
Myanmar Family Adventure