Before I left the US people said “don’t expect amazing food in Myanmar”. Disclaimer – I don’t cook at home (the thought of cooking from scratch makes me anxious) so I’m always happy when I get to try someone else’s cooking – especially new foods from new places.
I’d never eaten Burmese food so had no idea what to expect. So I got stuck into local food the first chance I got. Day 1 my guide took me to ‘Feel’ restaurant where I had Burmese breakfast – seen below ‘Mohn Hin Ngha’, a Yangon regional dish – fish in a kind of yellow bean soup, duck egg, the inner part of the banana plant and rice noodle. Total departure from my daily bowl of oatmeal at home. I later learned this is the ‘go-to’ for locals who pick up a bowl on the way to work.
Fast forward I’ve eaten traditional Burmese food every day. Every meal except one or two Western style. I am OBSESSED with Burmese food. Except the fried crickets I saw in Yangon (!) I travel very adventurously when it comes to food so I’d recommend finding out exactly how adventurous clients want to be. I asked my Myanmar guides to take me to the local places where it’s hard to go and order on your own. We also went some of the ‘tried and trusted’ local restaurants where Diethem take clients as part of day touring.
Our guides order for the table and I just go along for the ride (I loved this, every day we try something new). After ordering food starts to arrive in a a gradual ‘wave’ of dishes which start to filter out one by one to our table, kind of Thai style.
I’m no food critic (far from it) but the best way I can describe the food is super-healthy Indian style with little aspects of Thai and Chinese. Rice with small (and many varied) bowls of vegetable and meat based dishes. The key difference – no heavy sauces/creams, just fresh base ingredients like garlic, chillis and tomato – these are the staple for base for most dishes.
So healthy and fresh. Its not ‘hot and spicy’ unless you want it to be, in-fact most of the locals I meet don’t like overly spicy – so for client’s apprehensive about crazy spices messing with their system, it’s not an issue. Before I left for Myanmar I started taking pro-biotic tablets each day to prep my tummy for the massive change in my diet. I’m not sure whether it helped, but I after a week on Burmese food (I seriously ate ALOT of it!) I left feeling like my body thanked me for it.
There’s a reason you never see an overweight Burmese person. The food is amazingly healthy as it’s fried or steamed with these delicious fresh and locally procured ingredients. One of the reasons is the abundance of markets selling fresh produce.
As for Western cuisine, I can say it’s ‘okay’. You go to top Yangon restaurant spots like Seeds and you get fine food, but every where else I would manage expectations. For even the most adventurous ‘eaters’ like me, it was good to have the odd western hotel breakfast (we also had pasta one night), but if clients ask about local food, the secret is going with a guide who can manage the ordering process and take you to the tried and tested spots which tick the ‘live like a local’ box.
I learned that heading to a tea house for breakfast, lunch or dinner is core to the social lives of many Burmese locals. The tea houses buzz with activity. I’ve already googled Burmese restaurants in LA. I’m that hooked. I just hope they stack up to my authentic Myanmar experience!