I have long been fascinated with the idea of travelling to Myanmar (or Burma as I more commonly and less politically correctly call it) and after a fantastic 4 days in Yangon I am bursting to share some of my recent food discoveries with you! Read on for my pick of 5 unmissable things to try in Burma.
Mohinga is said to be the Burmese breakfast of choice and after polishing off a bowl of this unusual fish noodle soup on my first morning in Yangon I can certainly understand why. Thin rice vermicelli noodles are served in a spiced lemongrass and tumeric fish broth that has been thickened with rice and chickpea flour alongside chunks of fish (catfish is most commonly used) split pea fritters and in many cases, boiled egg and slices of fish cake. The slight tanginess of the broth alongside the oily fish and crunchy split pea fritters make this dish a real explosion for the taste buds and this is something I would happily eat again and again.
Whilst Shan Tofu is used in many Burmese dishes, it is interesting to learn that the so called “Tofu” is actually made from split peas and chickpea flour mixed with water, as opposed to soy milk as is common with Chinese/Japanese tofu. My favourite way of eating this was Warm Shan Tofu or To Hpu Nway where the “Tofu” is mixed to a creamy polenta type consistency and served on top of rice noodles garnished with chilli oil, toasted garlic, split peas and nuts and chunks or pork or chicken creating another dish of intriguing textures and flavours that is intensely comforting not to mention completely delicious.
No one should visit Burma without trying the unique local delicacy Lahpet or Pickled Tea Leaves. The leaves are eaten in several different preparations but I tried them in what is probably their most common form; Lahpet Tohk where they are made into a salad with toasted sesame seeds, fried garlic, split peas, peanuts, raw white cabbage and slices of ripened tomato dressed in sesame oil and a drizzle of fish sauce. The salad is immediately refreshing and reviving – not surprising when you consider that tea contains caffeine and is a stimulant – and like the other Burmese dishes mentioned so far, the contrasting textures and flavours are what really make this dish so interesting. I enjoyed it so much that I actually ate lahpet every day I was in Yangon!
Another must try noodle dish is Shan Khao Swè or Shan Noodles and whilst these are eaten in several different ways; as a dry noodle salad with broth on the side or with a spiced oil, it was the noodle soup version that I enjoyed the most. Rice noodles are served in a delicious broth of chicken or pork – depending on which version you order – which has been cooked down with mixed spices and some tomato alongside mustard greens and your choice of meat with a sprinkling of cooked pork rinds and peanuts. You can then choose to add smoky chilli oil or dried chilli flakes which can be found as standard table top condiments to enrich the flavour further.
My last choice for “Must Try Dishes” is a bit of a cheat – I have settled for simply terming it Fried Things as you can find street food sellers on most corners selling an array of fried goodies to enjoy; from cubes of the Shan chickpea tofu to split pea fritters, Indian dishes like vadai, bonda and samosas – served here as a samosa salad in a zingy salad dressing with chickpeas and herbs – to split pea pancakes and many, many more. The samosa salad, split pea fritters and the deep fried Shan tofu would have to rank as my favourites – what fried street food dishes do you most like the look of? Did you try any in Burma? Let me know in the comments – I would love to know your thoughts!
*For more information on Burmese food I would highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of “Noodle” a recipe book dedicated to the noodle in its many forms (including Shan noodles as mentioned in this post) by the brilliant MiMi Aye. There is also a very good Mohinga recipe on her blog. I should point out that MiMi was the source of most of my information for this trip and could not have been more helpful for which I am very grateful indeed.