We can’t thank Burma Burma, the pan-Indian Burmese restaurant and tea room, enough for having introduced us to the unique cuisine of Myanmar. Despite being such a close neighbour, Burmese food in India tends to get overshadowed by other, more mainstream Asian fare such as Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese.
Often dubbed as the underdog of Asian cuisine, Burmese food is marked by a fusion of sweet and savoury flavours. Drawing influences from India, China and Thailand, it’s a country big on street food. However, it’s the salads that have struck a chord with millions. Displaying an array of colours, a crunchy texture and an intense flavour of shrimp, garlic and chillies, the salads are a go-to comfort meal.
If you aren’t drooling already, a stroll through Chennai’s Burma Bazaar will definitely seal the deal. It's one of the few places in India where you can sample traditional eats with a local twist. But for those craving authentic Burmese delicacies, here's a quick guide on what to order the next time you find yourself in Myanmar.
Unofficially hailed as the national dish of Myanmar, this Burmese fish-based rice noodle soup is a breakfast essential. The traditional version consists of hot and sour fish broth poured over rice noodles and topped with aromatic ingredients like lemongrass, chilli and shrimp paste. While the recipe varies from region to region, we’d suggest hitting the streets to get a taste of authentic fare. The hawkers often combine chickpea with a variety of vegetables and seasoning including onions, ginger, garlic, banana tree stem and fish sauce. Garnished with crispy fritters and a boiled egg, it’s the ultimate comfort food. Or, as locals would say, ‘it’s the taste of home’.
We have no qualms in claiming that Burmese are the ultimate salad masters. Their salads range from typical combinations of pickled ginger and cabbage with a dressing, to bizarre concoctions featuring the ubiquitous noodles and 20 other ingredients. Our pick? The laphet thoke, or what is commonly known as fermented tea leaves salad. An interesting blend of savoury, salty and mildly sour flavours, it’s served with a generous helping of peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, crispy garlic, fried yellow peas, tomatoes, jalapeño and shredded lettuce. Laphet thoke can be a snack or an appetiser. It even goes down a treat with a bowl of rice.
Fun Fact: Did you know that in ancient times these fermented tea leaves were considered a symbol of peace, or a peace offering?
For the uninitiated, the state of Shan in Myanmar is where the country’s culinary soul lies. Its distinct cuisine has not only been an instant hit among tourists but is also considered relatively healthier. Shan-style rice can be found in every teahouse and restaurant in the region. Locally called nga-htamin-nal or fish rice, it is cooked with turmeric, and topped with flakes of freshwater fish, raw garlic and deep-fried pork rind. Similar to a rice cake, the dish often doubles as a breakfast and snack.
This one needs no introduction; it's probably the most-ordered Burmese dish in the world. The curried noodle is a one-pot meal full of little bursts of flavour. Cooked in a chicken-and-coconut base, these egg noodles make for a perfect meal to cosy up with while it pours outside. While minimalistic on the surface, it involves an elaborate garnish of fried garlic and onions, roasted peanuts, chopped spring onions, coriander, fried noodles and the unmissable lemon wedge. You can customise the dish as per your preferences.
Mont lone yay paw
This traditional Burmese dessert is an integral part of the Thingyan festival feast. The term ‘mont lone yay paw’ literally translates to a round snack that floats on water. It consists of sticky rice balls with palm jaggery rolled inside and shredded coconuts outside. Made by combining glutinous rice flour, water and salt, the dough is shaped into smooth balls and cooked in boiling coconut milk. These rice dumplings are served on banana leaves and are reserved for festive occasions such as the Myanmar New Year (Thingyan).