April 5th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
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Jamie Feldmar is a food and travel writer. Read more about her at jamiefeldmar.com and follow her on Twitter @jfeldmar

Eating does not usually pose a challenge to me. I’m a food writer by trade, with the appetite of a dozen varsity shot putters combined. It’s my job to eat and to know about what I’m eating, but I was having a hard time in Myanmar.

The problem wasn’t that I found the food unappetizing - far from it. I’m smitten by the flavors of curries, chilies, shallots and seeds, all of which make frequent appearances in Myanmar's cooking. The issue was that I was completely overwhelmed. Standing streetside in an early-morning market on my first day in Yangon, surrounded by vendors hawking strange spices, fantastical vegetables and prehistoric-looking fish, I’d never felt more unfamiliar with a style of food in my life.

So I spent the next two weeks methodically eating my way across the country, prowling produce markets, following the crowds to skilled street vendors and talking to the ultra-friendly locals about everything edible. It was hardly long enough to understand to all of the complexities of the cuisine, but by the end, I’d learned enough to finally feel a tiny bit at home.

Whether you’re planning a trip of your own or just armchair traveling, here’s what you need to know about food in Myanmar.

Curries and rice
Rice is the cornerstone of the national diet, and one of the most common meal formats in Myanmar involves a buffet-like display of rice, curried meat, soup, chili dipping pastes, fresh and blanched vegetables (to dip in the chili paste) and more - all intended to be mixed and matched at will. Curries are rarely spicy and often involve an inch-thick layer of oil on top, which is an important part of the cooking process. There’s no pressure to actually eat the oil; simply spoon the meat onto your plate and enjoy.

Salads
Not of the Caesar variety. Salads in Myanmar, called thoke, are hand-mixed combinations of raw and fresh ingredients, often bound together by oil, roasted seeds or nuts, fried garlic, sliced shallots and lime. The principal ingredient can be almost anything: fruit, vegetable, fish or meat. But look especially for renditions featuring sliced ginger root, the sprightly local green called pennywort or the fermented green tea leaves called laphet.

Noodles
Noodles abound in Myanmar, and they're usually eaten as breakfast or a midday snack in between meals. In the morning, you’ll find the ubiquitous mohinga, which is fish soup with thin rice noodles, banana stem and crispy fried bean fritters. Also keep an eye out for oh no khao swe (egg noodles and torn chicken in a silky coconut milk sauce), and sticky Shan-style rice noodles slathered in a rich tomato-pork-peanut gravy, known simply as “Shan khao swe.”

Tea Shops
Tea shops are an integral part of daily life across Myanmar. In the early morning and early evening, groups gather at tea shops to drink, snack and socialize, often for hours on end. A thermos of clear Chinese-style tea comes standard at every table to drink in between cups of milk tea, made heady with a thick pour of sweetened condensed milk. Snacks are either brought to your table automatically or ordered à la carte, and might include sweet sesame seed cakes, fried samosas and crullers or steamed Chinese-style dim sum.

Street Snacks
There’s a deep culture of snacking in Myanmar, and the streets of Yangon and Mandalay are filled with grab-and-go vendors dispatching everything from Indian-style roti flatbreads to jiggly neon-hued jelly sweets. The nation's cooks are particularly well-versed in the art of deep frying, as evidenced by the profusion of fritters, pakoras, samosas and battered bananas that all take a whirl in the oil bath.

Previously - Anthony Bourdain: Eat out and tip big to save NYC restaurants after Sandy

Hungry for more from Burma? World-renowned chef, best-selling author and Emmy winning television personality Anthony Bourdain is the host of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," CNN's new showcase for coverage of food and travel. The series is shot entirely on location and premieres Sunday, April 14, at 9 p.m. ET. Bourdain's first stop: Myanmar. Follow along on Twitter and Facebook

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Filed under: Asia • Asian • Bite • Burma • Burmese • Content Partner • Cuisines • Parts Unknown • Travel


soundoff (104 Responses)
  1. Sai

    Did you also try Nan-gye-thote, the rice noodles salad with chicken, oil, and lots of bean powder, and very very spicy Rahkhine cuisines?

    May 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  2. backlink

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    April 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  3. Deleteteemo

    The restaurants near D.C are pretty nice but their flavors are toned down for our tastes, the actual Burmese food have more vibrant and spicy flavors.

    April 12, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Reply
  4. Gross_PPL_are_gross

    Lady in pic #2 NEEDS to wash her face.DISGUSTING that she thinks thats okay to be a FILTHY PIG!!! DISGUSTING!!!

    April 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Reply
    • Jack

      That is face paint. Your a complete idiot!!!

      April 11, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Reply
    • Luka

      It's called thanaka and it's a local cosmetic, you dumb racist.

      April 11, 2013 at 9:25 pm | Reply
    • Deleteteemo

      Not sure if trolling or dumb redneck

      April 12, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Reply
    • Gross_PPL_WHO_SAY-GROSS_ARE_GROSS

      You should see the episode before commenting

      April 15, 2013 at 10:46 am | Reply
    • will

      you just disrespecting other people's culture. Shame on you.

      April 21, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  5. Benjamen_Tennyson

    I would NEVER go here,EVER!!!

    This country is complete TURMOIL !!! Civil Wars!!! Ethnic Killings,Incompetent Leaders.That stupid lady who can't do anything.

    NO THANKS.This country is a pitiful execuse for a 'country' and is NOT worth my time and EFFORT.I READ all about this miserableness hell-hole in the NEw York Times(All the news that fit to print!) and I HATE this country,because I have FACTS

    April 11, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Reply
    • blah blah blah

      That's why when I purchase clothing, I make sure to buy things made in Sri Lanka whenever possible. After all, how else are the child laborers supposed to make a living in order to buy weapons to fight their civil war?

      /sarcasm off.

      April 11, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Reply
    • Deleteteemo

      I think you watched too much FOX News

      April 12, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Reply
      • Benjamen_Tennyson

        Did you read my post,I SAID

        THE NEW YORK TIMES,jeez,Your dumb

        April 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm | Reply
    • Thant

      Hahaha. You're a funny man. You should read more. It appears you have paranoia and that only the bad stuff get stuck in your head. Burma is the second largest ASEAN country after Indonesia. Experts predict ASEAN area is going to play a big role in world economy. Burma's rich in natural resources. It can very well become the center of ASEAN economy in a decade or so. A lot of countries are interested in investing inside Burma. Did you know President Obama went there a few months ago to start a relationship? Did you know Google CEO Eric Schmidt visited there as well? Europeans came in and out of the country even before the country claimed democracy. Big American corp. like Shell attended business meetings in Burma looking to invest. Japan already has made deals to build factories.

      Of course, the country is in a big mess. The military has been f-ucking it up for 50 years. What do you expect? This is the process we have to go through. That stupid lady you talked about has to clean up 50-years worth of mess. I betcha if you let Kennedy or Reagan or any great US president do her task single-handedly (just like she's doing right now), they'd be s-hitting in their pants. 50-years worth of mess. Can you imagine it? G. Bush f-ucked up the States for 8 years, let me ask you how is the US Economy now?

      Oh man, never mind what I said. Just hold on to your NYT article and don't come. We don't want to see guys like you anyway. Good for us! Have an awesome day!
      ...
      NOT!

      April 12, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Reply
      • nyan

        Well said.... Brother, well said

        April 14, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Reply
      • Dawn

        I would love to see a respone here from the guy above.

        April 15, 2013 at 1:34 am | Reply
    • Dawn

      Don't judge too quick. You don't wanna miss out,Buddy!

      April 15, 2013 at 1:32 am | Reply
    • Myanmar Resident

      Benjamen_Tennyson:
      Dude, you are a typical moronic, clueless, armchair historian. Possibly you might one day write a travel guide without leaving the comfort of the New York Times travel section? I hope you and your instant judgement do not visit this country to lose your ignorance. Can you not separate the country from the people living there? Unable to discern the past actions of a government and determine if said government is making movements, however small to your opinion, toward positive change? Incapable of acknowledging that the ongoing decades of ethnic strife in distant corners of Burma/Myanmar are hard riddles to solve? The people in Burma/Myanmar are just trying to get by. I have found them to be hard working, very friendly, very devout, and excited about the changes in their country. Do you like everything your government does? No? Then hush your mouth and come on over and see if you could help. Wait, never mind, we don't need your kind of armchair judgement here. The country has enough problems to solve without you, in all your self-given Godly glory, spouting hateful pronouncements. One wonders how you would manage to rise to any occasion after 20 years under house arrest, such as the Lady, whom you excoriate, suffered. Geez. By the way, the best Burmese/Myanmar food is said to be found at home. Most Burmese, when eating out, go to Chinese restaurants.

      April 19, 2013 at 4:43 am | Reply
    • Dellsun

      Enjoy your Carnival cruises, old man.

      April 20, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Reply
    • NMT

      Benjamen_Tennyson
      I have been to Burma and survived the so called 'turmoil' as you put it so eloquently in your ignorance. If you believed everything you read in the papers I'd confidently say that you'd never leave your own house. There are so many beautiful places to see in the world and it's probably fortunate for those people living there that you haven't been to visit. Enjoy the comfort of your armchair where you contemplate your next holiday and travel plans for your next day trip to Walmart!

      May 5, 2013 at 3:56 am | Reply
    • Paul Jacinto

      The facts you are referring to are based where?? Media outlets? I'm actually here in Myanmar and what I can say is that it's the same as with any other third-world country. My perception was the same as yours before I came to work here, and I can say that media has a very different portrayal of the country's environment. I'm living in Yangon, and it's waaaaaay cleaner and peaceful than a lot of Asian countries, and whatever turmoil that's happening is very far and isolated from the rest of the country. Myanmar is the largest landmass in SEA, and what happens in one region does not affect the peace and order of the whole country. Next time, you should choose where you get your "facts" from, before you voice out your misguided opinion of a whole country. Myanmar may be behind by a few years (or decades) in terms of technology, infrastructure and innovation, but it's definitely not the barbaric country that you say it is.

      July 1, 2013 at 7:18 am | Reply
  6. Slackmeyer

    Wonderful... CNN hires ANOTHER hopelessly self-absorbed, arrogant person to be on their network.

    April 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • jayv1

      and another judgmental lurker to criticize everything ;)

      April 11, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Reply
    • Dellsun

      Another fool who didn't even watch the first 2 minutes of the episode, where Bourdain says about himself "I used to be an almost capable former service-chef and now I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm trying my best at it"

      Yeah. Sounds like he's really full of himself. What with all the deeply respectful, sympathetic and informed commentary about Myanmar and all.

      Seriously – this isn't rocket science – watch the show before hating the show.

      April 20, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  7. steffo65

    There is a fantastic place in Falls Church VA called Myanmar. The service is awful– never a smile and the food is never brought out in proper order BUT it is so excellent we go back time and time again. Portions are great, food is OUTSTANDING.

    April 9, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  8. Louis Blaine

    Shan Khao Suay is the Thai term for Shan "beautiful rice" ie white steamed rice In pahasaa thai not bamazaga

    April 9, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Reply
    • Zo

      You are correct 'Khao Suay' is Thai for 'beautiful rice' but the author is actually talking about 'Shan Khao Swear' as in 'Shan' referring to the ethnic race in eastern Burma called 'Shan' (Thai's call them Tai Yai), and 'Khao Swear' meaning noodle.

      April 9, 2013 at 11:56 pm | Reply
    • Khin May

      r u kidding me? its bama zaka! it means shan noodle, khoa swel is burmese term for noodle

      April 9, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Reply
      • Howard

        Don't be ridiculous! It's called Baba Booey and it comes with big teeth and lips.

        April 11, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Reply
        • Willi

          C'mon, its called Howard and it does have big teeth and lips, as well as other stuff

          April 11, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • nayonemoeppz

      Nooob... I really don't think "Khoa Suay" is Thai term. It sounds Burmese in every level. "Khoa" or "khauk" literally means fold and "suay" pull. "Khoa Suay" is just noodle and does not have anything to do with rice grain in Burmese. If you have ever seen Chinese noodle making, it all make sense. To make long thin noodle, four is 'folded" and "pulled" multiple times. I bet Burmese make noodles in ancient times this way or they call every similar objects watching how chinese make noodles. One more thing, the fact that the world is more intimate with Thailand should not make everything come first from Thailand and move later to Burma.

      September 18, 2013 at 4:07 am | Reply
  9. msp

    I grew up in an environment with an abundance of street food. But our mother has always forbid us eating from them. Anywhere without ready access to clean water is not what you want to eat from. They may taste fantastic but there are plenty of places with great food that are prepared hygienically. Sometimes these westerners just have too romantizied view of things to overlook the obvious.

    April 9, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  10. Cynthia Bertelsen

    Why no mention of Naomi Duguid's book on Burmese food: Burma: Rivers of Flavor (Artisan, 2012)?

    April 9, 2013 at 7:00 am | Reply
    • InYangonNow

      With all due respect to Ms. Duguid, this story is not about her or her book.

      April 13, 2013 at 7:20 am | Reply
  11. Alex in NJ

    Myanmar: Come for the food, stay for the human rights abuses.

    April 8, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Reply
    • Howard

      Nice!

      April 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  12. boulderfoodie

    Now I'm craving Burma Superstar

    April 8, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Reply
    • BoulderBurmaSuperstar

      Maybe they should open one in Boulder. So good!

      April 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  13. relmfoxdale

    "combinations of raw and fresh ingredients"

    So the raw ingredients aren't fresh? Should that say "raw and cooked"?

    April 8, 2013 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  14. rs1201

    All I could think of when looking at the pictures of food being cooked, fresh produce, and dishes being washed was how sick I would be after eating any of these foods and wondering if there are any decent hospitals in that place to get my stomach pumped followed by IV antibiotics....I know it's not nice to think that way but I think as Americans we've gotten spoiled when it comes to clean food and clean preparation of food. I truly think I wouldn't survive eating that food.

    April 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      If you've ever eaten in a restaurant, anywhere, I have bad news for you – you've already been exposed to as bad or worse as anything you'll find in a third world street market.

      April 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Reply
    • Isabel

      Part of the reason we have so many "first world" diseases like cancer, food allergies, syndromes and autism is that we don't get enough natural food and "dirt" in our diet.

      April 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Reply
      • steffo65

        Thank you Isabel for pointing that out. A lot of these commenters need to get out more.

        April 9, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Reply
      • VladT

        That is a blatant falsity that has yet to be proven, but yeah, be a self-hating American all you want

        April 10, 2013 at 9:03 am | Reply
      • Luka

        That's not what causes autism. Learn 2 science.

        April 11, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Reply
      • andy

        I dId backpacking trip for couple of months there, and I noticed they used peanut oil in northern region a lot. When I asked them if anyone there had trouble with peanut allergy, they were surprised to hear such thing exist. I was told never in their life experience such thing. I'm not sure if it's because of GM food we are having in the west, but that does surprise me though.

        April 13, 2013 at 11:43 am | Reply
    • Lenny

      Most likely that Americans wil get sick after eating a vegetable because it's too healthy. May be adding some nacho cheese and frying it and seasoning it with bacon may become palatable.

      April 8, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Reply
      • InYangonNow

        LOL, Hilarious!! At the same time it's sad, but generally true......

        April 13, 2013 at 6:12 am | Reply
    • rs1201

      Nah...you're all wrong. My diet consists of fat free milk and yogurt, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. I never have a stomach ache nor do I ever experience heartburn. Eating at restaurants is very easy for me. I order broiled fish and steamed vegetables uniformly accompanied by a white wine and fresh fruit for dessert. BTW, that makes it very easy to keep my weight down. I'm 5'8" and weigh just under 118lbs.

      April 9, 2013 at 7:40 am | Reply
    • globe trotter

      Give me a break about the hygiene in the average American restaurant, especially fast food places.....we have more cases of e-coli and salmonella poisoning than most 3rd and 4th world countries...cos' most of the food preparers and handlers do NOT wash their hand after taking a dump & wipe, and they cook your food and serve you the food with those dirty hands.....I'd rather eat cooked food in the streets of these 3rd world countries any day cos' they are cooked in front of you, along with all the spices you can imagine which basically kills all the contamination. The key is NOT to drink the tap water, but drink bottled or boiled.

      April 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Reply
    • Dellsun

      Clearly you've never gone on vacation outside of a cruise, bus tour, or resort. If you have, you'd quickly realize that since street food is prepared right in front of your eyes, you can actually be more sure about it's quality than you would the stuff coming out of the kitchen at Applebee's. Where I can guarantee you, you have probably eaten stuff that a sous chef dropped on the floor and put back on the grill because he didn't want to catch flak from the head chef for wasting a $10 steak.

      April 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  15. Rosy S.

    love farmers market.... so close to mother earth ... and into our body.
    this is what I think of abundance when I see colorful pics. like this!

    April 8, 2013 at 11:02 am | Reply
  16. Rebecca

    I was n Burma in 1995 after spending most of a year traveling in Asia. The country was amazing and I met many wonderful people, but I hated the food. It was the only country I went to that I couldn't find food to like. I got typhoid there which didn't help, but I remember even the rice tasting bad to me and that was before I got sick. Other travelers said the same thing, but maybe the food is better now? I'm not sure why it tasted so bad, but I ate at places ranging from roadside stands to fairly nice restaurants and found almost everything very difficult to eat. I've never seen a Burmese restaurant in the US, but would be curious to try it here.

    April 7, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Reply
    • Mary

      I spent 2 weeks last March in Burma and found the markets bursting with color and delicious food as well as all places I ate I found the food wonderful. I travelled through out the country.

      April 8, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Reply
    • andy

      Maybe because it's not your type of dish. I know an asian guy who hates everything about cheese. He said that to a French girl, and guess how she reacted? She didn't believe at all and ask questions in disbelief like "how could anyone dislike cheese? How could someone dislike something as tasty as cheese" lol

      April 9, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  17. mgtheinshwe

    Oh, one more thing....

    For those of us on a food budget, try attending the frequent 'ah lu pwe', 'nake ban zwe', (food fair for non-Burmese speaking folks) usually at local high schools or small 'phongyi kyaung' (monasteries), etc. For a small, voluntary donation for a worthy cause, one can sample several authentic Burmese dishes.

    Heard this place is doing brisk business but haven't tried yet though.
    Burma SuperStar, Clements Street, SFO

    April 7, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Reply
    • Fiona

      It's Clement, not Clements. San Francisco had two fantastic Burmese restaurants out there in the Richmond as long as 20 years ago. I used to dine at both of them often, but especially at the one on - if I remember correctly - Geary. They had a memorable squid cooked in curry. And their cooked greens were wonderful. It's funny...everyone was so into Thai and Cambodian cooking back then, and there was an overabundance of overpriced restaurants for those cuisines. But the Burmese places thrived under the radar, and you could get amazing meals for very little money.

      April 7, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Reply
      • Fiona

        Oops, I meant squid cooked in chilis.

        April 7, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Reply
        • Lenny

          Yep. CHilis has great food. I like thier BBQ ribs. Great stuff!

          April 8, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  18. mgtheinshwe

    Hailing from there and used to generous seconds, I remember a small Burmese restaurant in Wash, DC, (probably a walk-up second floor type). The servings were Lilliputian, the prices were not very palatable. My first and last visit.

    April 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Reply
    • M

      I think it's called Burma–in the Chinatown area of DC.

      April 8, 2013 at 8:02 am | Reply
  19. Beefburger

    Do they take offense at being called "Burmese"? Or would Myanmar(ians? ites?) prefer to revert back to that name?

    April 7, 2013 at 8:07 am | Reply
    • ehomer

      It is my experience that many Burmese are offended by "Myanmar". They reject the military junta that renamed the country.

      April 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Reply
      • Bummer873

        Funny note: Our government never officially recognized the Junta either. In fact, the CIA factbook still lists it as Burma, not Myanmar. I could go on about news agencies calling it Myanmar.....but well, draw your own conclusions there.

        April 8, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Reply
        • Riobha

          Especially since this article said "Burma" all through it when it first came out...Too PC for words- and I'm very liberal.

          April 8, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • Arkar

      Most Burmese (or just Myanmar, without -ian/-ites) are fine with either name. If there's anyone who's mad about being called Burma, it will be the military government which changed it to Myanmar in 1989.
      Like Anthony mentioned in his first episode of "Parts Unknown", the name Burma itself, which actually is the name of a single but vastly majority ethnic group, doesn't serve best to represent such a diversity of ethnics that reside in the country. The name Burma was first made known in English by the British during their colonial rule, probably unaware of a hundred other minor ethnicity.

      April 14, 2013 at 4:43 am | Reply
  20. craig b

    Burma Superstar, and their sister joint, B-Star, in San Francisco ROCKS!

    April 6, 2013 at 11:11 pm | Reply
  21. pisceanhaze

    There is a Burmese restaurant in Silver Spring, MD, just outside of DC. It's called Mandalay. Quite delicious and worth the trip.

    April 6, 2013 at 9:55 pm | Reply
    • KandyKane

      Also one in Gaithersburg called "Burma Road." Very good.

      April 7, 2013 at 10:24 am | Reply
  22. Peter Knight

    As a food writer, you haven't traveled much have you. If what you saw was so strange and the fact that you write such comments like "strange spices, fantastical vegetables and prehistoric-looking fish" , "an inch of oil", does not give me any confidence in your being a foodie. I suggest that 1). You travel more and learn how to name the items you find fantastical and pre-historic stuffs. And 2) Watch re-runs of Andrew Zimmer's Bizarre Food series.

    April 6, 2013 at 11:57 am | Reply
  23. Richard Aung-Myint

    I will sure watch the show on Sunday 4/14. The conditions are poor but the people look happy and the food looks tasty. Love the photos.

    April 5, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  24. USC

    A nice primer for those unfamiliar with Burmese cuisine with some great photos of the street food and produce vendors. When in Burma, I love wandering among the street vendors to see the variety of meat, fish, produce and cooked food being sold; I also enjoy visiting the neighborhood markets in the early morning. I'm glad to see that Burma (Myanmar) is continuing to open up, and glad the Anthony Bourdain has finally visited the country and will be able to give many people their first real exposure to the Burmese people and culture, delivered with his usual wit, insight and lyrical narrative style.

    April 5, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  25. Peanut M&M

    Sounds delicious. I would love to see some recipes or a list of restaurants in the US that serve good Burmese food.

    April 5, 2013 at 11:42 am | Reply

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