Myanmar Cuisine: Top 25 Burmese Foods (With Photos)
Since Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is at the crossroads of South and Southeast Asia and is bordered by China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia, Burmese food is on par with its neighbors for richness and variety. Actually, Burmese food is not as spicy as Indian nor as hot as Thai and it doesn’t really resemble Chinese food.
For those who have tried Burmese foods and know where to look, it can be absolutely delicious.
Exploring Traditional Burmese Cuisine
Unsurprisingly, there are significant regional variations that have evolved due to geography and the existence of kingdoms, invasions, colonialism, and a large number of ethnic minorities in this culturally rich nation.
From the lowland delta regions and beaches to highland mountain ranges, Mayanmarese cuisine depends upon the local geography for its particular ingredients and seasonality of dishes.
Although Mayanmarese cuisine may not be the world’s greatest, there are some truly delicious and addictive dishes in this geographically diverse country. On many street food stalls, in tea shops, beer bars and restaurants, you will find Mayanmarese foods ranging from salads to sticky rice, noodle dishes, and soups.
Mayanmarese soups are usually served with fresh ingredients, often including meat, fish and seafood shrimps, vegetables, and some topical fruits. Soups are considered an indispensable part of traditional cuisine, served with almost every meal from breakfast to dinner.
1. Lal Tha Mar Soup: Farmer’s Soup
This soup is originally from Kayah State in Eastern Myanmar and refers to the farmers who have no time to cook.
The dish is made quickly with sprouts of gourd, pumpkin, and vegetables, including the edible concinna leaves, chopped taro, and bamboo shoots, which can be easily found on farms. This soup is know to provide strength to the hardworking rice farmers and is a traditional soup found in most of the Kayah state and some restaurants throughout the country.
2. Tar La Baw
This dish is a tradition of the Karen peoples in Southeast Myanmar. This vegetable soup, ta la baw, which means great soup, is very famous.
The main ingredients are bamboo shoots, rice flour, egg-plant, lady finger, and chopped-up gourd followed by the fish-paste and prawns. This great soup can be found throughout Karen State, but in most cities, it can only be found in a few restaurants.
3. Kyar Zan Hin Khar
Kyar san hin khar is a soup that consists of quite a few main ingredients, even though its name only highlights one, vermicelli (kyar-san). Other ingredients include black fungus, dried lily flowers, bean skin, bean vermicelli, chicken thigh, and garlic.
This soup can be found mostly in upper Myanmar and delta regions and is often served at traditional Mayanmarese ceremonies such as weddings and birthday parties.
This maize soup made with coriander leaves, limes chilis, and fried beef comes from Chin state, Western Myanmar. Sar means meat and buutee means infusion. The basis of the meal if the dried maize that is pounded into a powder.
To prepare the dish, boil the meat, adding salt for taste, and a garnishing of coriander, some vegetables, lime juice, and chilis when it’s ready.
5. Ngar Kaung Hin Cho
Ngar kaung hin cho means fish head soup, and this tasty dish is eaten across the country. The head gives the dish its pungent flavor. Other parts of the fish can be added too, of course. Once tasted, fish soup lovers will be hooked.
Burmese Noodles Dishes
Myanmar noodle-based dishes come from the east of the country, particularly Shan State. Onions are essential and must be cooked slowly. The spice mix owes more to South Asian influences than to the complex and exciting food cultures of China to the north and Thailand and Malaysia to the east.
6. Shan Noodles
A popular dish throughout the country and even in neighboring countries China, Thailand, and Laos due to originating in Shan State, which borders them, is highly popular and commonly eaten as lunch, dinner or as a snack.
If you love rice noodles but aren’t a fan of the strong fish broth, you might prefer a light rice noodle dish such as Shan-style noodle.
Mohinga is a popular traditional dish which consists of fish and rice noodles served in a hearty, herbal fish and shallot-based broth. It is often served with the crunchy pith of the banana tree or sliced lotus roots. Ginger and lemongrass are often used as flavorings.
As optional extras, you can eat it with fritters, gourd fritter, boiled egg, fish cake, and you can squeeze lime over the top and sprinkle it with crushed dried chilis if you want.
Most people eat mohinga for breakfast and sometimes at tea time in the afternoon. So you’ll be pleased to hear that mohinga is available from street vendors throughout the day and also from teashops and restaurants.
8. Ohn No Khao Swè
Ohn no khao swè, meaning noodles with coconut milk, is a traditional Mayanmarese dish and a popular street food item. It is commonly enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and can be found in numerous eateries, restaurants, cafés, and hotels across the country.
9. Mandalay Mont Ti (Nan Gyi Thoke)
Although there are various types of mont ti according to regional variations, all types have their specific taste. Among them, Mandalay monti or nan gyi thoke is quite different and includes meat and thick round rice noodles.
Most mont ti shops prepare the dish to the customers’ preferences and offer the option of “mixing” flavors.
10. Tofu Nway: Warm Tofu
Tofu Nway is a bowl of warm creamy Mayanmarese (Shan) tofu and one of the most popular breakfasts found in Shan State. The main ingredient for this tofu is chickpeas. Despite its name, this tofu is not made from soybean. So, it is soy-free, vegan, and gluten-free.
The Mayanmarese turn pretty much anything into a salad by thinly slicing or chopping vegetables and tossing them with anything from sesame seeds and fried peas to onions and baby prawns. Mayanmarese salads are eaten as standalone snacks, as side dishes paired with Mayanmarese curries, and as entrees.
11. Gyin Thoke: Ginger Salad
Mayanmarese ginger salad is a punchy, crunchy salad with an assortment of seeds, legumes, fried garlic chips, shallots, chilis, and pickled ginger. Preparation is rarely the same in any home but common ingredients make this salad a family favorite.
12. Laphet Thoke: Tea Leaf Salad
Not surprisingly, in Myanmar, where tea leaves are both eaten and drunk, tea leaf salad is a most famous and iconic dish.
This salad is assembled by combining pickled tea leaves with a tangy mix of green onion, sliced greens, spicy chilis, tomatoes, cilantro, peanuts, and roasted soybeans. The bigger the bite, the better the flavor!
13. Myin Kwa Ywet Thoke: Medicinal Pennywort Salad
As well as being delicious, myin kwa ywet thoke is healthy and is a popular Mayanmarese salad made with medicinal pennywort leaves mixed with coriander, tomatoes, chilis, onions, and soybean paste. It can be a main dish or part of a larger spread of Mayanmarese dishes.
14. Let Thoke Sone
Let thoke sone, a hand-tossed mixed salad, consists of more than one type of noodle and rice, seasoned with different dressings and finally mixed with the hands.
The beauty of this unique dish is that it is fully customizable. Let thoke sone is a unique dish from Myanmar’s food culture, for which, you can choose ingredients and dressings as you like.
15. Mezali Phu Thoke: Cassia Flower Bud Salad
A festive Mayanmarese salad traditionally served during the full moon day of Tazaungmon of the Tazaungdaing Festival, known as the Festival of Lights, is believed to have curative medicinal properties.
Burmese Sticky Rice Dishes
Rice is the principle stable in Mayanmarese cuisine, reflecting several millennia of rice cultivation. Growing rice is what the majority of the rural population does and so it’s not surprising that everyday terms for distance and time involve the planting and cooking of this staple food.
Various types of sticky rice foods reflect the rural living styles of the Mayanmarese people.
Htamane is a ceremonial dish served as part of the harvest festival, which occurs on and around the 11th month of the Mayanmarese calendar to celebrate the end of winter.
This traditional savory dish is primarily made with a mixture of glutinous rice, fried coconut shavings, roasted peanuts, toasted sesame, ground nut oil, and ginger.
17. Nga Cheik Paung & Kauk Nyin Paung
As one of the everyday breakfast options for the Mayanmarese people, nga cheik paung, made with purple sticky rice, and kauk nyin paung, made with white sticky rice, are wholly popular throughout the country.
They are steamed sticky rice mixd with beans and a mixture of salt and sesame seeds served with a variety of fritters or grated coconut, and usually served on a banana leaf.
18. Khaw Pote Kyaw
A sticky rice cake, khaw pote is made by cooking and pounding white or purple sticky rice without frying or roasting. When it is fried, it becomes khaw pote kyaw. Khaw poat kyaw is not only an appetizing snack of the Shan people but also a popular snack for all nationals.
19. Kauk Nyin Kyidauk: Sticky Rice in Bamboo
Kauk nyin kyidauk, sticky rice in bamboo, is a seasonal food among the many traditional foods made with Myanmar rural products, especially in Upper Myanmar. Among the various types of bamboo, only the bamboo of Tin (Cephalostachyum pergracile Munro, TIn wa in Burmese) is used as it works well for cooking on a fire.
20. Oil rice: si-htamin
Oil rice is also a popular Myanmar breakfast, served by sprinkling salted roasted-peanut powder and coconut shreds on it. It can be found in every market in Myanmar.
Burmese snacks vary in type and are served as seasonal dishes, ceremonial or festive dishes, street foods, desserts, and so on. Most of these mouse-watering snacks can easily be found in traditional restaurants or on the streets.
21. Shwe Kyi
Shwe kyi is a delicious traditional teatime semolina cake prepared with coconut cream and semolina, often served in a diamond-shape. Shwe kyi is also called sanwin makin, depending on whether additional ingredients like walnuts or raisins are in the mix. This snack is a must-eat dessert and can be eaten warm or cold.
22. Mont Lone Yay Paw: Round Snack on Water
Mont lone yay paw, meaning ,round snack on the water, is a traditional Mayanmarese sweet snack shaped into smooth balls by combining glutinous rice flour, rice flour, water, and salt. The balls are typically filled with palm jiggery or sugar.
This sweet receives its name from the tendency of the rice balls to float to the surface of the boiling water in which they’re cooked. Shredded or desiccated coconut is often sprinkled over them.
Being a seasonal food, it can be called Thingyan, typically prepared for the festive Myanmar New Year, known as Thingyan or Water Festival, which celebrated by the entire country.
23. Htoe Mont
Htoe mont is a traditional Mayanmarese dessert which is a glutinous rice cake cooked with raisins, cashews, and coconut shavings and is consistently prodded during the cooking process. Regionally popular ones are Mandalay htoe mont and pathein halawa(a kind of htoe mont).
24. Mont Paung
Mont Paung is another Mayanmarese traditional snack and is made by steaming rice flour, jiggery, coconut shavings, and red beans. This snack is reflective of the middle dry zone of the country.
25. Mont Lin Ma Yar: Quail Egg Snack
Photo credit to Myfood Myanmar
This snack’s name, mont lin ma yar can be affectionately translated as the couple, or husband and wife, snack. The popularity of the dish is due to its two sides joined into a round bite-sized ball of quail eggs, chickpeas, and a dash of pepper. The two halves are grilled separately to golden-brown perfection and then combined into a single piece.
They are eaten together, without separately them, because it’s like two lives becoming one. You can find it sold quite cheaply in every city of the country, and it comes with various toppings, such as tomatoes or chickpeas, or plain — all of which are equally joyful to snack on.
Myanmar people have a long tradition of preparing food in their own way and its history comes from the different cultures and ethnicities that have influenced it, as well as religion, culture, and arts.
If you travel to Myanmar, there are some iconic foods that you must try. They vary from the lowland Admen shores to the great mountain ranges. You simply have to sample every dish you can.
Related: Most Popular Burmese Desserts