Food and Drink in Myanmar
Myanmar's cuisine has Burmese, Indian, Thai, and Chinese influences. Spices like cumin, garlic, cilantro, chilies, peanuts, lime, and coconut combine in dishes served over rice or noodles to make Myanmar's renowned salads and soups. Due to the plentiful fishing in Myanmar’s rivers, seafood is a large component of many meals.
Along Maha Bandula, a street in Yangon's Chinatown, cooking smells from countless street vendors inundate the senses. Tightly packed stalls display fresh fruits, vegetables, insects, fish, and meats.
Larger stalls serve up meals to locals and tourists alike. You’ll recognize these mini-restaurants by their small seating areas, furnished with knee-high tables and shin-high stools. Read a menu to see their typical offerings, and then check out the lengthy tables at the front for the most interesting options. Grab a basket and fill up on the wide selection of skewered chicken, pork, prawn, white snapper, sea bass, quail eggs, mushrooms, and various greens. Cooks prepare the food over an open charcoal fire and deliver the finished dish to your table.
Shan noodle is one of Myanmar’s most popular dishes. A delicious mixture of garlic, onions, cilantro, and peanuts are combined with noodles and made into a salad or a soup with the broth on the side. Chicken, pork, or prawns are usually added. The serving sizes are quite dainty, so asking for a double portion of protein can help bulk up your meal.
Another classic meal in Myanmar consists of 7 to 8 plates of fermented tomatoes, leafy salad, beef, chicken, pork, tamarind, bean paste, and fried rice. It's then up to you to mix the desired ingredients in your bowl over some steamed rice.
Fermented tea leaf salad is ubiquitous throughout the country and refreshing to nibble on in the tropical heat. A light mix of fermented leaves, lime juice, cumin seeds, peanuts, and cilantro create a distinct flavor. Seasoned tomato salads are also quite popular — they combine zesty cilantro and peppers with juicy, farm fresh tomatoes.
Ngapi is a type of relish that accompanies meals in Myanmar. There are several different types, made with either dried or fermented fish. As you can imagine, it has quite a strong taste, so try adding a tiny bit at a time.
Thai cuisine has gained popularity in Myanmar, including fried chicken and cashew nuts, which you will see on most menus. This hearty meal is an easy way to please less adventurous eaters. Throughout Myanmar, beef is very rare to see on menus. Unless you’re dining in a major city that caters to Westerners, the primary proteins are chicken, pork, and fish.
You can find Indian restaurants across Myanmar. They are especially common in Rakhine, the state that borders Bangladesh. Indian culinary influence is clear in the widely available flatbreads and lentil soups.
Pizzerias are also quite common these days, especially in the touristy areas. The prices are often very near the price of Western restaurants. For example, one will find that dinner at one of these wood oven pizzerias is five to six times the price of a meal at the local tea shop across the street.
Mon food has a wide variety of curries. They’re made with spices like chilies, galangal, and turmeric, along with savory shrimp paste. Sour flavors dominate the Mon pallet, from ingredients like cocinna leaves, tamarind, lemon, and fermented plum.
Eat your way through a variety of cuisine in the Central Valley – it used to be trade route between Southwestern China and the Bay of Bengal.
Tea and Tea Shops
Tea shops are found all over Myanmar and are the equivalent of the small town diner or coffee shop. They are gathering places where people sit and drink tea all day. The drink of choice is often a green tea from Shan State, and the mostly male clientele drink bottomless pitchers of the steamy brew while Myanmar soap operas play in the background. Different pastries are offered at each table, as well as classic Shan noodle dishes. Due to its close geographical proximity to the Yunnan Province of China, Mandalay tea shops also serve Chinese cuisine. Soft, doughy pork buns with spicy fillings make an enticing midday snack.
Fish is Myanmar’s favorite food, and you can find the country’s best fish at Ngapali Beach. Dozens of restaurants serve freshly caught fish right on the white sand beaches. Local fish include red snapper, sea bass, white snapper, tiger prawns, and octopus, as well as many small varieties of tropical fish.
If you’d like to prepare the fish yourself, you can book a boat trip with a captain who will catch fish on the way to your destination.
What to Drink
Tea is the most popular drink in Myanmar, and an integral part of the culture. Most local shops will always have a full pitcher of tea on the table. In the major cities, beer “stations” serve the tasty local Myanmar brew on draft as well as in bottles. Locally made rum and whisky are also readily available. Try a rum sour, a popular cocktail made from rum and freshly squeezed lime.
Fresh fruit juices such as pineapple, mango, watermelon, and lime are available around the country and are quite refreshing in the balmy Burmese weather. Just be sure to order without sugar, as it's customary to add spoonfulls of sugar to these already sweet drinks.
In Yangon, you can order a popular Indian drink known as a lassi. Banana or mango blended with yogurt and spices and poured over ice makes a cool nectar. It’s a lovely way to rejuvenate after walking around in the hot midday sun.
Coffee drinkers be warned: Outside of the major cities, you’ll quickly notice a complete lack of coffee options. Most commonly, restaurants offer only instant coffee. The popular "3-in-1" Nescafe combines instant coffee, powdered milk, and sugar, which is better than nothing, but a far cry from anything freshly brewed.
Frequently asked questions
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- How Much Do I Tip Drivers in Myanmar?
Taxi drivers do not expect a tip. For private transportation, around $5 to $10 per day is a decent tip.
- Does Myanmar Have Good Seafood?
Seafood is very popular in Myanmar and you can find lots of good seafood during your travels. Snapper and sea bass are common menu items. Prawns are a popular addition to noodle dishes. There’s also a condiment made of fermented fish called ngapi.
- How Should I Dress to Visit a Temple in Myanmar?
Modest dress is required for visits to temples. Wear long sleeves and long pants. If by some chance you arrive in less modest attire, a local monk may give you a robe or a modesty apron.
- What Kind of Dessert Do They Have in Myanmar?
Dessert is not a typical part of meals in Myanmar. You’ll find small shops selling sugary snacks, and baked plum sugar is a common sweet in Bagan. Street vendors sell sweet treats that revolve around banana and coconut, frequently served alongside fried dough.
- Is There Vegetarian Food in Myanmar?
Vegetarianism is not common in Myanmar. Fish and fish sauce are extremely prevalent. It is possible to get vegetarian options — you can typically find vegetable hot pot, as well as meat-free noodle dishes and curries. You can find also find a few popular vegetarian restaurants in major cities.
- Is Food the Same Everywhere in Myanmar?
You’ll find certain staples — like noodles, daal, and pickled tea leaves — are fairly ubiquitous in Myanmar. There are a few differences among regions, largely influenced by bordering countries like India and Thailand. The Rakhine State borders India, so this region’s cuisine has a stronger Indian influence. Of course, at Ngapali Beach you’ll find a greater prevalence of seafood, although fish is a popular choice everywhere in Myanmar. Big cities that get lots of visitors, like Yangon, will have Western options, which mostly come in the form of pizza restaurants.
- What is Food in Myanmar Like?
Fish, noodles, rice, flatbread, and lentils are important staples. You’ll notice Indian influence on the cuisine — daal and flatbreads are widely available. There are an increasing number of international options in the major cities.
- How Much Should I Tip After a Meal in Myanmar?
Modest tips are appreciated, although not necessarily expected. There’s no set rule on how much you should tip, but it’s perfectly acceptable to leave a small bill of 5,000 kyat. Of course, if you feel you’ve received exceptional service, leave a little more to show your appreciation.
- What Type of Alcohol is Available in Myanmar?
Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Myanmar and you can try some of the local brews in roadside stands. Western cocktails aren’t typically served in bars, but you can try a rum sour — a cocktail made of rum and lime.