On arrival the foods of Myanmar seemed less interesting to me than most places we have been. But four weeks in to our visit I have really learned to appreciate the cuisine, and in fact a few dishes have become favorites – the surprising foods of Myanmar.
Local and Fresh
Besides eating as often as possible at authentic restaurants where the locals eat, we made an effort to find a cooking school in the village Nyaungshwe, the town closest to where we are staying on Inle Lake. A little research online and I discovered the highly rated Bamboo Delights Cooking School. I’m very glad I did.
We met with our host from Bamboo Delights at the Nyaungshwe morning market. We were joined by two women traveling together from Germany, and a couple from the Netherlands who are on an extended journey like ourselves.
At the Market
We spent a good hour and a half exploring the wonderful morning market, gathering ingredients for our class as well as other ingredients for the Bamboo Delight Restaurant. Going to market with a local is always so interesting…with a guide you can ask questions and be informed not only about the products for sale but also the vendors selling them. Vendors are usually more likely to engage when you have an interpreter present.
Our guide was known by nearly everyone at the market, so we were well received. We learned about many of the local lake and river fish, as well as the produce grown and gathered around the area and brought daily to the market. We learned about the regional chickpea tofu, and the handmade tofu snacks and rice crackers. We learned that onion prices have recently skyrocketed and tomatoes often sell out early. So colorful and very interesting.
Learning to Cook
At the cooking school we each got to choose two dishes to make. It was hard to choose because all the choices sounded so good – but in the end we all tasted all 12 dishes we made and there was MORE than enough to go around.
I made Pennywort Salad, although we were unable to find Pennywort in the market so we used Snap Pea tendrils instead. Pennywort is a plant that grows wild and I’ve seen on many menus but didn’t know what it was. I also made steamed butterfish, a local river fish.
My husband Arne made Avocado Salad with rice crackers and a chicken and green pepper curry.
Other participants made Curry Butterfish, Pumpkin Curry, Chicken Curry with Lemongrass, Eggplant Salad, Tea Leaf Salad, Chickpea Tofu Curry, Stir Fry Vegetables with mushrooms, bokchoy and garlic and Green Onion Dumplings.
Other than the Tea Leaf Salad I had not eaten any of these dishes in Myanmar. I really enjoyed in particular the Chickpea Tofu Curry, the Pumpkin Curry and all of the salads. It was a real feast. I will definitely order these dishes again – the surprising foods of Myanmar.
Here in Inle Lake region we have also had three other really delicious local dishes. I’m pretty sure I could find the ingredients to make all of these at home. Served in multiple restaurants we have visited we enjoyed;
Braised Pork with Shan Tea Leaves – tender pork in a melt in your mouth sauce served with rice. Shan foods are always cooked over a wood fire and aren’t usually as spicy as other regional food.
Inle Spring Chicken with Cocunut – this dish in a rich and yummy coconut cream sauce with big chunks of boneless tender chicken. Inle Foods are usually cooked over charcoal instead of wood.
Grandmother Style Inle Beef – tender chunks of beef have been marinated in rice wine then braised and served in a tomato gravy.
Soup for Breakfast
Soup is a popular dish for breakfast in Myanmar and I have become a big fan. And why not? It’s warm and filling and a delicious way to start your day. Mohinga is a fish soup and is considered the national dish of Myanmar (as is the Tea Leaf Salad) and though usually served for breakfast it is now eaten any time of day. At the market we watched a women with a giant vat of Mohinga serving up bowls to the locals for their breakfast.
The beautiful resort we splurged on in Inle Lake (Myanmar Treasure Resort – I hight recommend) served a wonderful breakfast each morning with a wide variety of local and western options. Every morning a different soup was featured. My favorite soup was the local Shan Noodle Soup (see photo in title image) and the chicken Coconut Soup.
The Surprising Foods of Myanmar
Although the cuisine of Myanmar includes meat proteins, like in most Asian cuisines the meat does not feature as the main part of most dishes. Instead a wide variety of the freshest local vegetables, herbs, spices and fruits (both locally grown and locally gathered) as well as rich and flavorful broths, curries and stews.
The cuisine features peanuts in nearly every dish, and although I like peanuts I wish they were not so abundantly used. Also many dishes are heavily based in peanut oil, sometimes making a dish too rich for me.
Although chilies are often used, sometimes abundantly, the Myanmar cuisine is not nearly as spicy as the cuisine of Thailand…but watch out for that garlic. It’s used in great quantities. However certain dishes can be very spicy, like the Shan pork and vegetable salad we had a teeny restaurant in Nyaungshwe. It seemed to be bathed in spicy chili oil.
Coffee is pleasant not great, fruit juices are popular and beer is pretty much the standard Asian lager. It gets the job done. In Mandalay the local beer, called Mandalay, had a higher alcohol content. A popular drink is lime soda – fresh squeezed lime juice with club soda served with simple syrup on the side so you can sweeten to taste. Very refreshing.
Myanmar is proud of its locally made whiskey, rum and the country has several wineries.
Farewell and Thank you
So after a month in Myanmar I certainly am not starving. In fact the surprising foods of Myanmar are keeping me sated and curious. It’s a wonderful country all around, including the surprising foods of Myanmar.
Kye zu tin ba Myanmar. Thank you for a wonderful visit. Read last week’s blog about the Remarkable People of Inle Lake
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