It is hardly a surprise that Myanmar cuisine has taken things from many different people. The proximity of both China and India was always bound to play a role but that is only part of the story. Burma, as it was until just under 30 years ago, was under British control for many years though the only effect that had in terms of cuisine was that Indians came in great numbers to fulfil many roles, and brought their food with them. The origins of the Bamar are South West China while the Shan, the Mon and Rakhine have each found a place in popular dishes. Those on an organised Myanmar holiday will have most of their arrangements, meals and accommodation, made for them but they will always have some free time. Street food is certainly something to try if your Myanmar travel package does not include it. If you buy from a busy street vendor it will certainly be fresh and you can wash your meal down with a beer.
Some of the popular dishes obviously have links with India; thali, samosas with a variety of fillings, chapatis and curry are found throughout South East Asia and those on Indochina travel packages will have a chance to sample regional variations.
• Rice is common of course both as it normally comes but also in dishes of noodles (Kausuetho) with lemon and masala spices as a good lunch, wrapped in banana leaves (Hinto) with vegetables, a dish originating with the Shan people and the unofficial national dish of Myanmar (Mohinga), usually a breakfast of rice vermicelli in fish shop with garlic, ginger and lemon grass.
• Fish and products made from fish are central to Myanmar cuisine. Fish sauce and fermented seafood are common with coastal regions enjoying fish from the sea and inland regions more commonly freshwater fish. Meat and poultry are more common inland.
Locals tend to eat sitting down next to low tables with a typical meal having rice as the main ingredient. There will be fish or meat, soup and vegetables, usually boiled. The oldest members of the family are always served first. Locals use their right hand to eat, making a ball of rice to eat. Where there are dishes of noodles and salads, chopsticks and more commonly just a spoon is used. Green tea will usually be served, but after the meal is over.
Buddhists will avoid beef and the few Muslims pork. During Buddhist lent, three months in mid-summer, vegetarian dishes are included, and devout Buddhists may eat just vegetarian meals.
Ingredients are inevitably fresh with fruit and vegetables readily available.
• There are plenty of herbs and when it comes to curries ginger and garlic are central.
• Ngapi is a paste of salted or fermented fish or shrimp; it is in every kitchen together with several condiments such as pickled fruits and vegetables and a paste made from soy beans.
• Fruits are commonly served as desserts with mango, durian, guava, papaya and jackfruit just small examples of what is available.
As already mentioned green tea will be offered at the end of a meal though tourists on a Myanmar holiday will have plenty of alternatives both in restaurants and on the street. Local beer is cheap but not unnaturally imported alcohol is fairly expensive. It is best to drink bottled water and soft drinks while locals drink a spirit that they make from sugar cane. It is important to be careful when drinking anything distilled locally, especially in the more remote parts of the country. There is a conservative religious element in Myanmar that frowns upon alcohol but tourists need not worry about their personal consumption when on a Myanmar travel itinerary.