The food of Myanmar is a little more oily and a little less spicy than what we’re used to in Southeast Asia, and it is is not quite as diverse as foodie neighbours Thailand, China and India, but influences from all three mean there is an eclectic variety of flavour packed food. And while undertaking our #escapers17 adventures we want to try it all.
But, and there is always one of those, our time in Myanmar is short and our #escapers17 schedule is tight, which means Raffles and I can’t devote the same amount of time to face stuffing as we normally would on a trip like this. That’s OK, we’re nothing if not resourceful and the Yangon streets we are racing around are heaving with makeshift sidewalk stalls selling all kinds of interesting, and mostly unidentifiable, foods. And we are quite prepared to risk indigestion by tasting as many of them as we can… on the run.
Like most of South East Asia, the food of Myanmar is based around a delicate balance of sweet, sour and salty notes and a slavish devotion to fish sauce and funky fermented ngapi (fish or shrimp paste).
Fermentation is quite the thing in Myanmar. Even tea leaves are not immune as, in this country, they are not only downed in a nice cuppa, but fermented and eaten in salad. National favourite Laphet Thoke (pickled tea leaf salad) is mouth-watering, the fermented tea leaves combined with chopped cabbage, dried shrimp, fish sauce, lime, dried garlic and roasted nuts, tomato and chilli to irresistible effect.
We are lucky enough to learn how to recreate the dish during a cooking class challenge at Inle Lake’s The Shan Restaurant and the recipe is one I am keen to share as soon as I track down the best place to buy pickled tea leaves in Australia.
Indeed, there is not much the people of Myanmar won’t attempt to turn into a salad (thoke). But these are not salads as Raffles and I know them (or regularly attempt to dodge). These are crunchy and refreshing with thinly sliced vegetables and loads of piquant green mango tossed in fish sauce, lime juice and topped with everything from nuts to dried prawns. And they are good.
Another extremely popular dish is Myanmar’s breakfast of champions, mohinga, a bowl of thick rice noodles in a soup made with river catfish, thickened with chickpea flour then sprinkled with deep fried fritters, which I slurp down happily every morning.
Teahouses too are a big part of everyday life in Myanmar. They are popular places for people meet to drink, eat and set the world to rights. The tea is steaming hot, milky and oh so sweet, thanks to the wads of condensed milk they dollop into it.
While meat and seafood dishes are abundant, there are plenty of options for vegetarians with many of the street foods we spy appearing to be based around variations of cabbage and bean curd.
Pockets of what appears to be bean curd skin are stuffed with cabbage, vegetables, pickled something or other and nuts, and are ridiculously tasty.
Another popular street snack is Mont Lin Ma Yar (husband and wife snacks), crispy rice pancake creations, which prove irresistible to both mother and son. The tiny savoury cakes are grilled as two individual halves and topped with quail eggs, scallions, or roasted chickpeas, then joined together to make little balls around the same size as Japanese Takoyaki. They are utterly addictive and we grab a bag every time we spot them.
Then there are the bugs!
While we’ve tried loads of them before, with varying degrees of success, Yangon’s insect offerings have Raffles gagging in the gutter.
But a couple of the city’s ubiquitous samosas soon sorts him out.
Much to our excitement, curries are also extremely popular and generally served with buttery paratha flatbread. They tend to be more sour and salty than what we’ve become accustomed to in Asia, but are really quite wonderful.
Craving one of the tamarind-spiked, sour and salty curries from our adventures, Raffles and I have hit the kitchen knock up our own take on Burmese cuisine with this delicious Burmese Pork Curry with Mango Salad. Enjoy!
- 4cm length of ginger, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 3 eschalots, chopped
- 1 tsp. ngapi (shrimp paste)
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp. dried chilli flakes
- 1 tsp. turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 kg pork neck, cut into 5cm chunks
- 1 lemongrass stalk, bruised and halved
- 2 tsp. fish sauce, plus extra, to taste
- 500ml chicken stock
- 500ml water
- 1 tbsp. palm sugar
- 2 tbsp. tamarind paste
- Juice of half a lime
- Steamed rice (optional) and lime wedges, to serve
- 1 green mango, peeled, julienned
- 2 eschalots thinly sliced
- 2 long red chillis, seeded, thinly julienned
- ½ cup mint leaves
- ½ cup unsalted toasted peanuts, chopped
- 2 tbsp. fried garlic
- 2 tbsp. lime juice
- 1 tbsp. fish sauce
- 1 tbsp. palm sugar
- In a mortar and pestle pound garlic, ginger, onion and ngapi until it forms a smooth paste.
- Heat a large skillet on medium-high and add oil.
- Add paste, chilli, turmeric and stir for one minute.
- Add tomato paste and stir.
- Add pork, stirring to coat meat, and cook for about 15 minutes, until pork is browned.
- Add lemon grass and fish sauce and mix before topping with stock and water.
- Bring mixture to a boil then reduce and cook, stirring occasionally, for around 1½ hours or until pork is tender.
- Add palm sugar, tamarind and lime juice to taste and cook, lid off, for another 10 minutes to reduce sauce and serve.
- For the mango salad mix lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar thoroughly and set to one side.
- Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl, reserving fried garlic and nuts, and mix together gently with dressing.
- Top with dried and nuts garlic and serve with curry and rice.
Disclosure: While we had to work for it, competing in and completing challenges, Raffles & I were hosted by the fabulous folk at AccorHotels, Scoot Airlines, Tiger Air and Asia Holidays during the incredible Myanmar leg of our #escapers17 adventure. However, all opinions and stuffing of faces is our own.