If you’re heading to Myanmar and want to know all about the food, then this is the perfect article for you. It includes recommendations, culture, photos, and video.
Burmese food is absolutely delicious, whether a meat or vegetarian dish and whether street food or in a restaurant. The flavors are intricate and in my five weeks traveling the country, I never found the exact same dish at two different places. Even the soups and salads vary in exact ingredients as well as proportions and flavor. Most foods are not spicy hot (the kind that burns your tongue).
Some links in this article may be to vendors that provide a small commission to me at no additonal cost to you.
The food is generally light, which makes sense in such a hot country—I was there during the hot dry season. I most often ate at cafes and street food stands where snacks and meals ranged from $0.25 to $2 USD. Eating in Myanmar is very affordable for the tourist.
I rarely ate at restaurants since you invariably receive a massive meal (practically an all-you-can-eat buffet) for about $4 to $8 USD. You should be prepared to get stuffed with numerous meat and vegetable dishes and unlimited rice. A Myanmar breakfast cost $1-$2 USD including tea and food.
I was taught by a Myanmar person that I can say “Burmese food”, but for people, I should say “Myanmar people” because this includes all the ethnic groups in Myanmar, including the Burmese and the Chin.
Introduction to Burmese Food
Burmese dishes vary by region somewhat; there is a huge variety of cooked food and to a lesser extent raw food. Burmese cuisine also includes flavors of other countries. For example, Burmese curry is very similar to Indian curry in the number of spices and the texture of the sauce. In fact, there are very good Indian restaurants in Yangon and throughout Myanmar. (There are many Indian people in the country, a hint of the British colonialist past.)
Tea Leaf Salad and More
Burmese salad is unique in that it can include fermented tea leaves mixed in with many other ingredients. Unlike western salads, there is no lettuce, so a small plate is very filling.
I was surprised by two things regarding tea leaf salad in Myanmar. First, I only found these salads twice, whereas I thought they would be extremely common since they’re popular in most of the Burmese restaurants I’ve eaten at in California. Second, the variety of salads is immense. In California, I’ve only seen ‘Tea Leaf Salad’.
Noodles, Soup, and Fish
Burmese noodles are common, and there are many types. The Chan noodles seem to be most popular and considered the best. The noodles are fresh and delicious.
A must try dish in Myanmar is the traditional food mohinga. Burmese food often involves fish in one form or another. Mohinga is a soup made of fish broth, rice noodles, vegetables, and is often topped with some crunchy flakes of something delicious (it’s not fried onion, but I’m not sure what it is exactly). The first time I had it was when a couple of local women invited me to join them for breakfast at a mohinga shop. We each had a steaming bowl.
Fishing is common throughout the length and breadth of the country and fish paste, a fermented dark gray-brown cream is smeared sparingly on rice dishes. The flavor is very strong, and I suggest you use very little the first time– even a small spoonfull is too much. Only add a slight smear on your rice. For more about the culture of fish for food, click here for my entire fish culture article.
Tea houses also often have noodles. I visited a 24-hour noodle house in Pakokku that was delicious. I’m sure it must get packed with people during meal times, but late at night it’s more of a café with people sitting at the tables, chatting, drinking tea, and having a snack.
In Myanmar breakfast can be the aforementioned mohinga fish broth soup. Or, you might find delicious fried bread, sometimes stuffed with sweet or savory items. Also, there are many Indian breakfast tea shops where you can get milk tea, fresh naan and lentils. Whenever possible, I always ordered an extra naan to go, for my mid-morning snack.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Myanmar
If you are vegetarian or want to try being vegetarian, it’s really easy in Myanmar. Many monks are vegetarian, so you’ll be in good company. Just check that any soup broth is not from meat. For example, if you go out for a multi-course meal at a restaurant, often only one dish contains meat.
If you explain tatalou when ordering, they should understand that you don’t eat meat.
Indian restaurants, noodle shops, salad stands, and tea houses have non-meat options.
Some foods that look like meat are actually made of tofu or some other plant-based food. For example, I told someone about the grilled shrimp I’d eaten at a night market, and they explained to me that the shrimp was probably made of flour and dyed with food coloring to appear like shrimp. No wonder it wasn’t very juicy! The food coloring had tricked me.
The website and travel app for vegetarian or vegan restaurants is Happy Cow.
Burmese Street Food
I mainly ate Burmese street food for lunch and dinner during my five weeks traveling through Myanmar. Myanmar street food is fresh and served quickly on the spot since it also serves many customers to take away.
Prepared food is not widely available from supermarket delis (my go-to food source in developed countries), and restaurant meals tend to be huge with all-you-can-eat rice and numerous dishes!
Burmese food off the beaten track tends to be cooked at home with very few, if any, night time restaurant options for tourists. Restaurants do not keep a lot of food overnight (power cuts prevent reliable refrigeration), so options may be limited, or food is cooked to order and takes a long time.
During my week in Lonton, on the shore of Lake Indawgyi, I frequented a woman’s noodle stand that she set up on the side of the road in the evenings. The short rectangular table sat 4 people, and half of it was her food preparation surface. She mixed our noodles in a bowl with a sauce. It was very basic but delicious. We would sit there in the night, pitch black darkness apart from the lantern at her table.
In cities, many street food stands place themselves on the sidewalk outside a building. Sometimes the building is another business, also owned by the family. Other times, the street food stand is directly outside a restaurant or café, seemingly as a smaller business run by a friend or family member of the restaurant owner.
Salads are made with fermented tea leaf, pennywort, or any other ingredients, and topped with crunchy bits like fried peanuts. I also had a papaya salad that was delicious but had so much spicy pepper I could barely take a few bites. Unlike western salads, they don’t have lettuce, so even a small portion is filling.
Unique Myanmar Food Experience
Matupi – Piglet in a Basket, Rooster in a Basket
I have never seen these types of basket for animal transport before. I was a bit… shall we say enthralled? The women selling these thought it was pretty hilarious that I was fascinated by these. I must have taken 50 photos of the roosters!
Then, I spotted another basket roll side to side ever so slightly, but no rooster. The women told me it was a piglet inside! Unfortunately, the piglets in a basket were not quite so photogenic.
Free Meals During the Water Festival
Visiting Myanmar during the Water Festival (April) I found that the small communities near Hpa An (a great area for caves with buddhist statues and rituals inside!) give free meals. Anyone can come and eat and the places are filled with locals. If you see one, just walk up and join in! You sit and someone will bring you a plate of food or you’ll be instructed to serve yourself from a pot on the table.
Invariably someone with English language skills welcomed me and explained what I should do. These events are so welcoming!
And, if you’ve learned how to eat with your hands (no utensils) in the traditional manner, go ahead and practice. I had horrible skills (messier than a 4-year-old!), but the other people at my table were thrilled watching me attempt and one guy gave me a thumbs up gesture. Just ask where the handwashing area is if you don’t see it. It’s stocked with plenty of soap and water.
Invited Into a Family’s Home
I love learning all about food, from the trip to a field, stream, or market for a collection of ingredients to the preparation to the cooking to the (very best part) eating. An invitation into a family’s home gives insight into the full process of food reaching the plate.
Kitchens in the countryside typically have very little, if any, electricity. Food is often cooked over a fire, fueled by wood. One meal I had at a countryside home included deliciously fried frogs and not-so-delicious water snails from the pond on the property. We also picked cashews from the tree – if you don’t already know the labor-intensive process of getting a single nut, definitely have a look at the photos.
Where to Eat in Yangon, Mawlamyine, Hpa An, and Dawei
Yangon Street Food and Night Market
My favorite Yangon street food experience was when I was walking from the Jewish Synagogue back to my hotel. Just nearby I happened upon a mosque. I was getting hungry, and on the next block, I spotted a sugar cane juice stand. Whenever I found them, I learned to order two. The juice is sweet and so refreshing on the hot days.
Sitting there, I noticed a street food stand with the tiny tables and chairs in the middle of the street. Only a few people were at the tables, and generally, I prefer people since it is an indicator of the food quality. After my juice, I went there and had no idea what to order, or what the choices were I pointed at someone else’s plate.
The noodle dish was so delicious! Enjoying it in the middle of the street on a hot day is one of my lasting memories of Yangon. When I was done, I asked the man how much to pay. Twenty-five cents for one of my most memorable travel meals is quite the deal!
A night market is a great place for dinner, with tables and chairs provided by each vendor. Simply order from the vendor at their stand and select your food. Then, choose a table and the food will be served once it’s ready. The Yangon night market sells fruits and vegetables, but also a lot of food prepared on the spot, including seafood.
I did not eat at a Yangon tea house, but once you arrive, you can easily find them. Just ask at your hotel reception or use Google Maps to search your surrounding area. Honestly, there are so many places to eat in Yangon—it’s a big city! There must be hundreds or thousands of restaurants in Yangon, apart from the tea houses, street food, and night market.
As for a vegetarian restaurant in Yangon, I imagine there are some, but I wouldn’t suggest going out of your way to find it. The street food is often vegetarian, and restaurants would have tofu and vegetable dishes.
Mawlamyine Night Market and Main Market
The Mawlamyine night market is on the wide promenade beside the Irrawaddy River. Vendors sell grilled food cooked on the spot. I loved this place enjoying the crowded, family atmosphere along with the cool breeze coming off the river after a steaming hot day of sight-seeing.
Keep an eye out for the walking vendors on the edge of the market selling fried Burmese snacks, which appear quite Indian to me. They carry the cook stove and pot of oil. When you order, they’ll set it on the ground and cook your snack in front of you.
There’s also a popular Indian restaurant in town that is very good. Ask around– it’s on the same waterfront road as the night market.
The market itself has a lot to see in terms of fresh food.
Dawei Restaurant and Tea Leaf Salad Stand
On my very first evening in Myanmar, a tourist couple and I were wandering together debating where to find a good meal, since we’d just had a long overland journey from Thailand. I asked a passing expat if he could recommend a place, and he invited us to join him for “the best meat in Myanmar” and a beer. Our meal was followed by a visit to his friends’ bar and then to a Hindu festival that night where men walked on burning coals and climbed an obscenely tall ladder!
Another night in Dawei, I wandered looking for dinner and happened upon a table on the street where a woman was making tea leaf salad, among many others. Photos of the food are in another section above, but it was a a table placed just outside another small business. It was only open at night.
Hpa An Food
Read my countryside food experience with a local turned Myanmar rock star! Talk about locavore eating—the food is from the property where we ate lunch.
Restaurant – a great place for a cold beer, if that’s your thing. Also, the English menu has lots of options making it fun and easy to explore various Myanmar dishes and salads.
Sweet Drink café – This place was my favorite! I love cold drinks that aren’t carbonated (this rules out beer and soda). These sweet drinks are so sweet if you get the wrong kind. The owner is a really nice woman who will help you order if you’re not familiar with these kinds of sweet, cold drinks.
Indian café – Get there early for breakfast, as they sell out! From the Soe Brothers Guest House near the clock tower, walk towards the clock tower crossing through the main intersection. The cafe is across the street (on your right).
Inle Lake Food
Visit Paw Paw restaurant and try the tea leaf salad. Someone on Facebook recommended this place. I did not visit Inle Lake myself.
Getting Sick and Choosing Good Food
I got sick from a fruit juice drink once. I think the fruit just didn’t sit well in my stomach since it didn’t have ice or any other commonly known risk. Otherwise, I never got sick from food in Myanmar. This was despite eating salads, ice, and items made where the food preparer touches the food with their hands. For advice on eating street food safely and other food-related tips, click here for my article on that.
Whenever possible, take normal precautions, like avoiding tap water. I actually prefer street food over restaurant food. Street food is cooked in front of me and I can see how fresh it is and ask the cook about the ingredients if anything seems doubtful. Refrigeration in Myanmar is unreliable due to power cuts throughout the country’s cities and countryside.
I choose restaurants that are obviously family run and / or had locals eating the food. In my opinion, a family run restaurant means the family is also eating the food and will ensure it is prepared and stored properly, so safe to eat.
If my server steered me away from a certain dish I took their advice. Many Myanmar people have either worked in Thailand with expats or tourists or have family members who have. Their experience with the preferences of western palates was helpful for me.
Myanmar Cooking Class, Burmese Cookbooks, Other
Want to try cooking Burmese food yourself? Click here for some great cookbooks to choose from. The Burma Superstar cookbook is from the San Francisco California restaurant that is now a small chain in the region. And, the food is so delicious there!
And, click here for a listing of cooking classes around Myanmar. You can learn to cook anywhere from Inle Lake to Mandalay to Dawei.
Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown TV Episode
Season 1, Episode 1.
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