Others neighbors also brought changes to Myanmar's diet,
including foods from the Middle East, which again arrived primarily via India and
foods and dishes from Thailand and other Southeast Asian
countries. Unlike in Thailand though, the food in Myanmar tends to be very mild
and in most areas today is less reliant on fish than much of Thailand is. Despite
this, many fruits and vegetables popular in other Southeast Asian countries are
also popular in Myanmar and can be found on numerous street corners.
The only influence from elsewhere comes from the Europeans
in the 1500s and the British who colonized the region
in the 1800s. In the 1500s the Europeans arrived to the region, however generally
bypassing Myanmar in favor of the southern water routes.
None-the-less, the Europeans brought new foods from both Europe as well as the Americas
through trading, which arrived to Myanmar in limited numbers. Many of these new
additions were added at a minimum, but nearly all can be found in local dishes if
one looks long enough. From the Americas came maize (corn), potatoes, chili peppers,
peanuts, tomatoes, and sweet peppers. From Europe came breads, pastries, cakes,
and some dairy products, including butter and cheese. Later the British introduced
new dining habits and foods, including making tea more popular among the people.
For much of the 1900s Myanmar has been isolated from most
of the world as common foods and drinks found in nearly every country are only beginning
to arrive in Myanmar. Fast foods, frozen meals, international brands, and even restaurants
are rare in Myanmar today, but this trend may change in the near future. In 2012
many countries opened diplomatic relations with Myanmar, allowing the introduction
of new foods and drinks, which has led to new competition between local brands and
historic restaurants with international brands. Although no fast food restaurants
currently exist (as of September, 2012), many major international brands, such as
Coke® appear to be making a move to enter the market. The food scene could change
dramatically over the next 5-10 years, but as of now little has changed in nearly
Ngapi: not a staple in the true sense, ngapi
is a fish or shrimp paste used in many Burmese dishes
Noodles: noodles are a common base in numerous dishes
Palata: thin greasy bread also known as paratha
Rice: rice is usually cooked and served as sticky rice and accompanies
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Mohinga: the national dish is simply fish broth with noodles,
but it comes in numerous varieties
Dining in Myanmar is confusing at best. Due to their past
with attachments to India, but being under British control, there is an odd combination
of both these dining cultures in Myanmar while the country has only recently begun
to open up to the rest of the world. Because of this quickly changing environment
dining could be vastly different from restaurant to restaurant or home to home,
even in the same city.
When meeting with locals try to arrive on time and remove your shoes before entering
the house or restaurant if others have done so before you. Greet everyone upon arrival,
beginning with the elders and wait to be shown a seat as elders are generally seated
first and your host may show you to a pre-assigned seat.
As you sit down you may encounter a few different settings, most likely two extremes.
Most people eat with their right hand and don't use any sort of dining utensil
(cutlery) except in the case of noodles, when chopsticks are used. In these settings
you may be asked to wash your hands prior to eating and remember to never touch
any food with your left hand. However due to the British
influence many other places will offer a fork, spoon, and sometimes even a knife
as you are expected to dine in the more formal continental style. As you walk into
a home or restaurant your host may automatically assume it is easier for you to
use a fork and spoon so will offer you these items, while in other situations you
are asked to eat solely with your right hand. If offered only a fork and spoon (no
knife), use the spoon in the right hand to eat from and hold the fork in the left
hand to push food onto the spoon, but don't eat from the fork.
When the meal arrives, the dishes are generally placed in the middle of the table
for all to share; serving and eating begins in order of age and honor so don't
begin until you're directed to do so by your host. You may also notice your
host taking a bit of rice and placing it on the table in the absence of elders;
this is a tradition in honor of those who have passed. If serving yourself, be sure
to never touch the serving spoon to your plate as your plate is considered unclean.
When you are finished eating, be sure to finish all the food on your plate and in
your bowl as leaving any food behind is considered wasteful and rude. Once the food
is done, place your chopsticks together on top of your rice bowl or on the chopstick
rest next to your plate if you have one. If you have a fork, spoon, and/or knife
place these together face down on the plate at the 5:00 position to indicate that
you have finished eating.
If you are dining in a restaurant you may have to go to the register to get and
pay for your bill as servers will rarely bring a bill to your table (unless you
specifically ask them to) as that is considered rude. Tipping is still a foreign
concept in Myanmar and as few foreigners make it to Myanmar
no one expects a tip. Even in high end hotels and restaurants tips aren't expected,
but there are few of these in the country.
Celebrations & Events
Although Myanmar has numerous celebratory events, few have
close ties to particular foods served at each. All of these events, including weddings,
anniversaries, birthdays, New Year, etc., usually serve authentic Lao dishes and
personal favorites for those who are being celebrated.
Myanmar is one of the few countries in the world without
Coke, however this is quickly changing as the country is opening up and trade embargos
are being lifted. Due to the long period of time with these embargoes though most
international brands are only beginning to enter the country as numerous local varieties
of soft drinks, coffee, tea, juices, and alcoholic beverages have been around for
years. Although local soft drinks do exist, the country is better known for their
coffee, which is typically served with sugar and milk. Sugar cane juice is another
local favorite worth a try for the person with a high sweetness tolerance.
When it comes to alcoholic drinks in Myanmar, beer and whiskey
reign supreme. Most of the available beers are regional brands, like "Tiger"
and "Angkor," but the domestic "Mandalay" beer is also a decent
choice. Whiskey is also oddly popular, and other hard liquors also exist, although
again they tend to be local versions and are often flavored. Wine is not a commonly
consumed drink in Myanmar and finding decent quality wine may be quite a challenge.
The tap water in Myanmar should not be consumed. Be sure
to also avoid anything with ice as it may have been made from the tap water. Salads
and fruits could have also been washed in the tap water so be careful with those
foods as well.