I don’t think we knew what to expect from Myanmar cooking, but we ended up finding some gems during our culinary exporations. Burmese meals often consist of a buffet of meat and seafood curries sitting in a ton of oil that you pick by pointing at what you want, and are served with a vegetable soup (the ones we had were sour, leafy, and actually quite tasty), rice, a big plate of fresh veggies and herbs, chili and fish-based dips, and vegetable side dishes, which ranged from delicious pumpkin curry to cabbage that tasted as though it had been fermenting in cheap beer for a bit too long. In sum, these buffets were pretty hit or miss, and every time we found ourselves at one that looked less than appealing, we always felt it would be rude (and too late) to walk out of the restaurant, so we definitely ended up eating some underwhelming and over-oiled meals a few times.
However, we had read about the various noodle dishes from Shan state, a large state in eastern Myanmar where we spent about half our time. We sought these out at hotel breakfasts, from street shacks whenever hunger would strike, and at tea houses, and we were never disappointed. The noodles were soft and chewy, the broth was simple but tasty, and the ingredients ranged from sliced pork to fried chicken to fish balls. Throw in a few sprigs of herbs and top if off with as much chili powder as you want, and you have a delicious meal! Here are a few of the dozens of noodle bowls we happily slurped up:
Another Myanmar specialty worth mentioning is laphet, a fermented tea leaf salad. The tea leaves are mixed with other ingredients such as peanuts, cabbage, sesame seeds, crunchy fried peas, and lime juice, and it actually makes for a refreshing and tasty salad with a satisfying mix of crunchy and soft textures. The only problem is the caffeine: I spent a very sleepless night after eating this dish at dinner one night!
Desserts were hard to find; we saw the occasional Indian-style milk-based sweet vendor and stumbled upon a few ice cream shops (found out the hard way that durian ice cream gives you onion breath), but we kept seeing this multi-colored concoction being ordered by the locals, often in plastic bags with a straw sticking out, and decided to give it a shot. Turns out it’s called shwe yin aye, and it can be described as a deconstructed pudding jello salad smoothie. What, your mouth isn’t watering yet?! Not to worry, it was actually not that bad. The puzzling dessert drink contained what we think was strawberry-flavored milk (but it could have easily been red dye + coconut milk), tapioca pudding, gelatinous fruity syrup(s), chunks of soft white bread, Jello, fresh coconut, raisins, ice, and probably a couple other ingredients we didn’t even recognize. While it probably won’t be winning any international culinary praise any time soon and is more likely to turn up in a hospital cafeteria, we were glad we sampled this mysterious refreshment!