Myanmar

Discovering new cuisine in Myanmar

If you stop for a moment and imagine you are tasting a typical dish from Myanmar, what comes to mind?  If you’re anything like me, you can’t imagine much about the cuisine at all.  So what a wonderful surprise to discover such a diverse and delicious array of fresh and tasty food.  Influenced by its neighbours Thailand, India, Nepal and China, plus with a huge number of ethnic minorities, there is a huge variety of flavoursome, healthy, fresh tastes.  It’s perhaps best described as Asian fusion with its own unique twist.

Wherever you go however, the staples seem to remain fairly consistent: rice, rice and rice.  However ginger, garlic and tomatoes are also ubiquitous.  Rice and curry are the foundation of the meals, but with their own Burmese twist .  There’s lots of fresh vegetables, fruit and also plenty of seafood.  Well at least at Inle Lake I saw plenty!  The flavours were strong, but not too spicy or hot, despite the vast amount of chilli that we saw being grown in the Kalaw region.

One of the more unusual ingredients was tea, and no I don’t mean a good brew!  The Tea Leaf Salad is very popular, a kind of a build-your-own, which includes a range of other ingredients: garlic, onion, dried peas or beans, peanuts, sesame seeds or even tomato.  The tea leaves are quite bitter and the other flavours help to offset that bitterness.  I tried it, but in honesty can’t say I was a big fan.  The bitterness takes some getting used to!

Myanmar

Tea leaf salad on the right, some traditional sweets on the left. I didn’t try them, but apparently teeth-achingly sweet.

There were a number of delicious meals.  One in particular was at the Everest Cafe, in Kalaw.  This was exceptionally good – meals were served with a range of chutneys and pickles that were mouthwateringly good.  Plus hearing the stories from the elderly Nepalese lady who had come to Myanmar as a child was an added bonus.  However in truth we had excellent food wherever we went.

Even when we were on our overnight stay in the monastery, with a kitchen that seemed to consist of not much more than an open fire in a shack, we were served an outstanding meal.  Starting with lentil and vegetable soup (really delicious!) we went on to a variety of curries and side dishes: fish, chicken, bean, cauliflower, carrot, potato….and of course rice.  Good hearty food that kept us well nourished for the hiking days.

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This humble kitchen produced an exceptionally tasty meal on our hike

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Hiking dinner – yum!

We also visited a number of markets, including the weekly market at Inle Lake.  This was a huge market selling anything from clothing, jewellery, spare parts and of course food!  It was a community hub and meeting place.  While mostly this was where people came to stock up on their supplies, they would also hear the latest gossip, and according to our guide, it was the top spot for meeting a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Beats Tinder I am sure!

Something that really surprised me was the really nice local wine that we tried.  I was a little dubious when I saw local wine on the list, however after a cautious sampling, I realised it was better than just drinkable, it was actually delicious!  We soon discovered that there were two main labels available at hotels and restaurants.  Aythaya Wine soon became our firm favourite.  Started by a German man, it is located in the southern part of Shan State, not too far from Inle Lake.  We drank the red everywhere we went and were never disappointed.

The other winery was started by a French man, Red Mountain Winery, and is also situated near to Inle Lake, and is the one that we visited for some wine tasting.  It’s a beautiful setting, high above Nyaungshwe township with gorgeous views.  It’s a very pleasant place to spend an hour or so, enjoying the sunshine and tasting the wine.  I have to say however, I was a not a fan of the wine, best described as a blend of “moonshine and juice”.

I loved the variety and diversity of the food in Myanmar and surprised myself by ending up a big fan of the local cuisine.  Now I just have to find a local restaurant back in Australia to satisfy my whims!

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Wine tasting at Red Mountain Winery

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Meal time

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Rice – the staple in Myanmar!

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So many delicious fresh fruit and vegetables

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Markets in Yangon

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Fishmonger at Yangon

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Fresh green flavours at a market in Yangon

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Making crackers

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Selling tea leaves for salad

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Delicious dumplings

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Tea leaf seller, Inle Lake

Myanmar

At the market, Inle Lake

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At the market, Inle Lake

Myanmar

Fresh fruit

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Tomato, tomato! Sorting at the factory.

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Beautiful meal at Inle Lake

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Starters – delicious!

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