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Burmese cuisine includes dishes from various regions of the Southeast Asian country of Burma (now officially known as Myanmar). The diversity of Myanmar's cuisine has also been contributed to by the myriad of local ethnic minorities. The Bamars are the most dominant group, but other groups including the Chin people also have distinct cuisines.
Burmese cuisine is characterized by extensive use of fish products like fish sauce and ngapi (fermented seafood). Owing to the geographic location of Myanmar, Burmese cuisine has been influenced by Chinese cuisine, Indian cuisine and Thai cuisine.
Mohinga is the traditional breakfast dish and is considered by many to be Burma's national dish. Seafood is a common ingredient in coastal cities such as Sittwe, Kyaukpyu, Mawlamyaing (formerly Moulmein), Mergui (Myeik) and Dawei, while meat and poultry are more commonly used in landlocked cities like Mandalay. Freshwater fish and shrimp have been incorporated into inland cooking as a primary source of protein and are used in a variety of ways, fresh, salted whole or filleted, salted and dried, made into a salty paste, or fermented sour and pressed.
Burmese cuisine also includes a variety of salads (a thoke), centered on one major ingredient, ranging from starches like rice, wheat and rice noodles, glass noodles and vermicelli, to potato, ginger, tomato, kaffir lime, long bean, lahpet (pickled tea leaves), and ngapi (fish paste). These salads have always been popular as fast foods in Burmese cities.
A popular Burmese rhyme sums up the traditional favourites: "A thee ma, thayet; a thar ma, wet; a ywet ma, lahpet" (အသီးမှသရက်၊ အသားမှဝက်၊ အရွက်မှလက်ဖက်။), translated as "Of all the fruit, the mango's the best; of all the meat, the pork's the best; and of all the leaves, lahpet's the best".
Traditionally, Burmese eat their meals from dishes on a low table, while sitting on a bamboo mat. Dishes are served simultaneously. A typical meal includes steamed rice as the main dish and accompanying dishes called hin, including a curried freshwater fish or dried/salted fish dish, a curried meat or poultry dish instead, a light soup called hin gyo (ဟင်းချို), called chinyay hin (ချဉ်ရည်ဟင်း) if sour, and fresh or boiled vegetables to go with a salty dish, almost invariably a curried sauce of pickled fish (ngapi yayjo) in Lower Burma. Fritters such as gourd or onions in batter as well as fish or dried tofu crackers are extra.
Out of respect, the eldest diners are always served first before the rest join in; even when the elders are absent, the first morsel of rice from the pot is scooped and put aside as an act of respect to one's parents, a custom known as u cha (ဦးချ, lit. first serve).
The Burmese eat with their right hand, forming the rice into a small ball with only the fingertips and mixing this with various morsels before popping it into their mouths. Chopsticks and Chinese-style spoons are used for noodle dishes, although noodle salads are more likely to be eaten with just a spoon. Knives and forks are used rarely in homes but will always be provided for guests and are available in restaurants and hotels. Drinks are not often served with the meal and, instead, the usual liquid accompaniment is in the form of a light broth or consomme served from a communal bowl. Outside of the meal, the Burmese beverage of choice is light green tea, yay nway gyan (ရေနွေးကြမ်း).
Chin cuisine is focused around rice, millet, and maize. A Christian ethnic group from western Burma's hills, the China were oppressed by the government in the 1960s, including a rice blocade, and many fled the country. Chin dishes are often boiled rather than fried in oil.
In traditional Burmese medicine, foods are divided into two classes: heating (အပူစာ, apu za) or cooling (အအေးစာ, a-aye za), based on their effects on one's body system, similar to the Chinese classification of food.
Examples of heating and cooling foods include:
- Heating foods:
- ice cream
- Cooling foods:
- dairy products
The Burmese also hold several taboos and superstitions regarding consumption during various occasions in one's life, especially pregnancy. For instance, pregnant women are not supposed to eat chili (for the belief that it causes children to have sparse scalp hairs).
The country's diverse religious makeup influences its cuisine, as Buddhists avoid beef and Muslims pork. Beef is considered taboo by devout Buddhists because the cow is highly regarded as a beast of burden. Vegetarian dishes are only common during the Buddhist Lent (Wa-dwin), a three-month Rains Retreat, as well as Uposatha sabbath days. During this time, only two meals (i.e. breakfast and lunch) are consumed before midday to observe the fasting rules (u bohk saunk) and abstinence from meat (thek that lut, literally 'free of killing') is observed by devout Buddhists. Throughout the rest of the year, many foods can be prepared vegetarian on request, but the bulk of Burmese food is prepared with fish or meat broth bases. Also, many of the several ethnic groups prepare at least one inherently vegetarian dish (notably cuisine from the Shan people).
The countries that border Myanmar, especially India, China and Thailand, have influenced Burmese cuisine. Indian influences are found in Burmese versions of dishes such as samosas and biryani, and Indian curries, spices and breads such as naan and paratha. Chitti kala (ချစ်တီးကုလား) or Chettiar (Southern Indian) cuisine is also popular in cities. Chinese influences in Burmese cuisine are shown in the use of ingredients like bean curd and soya sauce, various noodles as well as in stir frying techniques. As in neighbouring Thailand and Laos, fried insects are eaten as snacks.
Southern Myanmar, particularly the area around Mawlamyaing is known for its cuisine, as the Burmese proverb goes: "Mandalay for eloquence, Mawlamyaing for food, Yangon for boasting" (မန္တလေးစကား မော်လမြိုင်အစား ရန်ကုန်အကြွား).
Burmese dishes are not cooked with precise recipes. The use and portion of ingredients used may vary, but the precision of timing is of utmost importance. One of the few remaining pre-colonial cookbooks is the Sadawset Kyan (စားတော်ဆက်ကျမ်း, lit. Treatise on Royal Foods), written on palm leaves in 1866 during the Konbaung dynasty.
Depending on the dish at hand, it may be roasted, stewed, boiled, fried, steamed, baked or grilled, or any combination of the said techniques. Burmese curries use only a handful of spices (in comparison to Indian ones) and use more garlic and ginger. Dishes are prepared with plenty of oil in the case of curries and soups, and the level of spices and herbs varies depending on the region; Kachin and Shan curries will often use more fresh herbs.
Ingredients used in Burmese dishes are often fresh. Many fruits are used in conjunction with vegetables in many dishes. The Burmese eat a great variety of vegetables and fruits, and all kinds of meat. A very popular vegetable is the danyin thi, which is usually boiled or roasted and dipped in salt, oil and sometimes, cooked coconut fat.
The most common starch (staple food) in Myanmar is white rice or htamin (ထမင်း), which is served with accompanying meat dishes called hin (ဟင်း). Paw hsan hmwe (ပေါ်ဆန်မွှေး), fragrant aroma rice is the most popular rice used in Burma and is rated as high as the Thai fragrant rice or Basmati rice. Today, Myanmar is the world's sixth largest producer of rice, though in recent times less is exported and even domestic supplies cannot be guaranteed.
Glutinous rice, called kauk hnyin (ကောက်ညှင်း, from Shan kao niew ၶဝ်ႈၼဵဝ်) is also very popular. A purple variety known as nga cheik (ငချိတ်), is commonly a breakfast dish. Various noodle types are also used in salads and soups. Typically, vermicelli noodles and rice noodles are often used in soups, while thick rice and wheat noodles are used in salads. Palata (ပလာတာ), a flaky fried flatbread related to Indian paratha, is often eaten with curried meats while nan bya (နံပြား), a baked flatbread is eaten with any Indian dishes. Another favourite is aloo poori (အာလူးပူရီ), puffed-up fried breads eaten with potato curry.
Ngapi (ငပိ), a paste made from salted, fermented fish or shrimp, is considered the cornerstone of any Burmese meal. It is used in a versatile manner in that it is used in soup base, in salads, in main dishes and also in condiments. Popular varieties depend on the region.
The ngapi of Rakhine State contains no or little salt, and uses marine fish. It is used as a soup base for the Rakhine 'national' cuisine, mont di (မုန့်တီ). It is also used widely in cooking vegetables, fish and even meat.
In the coastal Ayeyarwady and Tanintharyi divisions, the majority of ngapi is instead based on freshwater fish, with a lot of salt. Ngapi is also used as a condiment such as ngapi yay (ငပိရည်), an essential part of Karen cuisine, which includes runny ngapi, spices and boiled fresh vegetables. In Shan State, ngapi is made instead from fermented beans, and is used as both a flavoring and also condiment in Shan cuisine.
Burmese cuisine is full of condiments, from sweet, sour to savory. The most popular are pickled mango, balachaung (shrimp and ngapi floss) and ngapi gyaw (fried ngapi) and preserved vegetables in rice wine (from Shan State). Ngapi plays a major part in condiments, as a dip for fresh vegetables.
Fermented beans, called pè ngapi, from the Shan State plays a major role in Shan cuisine. Dried bean ngapi chips are used as condiments for various Shan dishes.
Another bean based condiment popular amongst the Bamar and the central dry region is Pone Yay Gyi - a thick salty black paste made from fermented soy beans. It is used in cooking, especially pork, and as a salad, with ground nut oil, chopped onions and red chili. Bagan is an important producer of Pone Yay Gyi.
Myanmar has a wide range of fruits, and most are of tropical origin. However, some notable Western fruits such as strawberries are also popular. Durian, guava, and other fruits are commonly served as desserts. Other fruits include mango, banana, jackfruit, plum, lychee, papaya, pomelo, water melon, pomegranate, mangosteen, sugar-apple and rambutan.
Because a standardised system of romanisation for spoken Burmese does not exist, pronunciations of the following dishes in modern standard Burmese approximated using IPA are provided (see IPA for Burmese for details).
- Gyin thohk (ဂျင်းသုပ် [dʒɪ́ɴ θoʊʔ]), ginger salad with sesame seeds
- Khauk swè thoke (ခေါက်ဆွဲသုပ် [kʰaʊʔsʰwɛ́ θoʊʔ]), wheat noodle salad with dried shrimps, shredded cabbage and carrots, dressed with fried peanut oil, fish sauce and lime
- Kat kyi hnyat (ကပ်ကြေးညှပ် [kaʔdʒíɲ̥aʔ], lit. 'cut with scissors'), a southern coastal dish (from the Dawei area) of rice noodles with a variety of seafood, land meats, raw bean sprouts, beans and fried eggs, comparable to pad thai
- Kyay oh (ကြေးအိုး [tʃé ʔó]), vermicelli noodles in soup with pork offal and greens
- Let thohk sohn (လက်သုပ်စုံ [lɛʔ θoʊʔsòʊɴ]), similar to htamin thohk with shredded green papaya, shredded carrot, ogonori sea moss and often wheat noodles
- Mohinga (မုန့်ဟင်းခါး [mo̰ʊɴhíŋɡá]), the unofficial national dish of rice vermicelli in fish broth with onions, garlic, ginger, lemon grass and sliced tender core of banana-stem, served with boiled eggs, fried fish cake (nga hpe) and fritters (akyaw)
- Mont let saung (Burmese: မုန့်လက်ဆောင်း [mo̰unleʔsʰáʊɴ]), tapioca balls, glutinous rice, grated coconut and toasted sesame with jaggery syrup in coconut milk
- Nan gyi thohk (Burmese: နန်းကြီးသုပ် [náɲdʒí θoʊʔ]) or Mont di, thick rice noodle salad with chickpea flour, chicken, fish cake (nga hpe), onions, coriander, spring onions, crushed dried chilli, dressed with fried crispy onion oil, fish sauce and lime
- Ohn-no khao swè (အုန်းနို့ခေါက်ဆွဲ [ʔóunno̰ kʰaʊʔsʰwɛ́]), curried chicken and wheat noodles in a coconut milk broth similar to Malaysian laksa and Chiang Mai's khao soi
- Sanwin makin (ဆနွင်းမကင်း [sʰàɴwɪ́ɴ məkɪ́ɴ]), semolina cake with raisins, walnuts and poppy seeds
- Shwe gyi mohnt (ရွှေကြည်မုန့် [ʃwè dʒì mo̰ʊɴ]), hardened semolina (wheat) porridge with poppy seeds
- Shwe yin aye (ရွှေရင်အေး [ʃwè jɪ̀ɴ ʔé]), agar jelly, tapioca and sago in coconut milk
- Nga thalaut paung, a freshwater fish stewed in vinegar, soy sauce, tomatoes, and lemongrass
- A sein kyaw, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, green beans, baby corn, cornflour or tapioca starch, tomatoes, squid sauce
- Hpet htohk (lit. leaf wrap), meat, pastry paper, ginger, garlic, pepper powder, and salt. Usually served with soup or noodles.
- Htamin jaw (ထမင်းကြော် [tʰəmɪ́ɴ tʃɔ̀]), fried rice with boiled peas (pè byouk), the poor man's favourite breakfast
- Kawyei khao swè (ကော်ရည်ခေါက်ဆွဲ [kɔ̀ jè kʰaʊʔ sʰwɛ́]), noodles and curried duck (or pork) in broth with eggs.
- Mi swan (မီဆွမ် [mì sʰwàɴ]), very soft rice noodles, known as Mee suah in Singapore and Malaysia. It is a popular option for invalids, usually with chicken broth.
- Panthay khao swè (ပန်းသေးခေါက်ဆွဲ [pánθé kʰaʊʔ sʰwɛ́]), halal noodles with chicken and spices, often served by the Muslim Panthay Chinese.
- San byohk (ဆန်ပြုတ် [sʰàmbjoʊʔ]), rice congee with fish, chicken or duck often fed to invalids.
- Seejet khao swè (ဆီချက်ခေါက်ဆွဲ [sʰìdʒɛʔ kʰaʊʔ sʰwɛ́]), wheat noodles with duck or pork, fried garlic oil, soy sauce and chopped spring onions. It is considered an 'identity dish' of Myanmar and Burmese Chinese, as it is not available in other Chinese cuisines. Sarawak's Kolok mee is a bit similar.
- Wet Tha Dote Htoe, pork offal cooked in light soy sauce. Eaten with raw ginger and chili sauce.
- Danbauk (ဒန်ပေါက် [dàmbaʊʔ]), Burmese-style biryani with either chicken or mutton served with mango pickle, fresh mint and green chili
- Fried chapati, crispy and blistered, with boiled peas (pè-byohk), a popular breakfast next to nan bya
- Halawa, a snack made of sticky rice, butter, coconut milk, from Indian dessert halwa. In Burma halwa is referred to a loose form, something like smashed potato, without baking into a hard or firmer cake in contrast to Sa-Nwin-Ma-Kin.
- Hpaluda, similar to the Indian dessert falooda, rose water, milk, jello, coconut jelly, coconut shavings, sometimes served with custard and ice cream
- Htat taya ([tʰaʔ təjà]), lit. "a hundred layers", fried flaky multi-layered paratha with either a sprinkle of sugar or pè byouk
- Htawbat htamin, rice made with butter and mostly eaten with chicken curry
- Malaing lohn (မလိုင်လုံး [məlàɪɴ lóʊɴ]), Burmese-style gulab jamun
- Nan bya (နံပြား [nàmbjá]), Burmese-style naan buttered or with pè byouk, also with mutton soup
- Palata (ပလာတာ [pəlàtà]), Burmese-style paratha with egg or mutton
- Samusa (ဆမူဆာ [sʰəmùsʰà]), Burmese-style samosa with mutton and onions served with fresh mint, green chilli, onions and lime
- Samusa thohk (ဆမူဆာသုပ် [sʰəmùsʰà θoʊʔ]), samosa salad with onions, cabbage, fresh mint, potato curry, masala, chili powder, salt and lime
- Theezohn chinyay, lit. vegetable all-sorts sour broth, with drumstick, lady's finger, eggplant, green beans, potato, onions, ginger, dried chilli, boiled egg, dried salted fish, fish paste and tamarind
- Htamin jin (ထမင်းချဉ် [tʰəmíɲdʒɪ̀ɴ]), a rice, tomato and potato or fish salad kneaded into round balls dressed and garnished with crisp fried onion in oil, tamarind sauce, coriander and spring onions often with garlic, Chinese chives or roots (ju myit), fried whole dried chili, grilled dried fermented bean cakes (pè bouk} and fried dried topu (topu jauk kyaw) on the side
- Lahpet thohk (လက်ဖက်သုပ်) [ləpeʔ θoʊʔ]), a salad of pickled tea leaves with fried peas, peanuts and garlic, toasted sesame, fresh garlic, tomato, green chili, crushed dried shrimps, preserved ginger and dressed with peanut oil, fish sauce and lime
- Meeshay (မီးရှေ [míʃè]), rice noodles with pork and/or chicken, bean sprouts, rice flour gel, rice flour fritters, dressed with soy sauce, salted soybean, rice vinegar, fried peanut oil, chilli oil, and garnished with crisp fried onions, crushed garlic, coriander, and pickled daikon/mustard greens
- Papaya salad (သင်္ဘောသီးသုပ် [θin bau θi θoʊʔ])
- Shan tohu (ရှမ်းတိုဟူး [ʃáɴ tòhú]), a type of tofu made from chickpea flour or yellow split pea eaten as fritters (tohpu jaw) or in a salad (tohpu thohk), also eaten hot before it sets as tohu byawk aka tohu nway and as fried dried tohpu (tohu jauk kyaw)
- Shan khao swè (ရှမ်းခေါက်ဆွဲ [ʃáɴ kʰaʊʔswɛ́]), rice noodles with chicken or minced pork, onions, garlic, tomatoes, chili, crushed roasted peanuts, young vine of mangetout, served with tohu jaw or tohu nway and pickled mustard greens (monnyinjin)
- Wet tha chin (ဝက်သားချဉ် [wɛʔ θátʃʰɪ̀ɴ]), preserved minced pork in rice
- Wet tha hmyit chin (ဝက်သားမျှစ်ချဉ် [wɛʔ θá m̥jɪʔ tʃʰɪ̀ɴ]), pork with sour bamboo shoots
- Thingyan htamin (သင်္ကြန်ထမင်း) - fully boiled rice in candle-smelt water served with mango salad
- Htamane (ထမနဲ) – dessert made from glutinous rice, shredded coconuts and peanuts
- Banana pudding – dessert made from banana boiled in coconut milk and sugar
- Wet mohinga – like mohinga but vermicelli is served while wet
- Durian jam – also known as Katut jam
- Nga baung thohk (ငါးပေါင်းသုပ်) - Mixed vegetables and prawn, wrapped in morinda leaves and then banana leaves outside
- Sa-nwin makin (ဆနွင်းမကင်း) – dessert cake made from semolina, sugar, butter, coconut
- Mont di - an extremely popular and economical fast food dish where rice vermicelli are either eaten with some condiments and soup prepared from nga-pi, or as a salad with powdered fish and some condiments.
- Kya zan thohk - glass vermicelli salad with boiled prawn julien and mashed curried duck eggs and potatoes.
- Ngapi daung - an extremely spicy condiment made from pounded ngapi and green chili
- Khayun thee nga chauk chet - aubergine cooked lightly with a small amount of oil, with dried fish and chilli
- Nga-pyaw-thi-bohn - bananas stewed in milk and coconut, and garnished with black sesame. Eaten either as a dish during meals, or as a dessert.
- Saw-hlaing mont - a baked sweet, made from millet, raisins, coconut and butter
- Sut-hnan - millet cooked in sweet milk with raisins
Cha-om omelette - a popular dish with ladies
- Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma)
- "Myanmar Traditional Foods". Myanmar.com. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Saw Myat Yin (2011). Culture Shock! Myanmar: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. ISBN 9780761458722.
- [Burma] Afar magazine October 2012 page 108 by Matt Gross
- Saw Myat Yin (2007). Culture Shock!: Myanmar. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Inc. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-7614-5410-6.
- Meyer, Arthur L.; Jon M. Vann (2003). The Appetizer Atlas: A World of Small Bites. John Wiley and Sons. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-471-41102-4.
- Janssen, Peter (25 September 2012). "Good food in Rangoon, seriously". Yahoo! 7. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Khin Maung Saw. "Burmese Cuisine: Its Unique Style and Changes after British Annexation". Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Naomi Duguid (2012). Burma: Rivers of Flavor. Artisan. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-5796-5413-9.
- "Burma cyclone raises rice prices". BBC News. 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
- ႏိုင္းႏိုင္းစေန, . "စားမယ္ ၀ါးမယ္." ႏိုင္းႏိုင္းစေန. Google, 27 AUG 2012. Web. Web. 22 Mar. 2013. <http://www.99sanay.com/search/label/စားမယ္ ၀ါးမယ္>.
- Burmese Classic Team, . "Kitchen Corner." Burmese Classic: The Best Myanmer Website. Burmese Classic Inc., n.d. Web. 22 Mar 2013.
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