Burmese cuisine

Burmese cuisine
An outdoor cafe in Yangon

Burmese cuisine includes a rich collection of dishes and meals found in various regions of the country, which is also known as Myanmar. Owing to the geographic location of Myanmar, Burmese cuisine has been influenced greatly by China, India and Thailand. However, Burmese cuisine has retained unique preparation techniques and distinct flavours, and there are many regional variations of "standard" dishes.

The diversity of Myanmar's cuisine has been contributed by the Burmese alongside the myriad of local ethnic minorities, neighbouring countries and immigrants from India and China. It is characterized by extensive use of fish products like fish sauce and ngapi. 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 rice, wheat and rice noodles, glass noodles and vermicelli, to potato, ginger, tomato, kaffir lime, lahpet (pickled tea), 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".


Eating customs

A typical Burmese meal

Traditionally, Burmese eat their meals from dishes on a low table, while sitting on a bamboo mat. Dishes are served more or less at the same time. 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 a Chinese style spoon 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).


A traditional Burmese meal includes a bowl of soup, rice, several meat curries, ngapi yay with tozaya (vegetables for dipping).

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, although it is increasingly eaten by Buddhists.[1] Pork is avoided by nat worshippers, as nats are believed to be averse to pork.[2] Vegetarian dishes are also common, especially 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 abstainance from meat (thek that lut, literally 'free of killing') is observed by devout Buddhists.

The countries that border Myanmar, especially India, China and Thailand, have influenced Burmese cuisine.[3] 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 influence in Burmese cuisine is 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.


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.


Burmese Pathein Paw San Hmwe

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 number six producer of rice, though in recent times less is exported and even domestic supplies cannot be guaranteed.[4]

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 byar (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) 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 others are commonly served as desserts. Other fruits include mango, banana, jackfruit, plum, lychee, papaya, pomelo, water melon, pomegranate, mangosteen, sugar-apple and rambutan.

Notable dishes

Mohinga, the national dish of Burma
Lahpet, a popular delicacy
Shwe yin aye is a popular and refreshing dessert

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[dʒíɴ θouʔ]), ginger salad with sesame seeds
  • Khauk swè thohk (ခေါက်ဆွဲသုပ်‌ [kʰauʔsʰwɛ́ θouʔ]), 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 θouʔsòuɴ]), similar to htamin thohk with shredded green papaya, shredded carrot, ogonori sea moss and often wheat noodles
  • Mohinga (မုန့်ဟင်းခါး [mo̰uɴhíŋɡá]), 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 [mo̰unleʔsʰáuɴ]), tapioca balls, glutinous rice, grated coconut and toasted sesame with jaggery syrup in coconut milk
  • Nan gyi thohk (Burmese: နန်းကြီးသုပ်‌ [náɲdʒí θouʔ]) 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 kʰauʔsʰwɛ́]), curried chicken and wheat noodles in a coconut milk broth similar to Malaysian laksa and Chiang Mai's khao soi
  • Sanwin makin (ဆနွင်းမကင်း‌ [sʰàɴwíɴ məkíɴ]), semolina cake with raisins, walnuts and poppy seeds
  • Shwe gyi mohnt (ရွှေကြည်မုန့် [ʃwè dʒì mo̰uɴ]), hardened semolina (wheat) porridge with poppy seeds
  • Shwe yin aye (ရွှေရင်အေး [ʃwè jìɴ ʔé]), agar jelly, tapioca and sago in coconut milk


Mandalay Meeshay
  • A sein jaw, 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, salt. Usually served with soup or with noodles.
  • Htamin jaw (ထမင်း‌ကြော် [tʰəmíɴ tʃɔ̀]), fried rice with boiled peas (pè byouk), the poor man's favourite breakfast
  • Kawyei khao swè (ကော်‌ရည်ခေါက်ဆွဲ [kɔ̀ jè kʰauʔ 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 kʰauʔ sʰwɛ́]), halal noodles with chicken and spices, often served by the Muslim Panthay Chinese.
  • San byohk (ဆန်ပြုတ်‌ [sʰàmbjouʔ]), (rice congee) with fish, chicken or duck often fed to invalids.
  • Seejet khao swè (ဆီချက်ခေါက်ဆွဲ [sʰìdʒɛʔ kʰauʔ 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.


Fried chapatti with pè-byohk - a Mandalay favourite
Samosa salad in Mandalay
  • Danbauk (ဒန်ပေါက်‌ [dàmbauʔ]), 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 multilayered 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 [məlàiɴ lóuɴ]), 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 θouʔ]), 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, egg plant, green beans, potato, onions, ginger, dried chilli, boiled egg, dried salted fish, fish paste and tamarind


Shan khao swè with tohpu jaw, with monnyinjin on the side
Shan inspired - Nangyi Thohk
  • Htamin jin (ထမင်းချဉ်[tʰəmíɲdʒìɴ]), 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 roots (ju myit), fried whole dried chili, grilled dried fermented beancakes (pè bouk} and fried dried topu (topu jauk kyaw) on the side
  • Lahpet thohk (လက်ဖက်သုပ်) [ləpeʔ θouʔ]), 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 crispfried onions, crushed garlic, coriander, and pickled daikon/mustard greens
  • Papaya salad (သင်္ဘောသီးသုပ် [θin bau θi θouʔ])
  • 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 kʰauʔswɛ́]), 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 thachin (ဝက်သားချဉ် [wɛʔ θátʃʰìɴ]), preserved minced pork in rice
  • Wet tha hmyit chin (ဝက်သားမျှစ်ချဉ် [wɛʔ θá m̥jiʔ tʃʰìɴ]), pork with sour bamboo shoots


Mon banana pudding
  • Thingyan Rice (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.
  • Sanwinmakin (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.
  • Jar-zun 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 - Brinjal cooked lightly with a small amount of oil, with dried fish and chilli
  • Ngha-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 Monte - a baked sweet, made from millet, raisins, coconut and butter
  • Sut-hnan - millet cooked in sweet milk with raisins


See also


  1. ^ Simoons, Frederick J. (1994). Eat not this flesh: food avoidances from prehistory to the present (2 ed.). Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 120. ISBN 9780299142544. 
  2. ^ Yin, Saw Myat (2007). Culture Shock!: Myanmar. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Inc. p. 133. ISBN 9780761454106. 
  3. ^ Meyer, Arthur L.; Jon M. Vann (2003). The Appetizer Atlas: A World of Small Bites. John Wiley and Sons. p. 276. ISBN 9780471411024. 
  4. ^ "Burma cyclone raises rice prices". BBC News. 2008-05-09. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7391812.stm. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 

External links

  • Mi Mi Khaing, Cook and Entertain the Burmese Way. Rangoon, 1975

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