My main purpose as a Kiva Fellow in Yangon, Myanmar is to work with Proximity Designs, an award winning social enterprise and Kiva’s first partner in the country, as well as meet with many of their borrowers out in the field. A pleasant by-product of the Fellowship is the ability to experience local culture, namely the cuisine! Food can be a large part of any culture, but its importance is very apparent here. The Burmese people take their meals seriously, which are served and eaten family style. I also take my meals seriously. I’m not sure if that’s a function of my Burmese-American roots, or just the fact that I like to eat. A lot.
Each region or ethnic group in Myanmar boasts a few unique dishes of their own. In a quest to support diversity, I made sure to hit up Yangon’s most renown food establishments, ranging from those set in mansions by Inya Lake to the busy market stalls where you’re sitting only a couple feet from the bare sidewalk. Below are five of my favorite Myanmar food spots for the next time you just happen to be in Yangon.
(In no particular order)
999 Shan Noodle – located downtown on 34th street. The Shan noodles or Sticky Shan noodles are the main dishes that people try here, and the consensus amongst all my friends is the same: its the bomb. This little hole in the wall is simple and sweet where the food speaks for itself. Opening at 6 AM, their Shan noodles is a great start to any day. Shan State is a region of Myanmar that borders China to the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south so the dishes are influenced by flavors from Northern Thailand and China.
Jing Hpaw Myay Kachin Restaurant – located in the Sanchaung Township. The mashed potatoes here are pretty amazing. Yes, you heard me, mashed potatoes. Until now, I've never called any mashed potato dish "chewy." This fragrant (and chewy) dish is hard to share mainly because you would want to eat the entire thing. The Kachin rice and pounded ginger beef are also unique dishes that deserve to be tasted. There is a strong cultural emphasis placed on herbal medicine, thus their dishes tend to be heavy on herbs and spices. Kachin State is the northernmost state of Burma, and brushes the eastern ridge of the Himalayas.
Min Lan Rakhine – also located in Sanchaung Township. The Rakhine Mote noodle soup and grilled prawns are the way to go. It has open-air seating so apply your bug repellent if you fear little critters landing on you. Here, you will find a lot of seafood-based dishes, with a higher than average heat level. This spot is perfect for anyone that loves spicy food. Rakhine State is located on the west coast of Myanmar, bordered by the Bay of Bengal and Bangladesh.
Pop-Up Mohinga Stations – located in various spots throughout Yangon. My two favorite shops are located off of No. 1 Industrial Road in the Yankin township, near Yangon Cake House. Mohinga is a catfish based noodle soup with eggs, various fried toppings, and chili on top. This very traditional Myanmar dish can be likened to how Chili is viewed in the United States, with each region having a slightly different variation of the recipe. Some Mohinga soups can be a little thicker in consistency, while others are thinner; consistency usually is an indication of the amount of fish in the broth. In my opinion, the shop with the yellow awning boasts the right amount of fish versus broth, making it just the right consistency! Their fried opo squash and duck eggs are good additions to the soup.
Bogyoke Market Café – this little gem is located at the Bogyoke Market downtown, in the food court in the middle of the market. There are over a dozen small cafes in the food court, but the one that I like is tucked away to the left of the flight of stairs taking you up to the second story. It is the café closest to the stairs and has a menu that is only in Burmese with pictures of the dishes. This café has excellent Si Gyek Kauwse (noodles with oil, fried garlic, and either chicken or pork ribs), and an incredibly friendly host that goes around fanning his customers. The pork ribs they use in the dish is so tender that the pork literally falls off the bone. The dish comes with a side of garlicky chicken soup, which you can sip or pour a few spoonful's over your noodles.
There are a ton of these mom and pop type restaurants in Yangon. However, many of the new restaurants that have recently opened up are western style or fusion restaurants. This increase in foreign influence was made possible when the country rejoined the international community in 2011, bringing decades of social isolation to an end. Thus due to the plethora of options, choosing a restaurant here can be a little daunting. Hopefully my cliffs notes version will help if you are in a time crunch in Yangon. Before I say goodbye to this place (at least for a little bit), I’d like to thank those delicious little places mentioned above for always keeping my belly happy, and may they carry on amidst Myanmar’s dynamic and ever evolving culture.
photo credits: @eatingalltheday