About the food of Myanmar (Burma)

Golden rock, by Ralf-André Lettau; Ox cart by Stefan Grünig; Bagan, by Hinta

Get your imagination primed; this week’s Global Table is laid between ancient statues dripping with gold, miles of muddy coastlines, and blue skies held up by lush, green tropics. We’re spending a week in Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma.

Inle Lake Monastery, photo by Bild von Stefan Grünig. Thagyamin statue at the Kyauktan Yay-Le Pagoda, photo by Hintha.

Wander with me through the rhythms of daily life in this southeast Asian country, where flat, circular baskets whomp, whomp, whomp to thresh grain; pestles thump, thump, thump to grind ginger, garlic, and lemongrass to a paste; and mallets clang, clang, clang to make knives.

Amid this bustling, concentrated routine, the scents and flavors of Burmese cooking shine bright. Salads are everywhere. If you’re thinking this means lettuce, think again. For the most part, these salads are flavor firecrackers layered with napa cabbage, lentils, chickpeas, fish sauce, and chilies. Variables include fermented tea leaf, pickled ginger [Recipe], and chickpea flour and more.

Outdoor cafe in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Magical World

Speaking of chickpeas, there’s a notable Indian influence in Myanmar. Not only are spicy curries, tamarind juice, and flatbreads common (nan pya), but food is typically enjoyed layered with steamed rice.

Unless, that is, noodles show up.

And, boy do they ever – even first thing in the always beautiful morning.

Monk crossing, photo by Scott Anderson.

Rice noodles are popular in brothy, fishy soups, as in the popular staple called m0hingar, while wheat flour noodles are beloved with chicken curry soup, as with ohn-no-kauk-swey [Recipe].

Either way sounds good to me.

Among the throngs of busy street vendors, you will find everything from crispy insects to creamy coconut milk “jelly” set with nothing more than a heap of agar agar  [Recipe].

What dessert will you be choosing?

Maps and flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook.


  1. Brian S. says

    I visited Burma many years ago. In those days you had to fly in and stay for one week only. So I went twice. Here’s what I wrote about my first visit, limited to Rangoon and Mandalay:

    “Burma was a gentle sleepy land of ancient temples, red-robed monks and gold roofed pagodas; dirt roads, horse-drawn carts and old wheezing buses; sluggish rivers, bright green jungle, and waterlogged rice fields. Men wore skirts and women smoked cigars. The official state policy was Buddhist Socialism and it didn’t work; there was a state-owned People’s Patisserie in Rangoon but to buy anything more substantial than pastry you had to go to the black market, whose stalls in some towns sprawled over most of the city center. The country was torpid and traditional and wanted to stay that way. Sometimes it hardly seemed a country at all, but a wedge of lazy anarchy sandwiched between Thailand and Tibet”

    On the second visit, I managed to get to remote villages that hadn’t seen an outsider since the British left. There, life went on much as it has for centuries, time moving slowly amidst verdant fields and richly carved temples. I loved Burma for its isolation. I admired the way its government deliberately cut it off from the modern world. But I also came to realize that most of its people desperately wanted to join that world, to trade their tree-lined dusty roads for superhighways choked with cars, and their saffron-robed monks for a few McDonald’s.

    I’ve heard that things changed in the years since then. The leaders once believed in Buddhist Socialism. Now they just believe in staying rich and keeping others poor. Or so I’ve heard. But who knows the truth? Burma is a long way away.

    Here’s a bit of music from Myanmar.

    • Sasha Martin says

      I’d love to see those remote villages and meet those people. I’d love to gaze on those ancient temples…

  2. elisa waller says

    dripping gold..yummy! and Napa Cabbage..you must make something with it..I love it soo! this place sounds simple and devine! have fun

  3. Lisa Redfield says

    You are SUCH a good writer and one to “capture” our emotions with your creative descriptions of places and foods!
    THANK YOU! Have you ever considered home schooling Ava? You’d be great! Look at all the cool info. on SO MANY countries you’ve already compiled yourself! There are SO many benefits to home schooling for those of us who love our kids and WANT time with them. My kids were all home schooled till High School and LOVED it. They breezed through the academics of public and charter schools, as well as college. At early ages they could converse with anyone of any age group; impressing adults who didn’t realize the negative effects of “age segregation” used in our public schools! We NEVER had “terrible teens,” or dealt with the “typical” teenage problems. They would still walk or ride with me and help pick up sticks and never be embarrassed. We are all still VERY close (all 4 are in their 20’s) and consider each other not “just” family, but the closest of friends. Something to think/pray about….

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thanks, Lisa – I feel like much of what Ava and I do is a homeschooling, even though she’s young. Just this morning we did a collage of things she wanted to take on a picnic. We made sure we found fruits, veggies, meat, and bread… I showed her items in each group and she picked which ones she wanted. It was fun!

  4. Tina says

    Yeah. When you’re done homeschooling all of us (with guest Professor Schwartz and Principal Picky), you should homeschool Ava!

    • Sasha Martin says

      guest Professor Schwartz & Principal Picky haha love it! 🙂

  5. Sasha didn’t let you know that she was home-schooled for a year…Homeschooling is HUGE now…that was 1988.
    There is an entire homeschool ministry in the Archdiocese through the Vocations office…The families often come to St John’s Seminary for special events – masses – cookouts – games and so forth.
    It is amazing when you see them as a group how vibrant and happy and clever and engaged they all are…all ages…

  6. In 1988 the Boston Public Schools took me to court – we won with the help of a Lawyer hired by St Elizabeth Ann Seton Home School out of VA? – can’t remember…sorry

    • Sasha Martin says

      I’ll have to get that story some day! I forgot about that…

  7. We used to cook together as part of the curriculum and learn math and reading by working with recipes…REMEMBER?!!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Good times! I mostly remember growing and then drawing the avocado plant… and also trying to draw letters really neatly.

      • Still have that lovely avacado plant drawing…
        Your brother used a microscope (given to him for Christmas by Dr Barnum) to see & draw – can’t remember what it was…but I still have the lovely geometric drawing…

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