The best Myanmar food is made from the heart. Whether you're tucking into simple snacks cooked by streetside vendors, or home-cooked meals prepared for families, you're experiencing a side of Myanmar culture that isn't often touted beyond its borders: one that's flavorful, hearty, and satisfying.
When you’re planning your Myanmar itinerary, take time to enjoy the meals we’ve listed here. Any respectable street or market in Myanmar will happily serve these dishes up for you—freshly cooked, and best of all, cheap!
The people of Myanmar love tea. They don’t just drink it, they also ferment the leaves and eat it as laphet: a dish so ingrained in Myanmar culture, it plays a large role in legal proceedings and religious ceremonies alike.
You’ll most commonly find fermented tea leaf in a salad called laphet thoke. Instead of dessert, meals in Myanmar tend to end with a helping of laphet thoke, where the laphet is mixed with spices, cabbage, fried garlic, coconut, tomatoes, and fish sauce.
Prior to British colonization, litigants in a traditional Myanmar court would end their dispute by sharing a meal of laphet together. Today, offerings of laphet and betel-leaf are common items in Buddhist ceremonies and Myanmar rites of passage. Students even use laphet as a late-night stimulant when studying for examinations!
What you’ll find in Myanmar’s favorite noodle dish depends on where you encounter it. On its face, mohinga is a combination of fish stock, rice noodles, fish and spices. But the garnishes and spice mix vary from region to region; Arakanese mohinga is searingly spicy and sour, while the mohinga from Mandalay uses a thicker broth.
Yangon mohinga is perhaps the iconic type, acknowledged by many Myanmar residents as the best in the country. When you order you'll get piping-hot, murky fish stock over rice noodles, then garnished with pork crackling pieces, fried garlic, chopped cilantro, and slices of hard-boiled egg. It’s not a fancy meal, but it’s cheap and ever-present. As the food writer Ma Thanegi put it, “Myanmar people can hardly go a week without it—I know I can't.”
Ohn no Khao Swe
Good food ideas tend to spread fast. Thai and Lao khao soi, Myanmar ohn no khao swe, Indian khow suey and even Malaysian laksa share the same roots and basic ingredients: noodles, chicken, and a coconut-milk-based sauce.
The Myanmar version combines wheat noodles with chicken and a milky broth. To make the broth, coconut milk is thickened with chickpea flour and spiced with garlic, ginger, shallots and turmeric. The meal can be customized by adding garnishes to taste, including (but not limited to) sliced onions, hard-boiled eggs, and a lashing of fish sauce or ngapi.
Chicken See Pyan
The Myanmar take on chicken curry is a beloved home-cooked meal and a perfect partner to rice. See pyan refers to the chicken fat that separates from the
meat as the chicken cooks; pour it over rice (hot, if you please) to complete the experience.
This chicken curry is quite simple to make: it uses a paste of garlic, onions, cinnamon, and ginger, eschewing the coconut oil and spices that make up most other curries elsewhere.
This dish is sometimes called “bachelor’s chicken”, due to a local tradition that tolerated petty theft by night watchmen. These unmarried men would sometimes steal poultry while making their rounds, then make bachelor’s chicken out of their loot.
A Kyaw Sone
This Myanmar take on tempura deep-fries local vegetables, then serves the fritters along with a tangy dip made from fish sauce, chili paste, and occasionally tamarind fruit. A kyaw sone is widely available as a street snack (or as part of a larger meal) and the most popular vendors tend to have the best-tasting sauce on tap.
A kyaw sone vendors use the most ordinary ingredients—potatoes, onions, gourds, chayote, sweet potatoes, tofu. and chickpeas—all diced or slivered, thrown into a batter, and then deep-fried. The dish should be eaten while hot.
Shan Khauk Swe
Visitors to Inle Lake will love eating this regional dish: a hearty bowl of rice noodles mixed with chicken or pork cooked in tomatoes, then garnished with sauteed vegetables and commonly with mohnyin tjin (mustard greens, carrots, and other vegetables, usually fermented in rice wine).
A clear broth is usually served alongside shan khauk swe, either on the side or poured right on the noodles. Optional pork crackling or fried Shan tofu adds a crunchy mouth-feel.
Formerly limited to the Shan region in Myanmar’s northwest, Shan noodles has grown in popularity nationwide; it’s now a staple in Yangon food stalls and restaurants.
Shwe Yin Aye
You can buy this popular dessert from roving vendors in Myanmar’s cities; a bowl of shwe yin aye (Myanmar for “golden heart cooler”) is a perfect antidote to the high humidity.
Imagine a bowl of sweetened, chilled coconut milk, enriched with sticky rice, pandan-infused cendol noodles, tapioca pearls, agar-agar powder and sugar syrup. Chunks of ice and a piece of bread finish off the ensemble.
While this snack is most commonly associated with the annual festival of Thingyan, it can actually be enjoyed all year round – try it after a whole day of, say, wandering around Bagan’s temples, and you’ll see how its name suits the dish perfectly.
This glutinous rice snack takes a community to make. Whole towns come together to prepare htamane during the full moon of Tabodwe in February, as part of a religious offering to the Buddha immediately after the rice harvest.
The biggest “htamane festival” celebration is associated with the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. More than 30 teams from different local neighborhoods set up a friendly competition, where each six-man team cooks one big batch of htamane over a fire, with traditional music setting the pace.
To make htamane, glutinous rice is mixed with water, sesame seed, coconut, peanuts, and plenty of cooking oil. The teams must coordinate their movements to stir the increasingly thickening htamane as it cooks.
Afterward, the htamane is first offered to local religious communities, with the remainder going to neighbors, family, and friends.
Ngapi is Myanmar’s all-around condiment and you'll rarely see it missing from a dinner table. Any fish or vegetable dish can be improved further with the umami punch of fish or shrimp that’s been mixed with garlic and chili powder. Locals also use it as a dip for fresh vegetables or fruit, or sometimes mix it into hot rice and call it a meal unto itself.
In Myanmar’s interior, the Shan and Kachin peoples have a similar condiment that substitutes fermented soybean for fish or shrimp, with much the same effect: adding an umami kick to food, where a little of the stuff goes a long way.