The street food in Myanmar is certainly not as well known as in its neighboring countries. Before my first visit to Myanmar, my friends warned me that their food is subpar. But my experience proved them wrong.
Surrounded by China, India, Laos, and Thailand, Burmese food is an eccentric mix with its own twist. From the breakfast of the people to staple beverages, here are some of the top street foods to eat in Myanmar.
A breakfast must-have for Burmese, Mohinga is a national dish of rice noodles in fish broth. Brewed with an entire catfish, any fishiness in the soup is perfectly countered by the addition of lemongrass. If you dig around in your bowl, you’ll find tender fish bits, bay leaves, and ginger in a broth thickened with chickpea flour and or toasted rice powder.
I try to keep the crackers and the diced red onions dry, as they are sprinkled atop the rice noodles so they remain crunchy. Almost every other street food vendor in Myanmar sells Mohinga, but usually only in the morning. I had a great bowl on Maha Bandula Park St east of Mahabandula Park in Yangon.
Average price: K1,000 – K2,000 ($0.69 – $1.38)
E Kya Kway
Known to most as Youtiao, this Chinese breakfast staple shares a similar role in Myanmar. The fried breadstick is light and airy with an elongated twin-rod shape and often accompanied Mohinga.
Since this is more of a breakfast side dish, it’s either served during breakfast or found at a takeaway street food stand. For a simple and quick breakfast, order it with tea or coffee and dip the bread stick in. For the best E Kya Kway, head over to Yangon’s Chinatown and it shouldn’t cost more than a couple of hundred Kyats.
Average price: K100-200 ($0.069 – $0.14)
We all know about the famous Taiwanese bubble tea and Thai milk tea. But we should also know about the delicious Burmese tea. Tea has always been an integral part of life for the Burmese people, and drinking tea is a popular pastime. There is no tea bag nonsense in Myanmar; here, tea is boiled and left to steep for hours if not overnight.
A cup of tea is not finished after brewing. It involves an intricate calculation of the desired ratio of condensed milk and evaporated milk, each with a subtle and sometimes pronounced difference. If you are unsure of how you like it, it’s best to head to the Rangoon Tea House in Yangon to try the different combinations explained with diagrams (I know I did). Do note that it can be overly sweet if you’ve never tried something like it before.
Average price: K150-250 ($0.10 – $0.17) at the street food stalls
Tea Leaf Salad
Burmeses’ love of tea extends to food, in particular, fermented tea leaves is an important ingredient in their salads. Lahpet Thoke is a salad made of fermented tea, fried garlic, peanut oil, lentils or similar beans, tomato, and cabbage, with a dash of lime. At first, the sour taste is a little jarring but once you get used to it, it’s surprisingly refreshing. It’s usually a vegetarian dish, though minced meat or shrimp can be added.
While you can find it across the country, for the best tea leaves you best travel to Mandalay. Be sure to mention that you want to order the Kalay Tote version, as there is Poe Gyi Tote, which is only fermented tea leaves and fried nuts or beans. The best Lahpet Thoke is near where the tea leaves are grown. If you are ever in Nyaung Shwe, by Inle Lake, check out Sin Yaw Restaurant.
Average price: K1000 ($0.69) at street food stores, up to K3,000 ($2.07) in fancier restaurants
Hailing from the Shan state, Shan Noodles is a dish with Chinese influence that contains rice noodles in a tomato and chicken paste sauce. I was surprised to find that it is usually without soup, but you can also order it with broth.
It is most common in eastern Myanmar, but now you can find it in other parts of the country, too. The rice noodles used in this dish are flat and sticky and if ordered with broth, the soup would be made of chicken stock and sometimes served in a separate bowl.
The most popular place to try them is the 999 Shan Noodle Shop near Sule Pagoda in Yangon for K2,000 ($1.38). You can also find it in Chinatown across town as well for a little cheaper at street food stands.
Address: 130b 34th St, Yangon, Myanmar
Opening times: 6:00 – 19:00
Craving something sweet after dinner or looking for a treat to cool yourself down? Falooda is the drink to get. With roots in Persia, traveling all the way to Myanmar through India, it is a combination of a drink and a dessert. Often it is dyed a vivid shade to make it eye-catching, the one I tried was bright pink. Falooda is made of rose syrup, vermicelli, sweet basil seeds, with milk or water. If you want a fancier one, head to a bakery as they often add ice cream, agar jelly, and tapioca as well. For such a concoction, head to Shwe Pu Zun Cafeteria & Bakery House in Yangon and it’ll only cost you K1,300 ($0.90).
Address: 246, 248 Anawrahta Rd, Yangon, Myanmar
Opening times: 7:00 – 21:30
Another type of street food that made its way from India is the Dosa Sandwich, which is sometimes referred to as ghost snack. It is made by vendors with griddle by street side, who expertly spread a lentil batter crepe and fill with chickpeas, various other vegetables, and a special secret sauce. The chickpeas and bean sprout offer a good crunch and the sauce gives it an extra tangy flavor. There is a sweet version too, with palm sugar and coconut as filling.
You are more likely to find a Dosa stall on the street. I found one near the Sule Pagoda in Yangon. This is served wrapped up in a newspaper and is so hot that I almost dropped it when the lady handed it to me.
Average cost: K200-300 ($0.14 – $0.21)
A triangular pastry with savory fillings, Samosa is another Indian snack that the Burmese have adopted with fervor. Typical fillings include minced meat, usually lamb, with spiced potatoes, lentils, peas, and onions. I’ve had Samosa before but only on its own, and in Myanmar they are often used in soup or salad.
How? The Samosa is sliced and added to either a light soup with herbs. For salads, it replaces fermented tea leaves but with the same style. The Lucky Seven Teashop in Yangon serves 5-piece Samosa Salad for only K1,000 ($0.69).
Address: 49th St, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
Opening times: Mon – Sat 5:30 – 17:00; Sun 5:30 – 13:00