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After passing nearly an hour at the mountain top temple, our group reconvened near a bright golden zedi. We discussed Buddhism, spirituality, and life. I took one last look at the faded green mountains and crafty monkeys cagily watching us walk; how easy it once was for me to believe the story of the world murmured to me in my cradle, but through traveling, I have listened to so many tales. So many gods, goddesses, and deities. Cultures full o f myths, storytellers, and history. The combination and commonalities across all the cultures — Burmese, American, Balinese — it continually changes shape the more I learn and see of this beautiful world.
I grew up on crossover foods in the U. Thai food tasted better when I lived in Chiang Mai , and the Middle Eastern vegetarian foods I sampled throughout Jordan offered flavor sensations. But what about cuisines that never made the leap across oceans and seas? I loved the foods so much that I decided to book a trip to Myanmar, and my Burmese friends prepped me with advice on how to order vegetarian food in Myanmar; what to eat in Yangon, Inle Lake, and other places; and how to find local safe street eats. Actually eating vegetarian food in Myanmar, though, was a bit trickier than sampling it in nearby Thailand because of language differences, sanitation standards, and regional variances.
So when prepping for eating vegetarian or vegan in Myanmar. Can I emphasize again how wonderful it was to sample the street food stalls throughout the Myanmar?
Things to do in Yangon, Myanmar
The Burmese were friendly and fun throughout every meal, and my niece Ana and I felt immersed in the culture as we packed onto tiny plastic stools, crouched over our dishes, and ate among the locals. This is where our best conversations happened. Ana ate veg for a lot of our travels by choice , but meat options abound.
Or, for another phonetic writing of it: thouq thouq lo. This phrase is easy to say, but hard to put the sounds into the Roman alphabet, so have your first guesthouse teach you once you arrive. I will say this: I never tasted it in the dish, so if it was there it was very light. My philosophy on eating vegetarian while traveling is to do the best I can, but not to ruin my travel experience by refusing to eat foods that could have traces of fish products since it is so prevalent in Asia.
Before we get to the photo breakdown and descriptions of delicious vegetarian eats in Myanmar, here are some things you should know before you go for any travelers in Myanmar, not just vegetarians! I did consult extensively with a Burmese friend, and her input fully shaped this post.
Soup is a wonderful and usually very safe meal throughout Asia because they boil ingredients just before serving the soup piping hot. Shan Tofu Soup Tohu nuway. I listed this dish first for a reason, I have a full-on obsession with shan tofu soup. The name is a bit misleading, because although it is made with tofu from the Shan region of Burma, the tofu is actually the thick, yellow ingredient in this dish. Ground yellow peas or chickpeas are ground and kept liquidy and warm throughout the day. We ate this daily in Hpa-an. Where : The small restaurant with chairs on the street-side counter that is just next door to the Soe Brothers Guesthouse in Hpa-An which is where you should stay if you visit, although also consider that Soe Brothers 2 is not in the same location but a bit nicer!
And a Burmese reader emailed in to tell me that this is a popular Chinese-inspired street food dish. Where : All over the streets of Yangon we found long tables with a family working the small fires with bubbling bowls of hot soup and vegetable. They will not assume that you want a vegetarian version of this Burmese food, so you absolutely must specify! This is the part of Burmese food that delights me the most. Instead, these salads blend a range of veggies, nuts, and flavors. Combine unique textures.
And then hold it all together with oils, tamarind juice, lime, fried garlic, and nutty dressings. Tea Leaf Salad Lephet Thote. The base of the dish is fermented tea leaves, which are a very, very strong and unfamiliar flavor at first. But local cooks mild the flavors in the with the addition of nuts, cabbage, tomato, oils, and various other bits and bots mung beans, ginger, sesame, bean sprouts, and green tomatoes, among other things, have been known to make an appearance in various iterations of this dish.
Of note is the fact that tea leaves are very high in caffeine, so choose wisely the time of day you consume it! Also, if you want to try it at home, I found a great recipe online. Where : All over the country. A delicious pennywort salad.
I never managed a good shot of it since I was usually too busy inhaling it to grab a proper photo! Ingredients vary but include onions, pennywort, nuts, and oily dressing. Tart and delicious, my palate delighted at the new combination of flavors in Pennyworth salad. The dish combines the bright green pennywort plant, lime, toasted sesame, turmeric oil, garlic, tomato … the list goes on, once again, according to local flavor preference. This was one of my favorite vegetarian salads in all of Myanmar—please seek it out and give it a taste.
Check out this recipe to try and make one at home.
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Shan Tofu Salad Tohu Thote. Think of this as an inverted tohu nway Shan soup. This dish is reliably served vegetarian and vegan no matter where in Myanmar you sample it. Tofu thote is eaten around noon, but only as snack, not as lunch. They use some unknown leaves from big trees. Where : Inle Lake is the Shan region of Myanmar so this is where you can most easily find the dish. A tasty treat, but not one for which I have a photo. Tomato Salad Karyanchintheet Thote. For that reason, I adore this reliably vegetarian and vegan Burmese salad. It usually consists of tomatoes, onions, crunchy peanuts, sesame, and oily dressing of some sort.
This was, admittedly, not my favorite. Though I was on the fence when I first tried it, by the end of my time in Myanmar I appreciated the tart, tangy salad as a compliment to the rest of my food. Pone Yay Gyi is a bit regional. You can definitely find this dish in the Bagan area. Myanmar is blessed with a huge range of cultural influences based on its history and location. The Chinese influence is strong in the northern border regions, and many dishes and customs flowed into the rest of Myanmar.
This is the case with Indian food and culture as well. Yangon is a haven for Indian food lovers, Mandalay as well, and small restaurants and influences can even be found in small towns all over the country. Then, beyond these influences from other countries, Myanmar is home to a range of ethnic minority groups with their own customs, language, and foods.
In short, this list of foods is so long because the country is rich with flavors and international cuisine influences. Pretty standard fare in the tourist spots, we ordered this as a good filler that was tasty, filled with veggies, and pleasing to both the kiddos Ana and I traveled with a Burmese friend of mine and her daughter while we were in Bagan and Inle Lake.
Not inherently vegetarian—you must specify. Noodles are a staple in the Myanmar diet, right under rice as the main source of food. The Burmese severed us boiled noodles, fried noodles, noodles in salads, noodles with crunchy toppings. In short, noodles abound and the toppings and varieties about. This one is particularly tasty with fried garlic, sesame, and other seasonings.
I converted Ana to what I hope will be a lifetime affair with Indian food after our travels in Burma. Mandalay was the best spot for a our street-side chapati stands. For about 20 cents we were able to get one piping hot chapati and one small dish of Indian food; on offer were: curries, dhal, vegetable, and a potato dish. Go to town with chapati and dhal as the Indian community understands vegetarianism and this is reliably safe for vegans too all across Myanmar.
Indian restaurants and options abound throughout Myanmar and they have the wide range of typical fare. We found the best Indian food in Yangon and Mandalay, which is really no surprise since these are the two major cities. Thinking we would outsmart the guidebook, we asked a lot of locals for the best Indian restaurant, and they all pointed to this touristy but so cheap hot-spot. Down about 10 doors is a fantastic biryani restaurant as well with vegetarian biryani though they run out by mid-afternoon!
The Burmese like to snack from what I could tell! There was a huge range of deep-fried, pan-fried, and street-side snacks available all throughout the day. These deep-fried snacks were offered with nearly every meal and were frying on the side of the road throughout the evening. The bean ones were my favorites actually, and look out for deep-fried yellow tofu at the same stalls, it abounds throughout Myanmar! No meat is sneaking in here, these are reliably vegetarian and vegan no matter where you travel in Myanmar.
Stands serving these have a range of options and pointing can work well. This is an Indian-inspired dish that resembles the roti stands evidenced throughout other places in Southeast Asia, but has more options. Ana and her friend Emma campaigned for one of these sweet treats each night, and though not the healthiest dessert on the planet, we loaded our dessert with bananas and everyone in the group enjoyed a few slices.
Where : The night market in Nyaung Shwe Inle Lake had a wonderful stand, fast service and all the Shan soup stands are just next door! These are also served at most tea shops if you ask! And as a bonus, our friend spotted a vendor from our early morning bus too; once we knew the dish was out there, we were able to pay closer attention and find it on our own!
People in Mandalay also eats this in morning. It is usually steamed with a special cooker in Shan state, while the Bamar people seem to cook it just like the normal rice. Shan people would consider the soft one not good, me too.
Insight Guides: Myanmar (Burma) (10th Edition)
Kauk Nyin Paung can be prepared with white glutinous rice too. The flavor is so strong that this is more of a fun treat than something you will likely fill up on while traveling Myanmar. Indian samosas abound in Yangon. Deep fried donut-sticks were particularly easy to hunt down in Mandalay, and basically, when the craving for deep-fried struck, there were no shortage of fried vegetarian offerings on the streets in the big cities.
Of course, some fried offerings have meat—so always ask! My wicked sweet tooth was beyond happy with the quick sweet options. And when all else fails, find the fruit! Where can you find these treats? Look for roadside stands and little jars on your table with light brown solid chunks. Also, I found a home compound making the sweet sugarcane treats outside of Inle Lake , so keep your eyes on the lookout! Sugarcane juice is available all over the streets of Yangon—and throughout much of the country, really. Be warned though, this is a street treat, so avoid the ice and choose a vendor with a generally clean machine and stall!
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Ana and I stocked up on bananas and clementines before a bus ride and snacked on yellow watermelon for a fun spin on a familiar treat! Fresh avocado is also fantastic in the Inle Lake region. To use a trite expression, I could wax poetic all day about the delicious food I ate in Myanmar. Thank you to the my Burmese friend for her tips, advice, and guidance. She proved invaluable at helping me better understand Burmese food culture before, and on the ground throughout my trip to Myanmar with my niece. Without her translating and introducing me to some of these dishes, I would have blindly passed through regions of Myanmar oblivious to some of the best local flavors, foods, and customs.
Being vegetarian means that I am sometimes much more conservative on my food choices than meat eaters, out of fear mostly. Yes, there is sometimes a huge language gap in Myanmar. And it paid off.
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Enjoy the dishes, and let me know what I missed so I can keep a running tally of the vegetarian Burmese foods I still need to try! And so others can try them too. Myanmar is also a country that changes quickly, so online guides usually have the latest information for pre-trip planning. Despite the U. Please, please, please read up on these before you leave and ensure you understand how to travel better—travel in a way that your money supports local people.
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This is a completely download on how to travel responsibly in Myanmar. When I entered Myanmar with plans to stay for a month, I had no idea I had picked up a diarrheal illness in Laos. Turned out, Myanmar did not even sell the only medicine that would have treated it, so I was left downing oral rehydration salts every day to combat it until I could get treatment in Thailand. Had this been more serious, I would have needed a medical evacuation. For that reason, I highly recommend using travel insurance for the duration of any trip to Myanmar. And I also shared essential tips for staying healthy on the road.
There is no denying I am a big fan of Burmese food. This epiphany carried over to the present, and into my days navigating the marshy waters, thin canals and open expanse of rippling waters on Inle Lake in Burma last month. The most iconic photos of Inle Lake picture the fishermen, their conical nets resting on long wooden boats as the men paddle with one leg wrapped like a vine around the wooden oar digging into the placid lake waters.
The male fishermen stand on the bow of the boat so they can see down to the lake floor, and their legs are a powerful way to more easily row through the marshy weeds that grow nearly to the surface since Inle Lake averages just seven feet deep. The super productive ecosystem around this shallow Instead, an Intha culture and language grew, specific to Inle, where the lake and its ecosystem have allowed the culture to thrive. The villages embraced their creativity over the years in order to make this lake environment their home. Myths even surround the founding of the culture—some believe a former king banished part of the Royal Army from Burmese land, and to keep their word they created moved onto water!
Floating land created from dried and hardened weeds and floating hyacinth secure the floating huts and bamboo villages to one fixed spot. And once the Intha mastered the floating land, then agriculture became a cinch—after all, they have an endless supply of water. So, as our driver navigated the canal waters, I watched farmers slosh around their cultivated square farms of land, marveling that oxen and humans both easily traipsed around the water farms.
Yangon, Myanmar: Your 4-day Trip Itinerary
I puzzled over this mystery, I even spent time musing out loud about hundreds of 10 foot tall bamboo sticks poking out from the lake in every direction. Ah, the sea of khaki colored bamboo affix a garden to the lake surface. Feeding the seagulls was a highlight of the trip. Over the past five months I watched Ana guffaw with laughter at random moments, and smile with patience and curiosity as locals explained the inner workings of something to her, and even frown with concern at the treatment of street animals.
And the seagulls on Inle Lake brought sheer joy. She abandoned all thought of being a serious preteen and she and her friend M from GotPassport. The birds swooped down to pluck chunks out of their hands and noisily fought over bits flung into the air. And as the sun set over Inle Lake, we cozied into our warm blankets and all enjoyed the bite of cool in the air and the squawk of birds tailing our speeding longboat.
Far from subtle, behind us a maze of saffron and pumpkin exploded into the sky nearest the setting sun, while a quiet rose tint settled on the surrounding mountains and we jetted back into the small town center for fresh dinner and a warm bed. The thudding of a large motor caught our attention as we carefully navigated our bicycles down the pothole-strewn road.
A glance to the right showed the slanting sun reflecting off an expansive sea of dry, off-white husks coating the yard of a house. I cocked my head to the side perplexed … the day before, Ana and I had noticed these houses with husk-like debris where grass should grow, and now, as then, I was unable to explain their curious presence in yards all over this region of Myanmar formerly known as Burma for a whole host of reasons.
Another moment passed and I was mentally kicking myself. This country has only been friendly. I called out to the group to stop for a pow-wow. A quick look at the other adults, and I could see the men had been curious too. Moments later, the tentative smiles from two young children met us at the gates of their housing compound. The kids hesitated before scattering toward the clanking contraption nearby, motioning for us to follow.
It looked like an open tractor engine sprawling across the packed dirt floor. Two men manned the front of the machine and with a flash of understanding I realized my feet were resting on a soft bed of dry sugar cane husks. The churning motor and huge metal gears spun the wheel and generated enough pressure to squeeze out every drop of sweet moisture from the sugarcane stalks.
The men processing the stalks paid us no mind—and not out of unfriendliness, but rather out of affection for their limbs; the huge gurgling machine would not easily forgive a slip of the fingers. Just as I noticed the children had disappeared, they burst out of the house nearby, with their mother walking at a clipped pace with a tray of tea and Burmese sweets toward our ragtag group of five. She shyly motioned us over to the low, woven bamboo table and gently proffered cups of pale Chinese tea.
As we stood and sipped, she took a moment to break up the thin, flat block of jaggery sugarcane candy. Jaggery, or rather, sugar candies, are popular sweets all over Burma—we loved this aspect of Burmese food culture —and Ana relished the opportunity to once again have free reign over a bowl of pure sugar. With the hospitality now covered, the mother smiled and gestured to production line, letting us know it was okay to go investigate what they were doing. The greenish hued sugarcane juice is a popular snack all over Burma and South Asia for that matter!
The entire process seems to take hours for one single batch, but we were lucky to catch the juice in its final stage, when it became a thick, brown syrup ready to be poured, spread, and dried. Sugar candies are one of the more humble and popular Burmese desserts; we found small candy jars on most restaurant tables. The type of sugar candy on offer though, varies from region to region. Most often we found jaggery , a treat much like maple syrup candies in North America, but they are instead made from Toddy Palm sap.
The Toddy Palm plant shaped rural life in Burma throughout history, and the jaggery treats are just one use for Toddy Palm.
Related Insight Guides: Myanmar (Burma) (10th Edition)
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