I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I probably eat ice cream about twice a year, and I’ll almost always order another savoury course over a dessert. As such, I found much to like about Burmese food. The Burmese employ a myriad of ingredients — bean flour, fish sauce, fried shallots, oil — to accentuate savoury flavours, and sugar rarely features in savoury dishes. Even the traditional Burmese post-meal dessert isn’t really sweet at all, but rather consists of sour/salty pickled tea leaves and nuts, sometimes supplemented with a knob of palm sugar.
Sweets, at least as we perceive them in the west, are called moun (sometimes written mont), but in Myanmar are largely regarded as snacks, typically taken with tea in the morning or afternoon.
These dishes aren’t overwhelmingly sweet, instead relying on the naturally sweet flavours inherent in their main ingredients, not heaps of supplemented sugar.
These ingredients include grated coconut, coconut milk, rice flour (from white rice or sticky rice), cooked sticky rice:
tapioca and various fruits. Quite a few Burmese sweets have been influenced by Indian cooking and include somewhat exotic ingredients such as semolina and poppy seeds:
My favourite Burmese sweet is hsa nwin ma kin, which translates as ‘turmeric unavoidable’ — an odd name, as it does not, in fact, contain any turmeric. Instead, the dish is made with semolina flour, which is supplemented with coconut milk, ghee and raisins (a recipe for the dish can be found here). It can be identified by its topping of coarse semolina flour (shown below at 5 o’clock), and like many moun, resembles a tiny cake and is served as an attractive diamond-shaped slice:
Another favourite is bein moun and moun pyit thalet, Burmese-style pancakes, served sweet or savoury, that have a damp, holey consistency not unlike a good crumpet or a Portuguese tigelada.
In Yangon, a huge variety of moun can be purchased from the vendors who set up every day in front of the FMI Centre.
Burmese sweets vendors
In front of FMI Centre, Bogyoke Aung San Rd, Yangon
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