Starting in late 2010, I spent nearly three months in Myanmar updating Lonely Planet’s Myanmar (Burma) guidebook. At the time, the country was still pretty much as as isolated and paranoid as it had been since the early 1960s. I needed consecutive visas to enter the country, but because I feared that the Burmese authorities might suspect I was a Bangkok-based news journalist, I had to request a second US passport and apply for my Myanmar visas at its embassies in Hong Kong and the US. When the book was eventually printed, the other authors and I decided to use pseudonyms for fear that we might be identified and blacklisted (during certain periods the Lonely Planet guide has allegedly been banned in Myanmar). Over the course of my three trips to the country, I took lots of photos of the food I ate, but didn’t consider blogging about them, for fear that this would risk outing me as one of the book’s authors and possibly jeopardising my chances of visiting the country again and ultimately, contributing to the guidebook in the future.
Fast-forward a mere few years and the Myanmar of today is a vastly different place. Journalists — and indeed, US presidents — visit the country, political prisoners have been released, and the press is now allegedly free. Photos of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — who, incidentally, I interviewed for the guidebook — are now sold on the street, and scoring a hotel room in Yangon these days requires either a lot of luck or an equal amount of US dollars. With this in mind, and given that Myanmar has been getting so much media attention recently, I thought it was finally a safe time to dig through my images and notes and vicariously revisit some of the eateries and food I encountered on those trips.
When talking about food in Myanmar, the logical starting point is mohinga — often referred to as the country’s unofficial national dish. Mohinga takes the form of a thick broth that combines herbs, freshwater fish, whole shallots and crunchy shards of banana stalk, served over thin, round rice noodles similar to the Thai khanom jeen. It tends to dominate the breakfast scene, but is also available at night, often sold from mobile baskets or carts.
It’s savoury and hearty, and is one of those simple but satisfying Southeast Asian noodle dishes that functions equally well as a meal or a snack.
The dish is available just about everywhere in Yangon, but my favourite version is probably the bowl served at Myaung Mya Daw Cho, a open-air restaurant located under a towering tamarind tree in a quiet neighbourhood. There’s relatively little that makes one bowl of mohinga different from another, but the version here stands out with its assertive turmericy-herbness and generous amount of flaked freshwater fish. If you like, you can supplement your bowl with a boiled egg or akyaw, deep-fried battered vegetables or lentil cakes. And as is the case elsewhere, the dish can be seasoned with a squeeze of lime or a pinch of dried chili. The only downside with Myaung Mya Daw Cho is that it’s a morning place in the Burmese sense of the word, which means if you arrive later than 8:30am, it’ll almost certainly be sold out.
Myaung Mya Daw Cho
158 51st St, Yangon
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