The first time I visited Myanmar I found the food absolutely awful. I remember getting cold, unappealing curries and underwhelming ‘Chinese’ noodles which lacked flavour. It was only on this trip that we discovered what I had been doing wrong…
One of the most important places for socialising in Myanmar is the teahouse. Every town, no matter how small, has at least one. The teahouse is a place to drink tea, meet friends and neighbours and to while away the hours when the sun is at its most ferocious. Teahouses also provide one of the few forums for political discussion and have traditionally one of the few places where the more daring in Burmese society exchange their opinions on the regime, albeit in the knowledge that spies lurk within. The teahouse is also one of the best places to find delicious, cheap snacks which are far more satisfying than many restaurants.
In Mandalay, we had breakfast at the city’s most popular teahouse. The curried noodles, steamed mushroom and meat filled buns and Shan noodles were accompanied by the lovely sweet milky tea which is popular throughout Myanmar. The portions were huge, the people watching opportunities endless, and the meal itself was a mere 2.5 Euros! In fact, it was so satisfying that we returned later in the day for tea and were fortunate enough to meet a Burmese couple who were tour guides. It was from them that we learned that teahouses serve as a pressure release valve for those who dare to criticise the military regime.
In Nangshwe, near Inle Lake, street food and teahouses provided the bulk of our sustenance. We feasted on samosas, which are traditionally an Indian snack, as well as eating roti (also Indian), grilled fish and barbecued meat. All of it was tasty and although at first we had some reservations about hygiene, we are happy to report that neither of us got sick.
The most notable restaurant we found in Myanmar was Aroma 2 in Bagan. Following the Lonely Planet recommendation we ate there on our first night and found the delicious Indian curries served on banana leaves (accompanied by mango chutney, mint sauce, ginger, a sort of sweet tomato salsa and dahl), so good that we simply had to return the next evening.
Fresh fruit is also abundant in Myanmar and fruit salads, shakes and lassis are to be found on almost every menu. In summary, the most important things to remember about eating out in Myanmar are: eat street food and stick to the teashops which locals frequent.
Unfortunately we experienced very bad weather during our travels in Vietnam, so sampling the local cuisine became one way of passing the time in the depressing cold of Hanoi and helped us to wait out the rain from Hué to Nha Trang.
Some of the standard fare we sampled included Phó, the national dish of Vietnam, which seems to be everyone’s first choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Phó is a broth, which contains white rice noodles; depending on the cook they may be thin or thick. Meat (pork or beef) is also included and green leafy vegetables. One also receives lime to squeeze into the bowl. The best Phó we sampled was about 10 minutes after our arrival in the northern town of Den Bien Phu.
Our favorite dish in Vietnam has to be the spring rolls. In each restaurant they are a bit different. The extra salty spring rolls in Hué were particularly good as were the fresh spring rolls, which are uncooked (sometimes called summer rolls). In Hoi An we were able to sample White Rose, a local specialty made from shrimp and rice paper.
Two other great things about Vietnamese cuisine are the baked goods – fantastic patisseries all over the country serve fresh baguettes (the French did do one good thing for the region) and the famously thick, dark and incredibly strong Vietnamese coffee. It is perfect for that caffeine injection in the morning and given the pace of most Vietnamese cities, you need it (well I need it, unfortunately I was not successful in converting Martin into a coffee drinker).
Finally if you are game, try the local Dalat wine. It’s not the best wine we have ever had, but we did manage to polish of a bottle with a couple of baguettes by the river in Hoi An one evening at sunset. We can also recommend La Rue and Saigon beer. In Ho Chi Minh we found that most of the Germans, being the bargain hunters that they are, had done their due diligence and discovered that the cheapest place to get beer was a Bangladeshi restaurant in the backpacker ghetto. At 8000 dong or less than 30 Euro cents for a 450 ml bottle of beer, developing a ‘Bavarian Belly’ is incredibly cheap.