Like its landscape and climate, the food of Burma [also known as Myanmar] is hugely varied. With more than 100 different ethnic groups, there’s a wealth of regional specialities often based on what’s grown and seasonal in the area. This is perhaps best reflected in noodles, which are sometimes served in soup, sometimes dry, sometimes with sauce. You could probably write a compendium entirely based on noodle dishes if you toured the country.
The areas away from the coast tend to utilise more meat and poultry, whereas those that can access the Irrawaddy River are blessed with freshwater fish and shellfish. The coastline is extensive and produces incredible seafood. A unifying factor throughout the regions, though, is dried shrimp — ngapi (fermented and salted fish or shrimp paste) is to us one of the defining smells of Burma.
A typical Burmese spread at home involves lots of small dishes for sharing. Among them are slow-cooked meat, seafood and vegetable curries (hin), subtly spiced but deep in flavour and seasoned oil. There are also fresh, zingy salads (a thoke), which can be sour, salty, bitter, sweet and spicy. Vegetable and lentil side dishes, garnishes and condiments make each mouthful a flavour bomb, and there’s usually a plate of raw or blanched vegetables with a dip. Rice is eaten at every meal, of course.
For the most part, savoury dishes are followed by fresh, seasonal fruits. In the UK, alphonso is seen as the best variety of mango, but we’d argue those in Burma can beat it, specifically sein ta lone (which translates to ‘the one diamond’).
An edited extract from The Rangoon Sisters Cookbook, published by Ebury Press (RRP: £20).
Amy & Emily Chung are supperclub hosts and cookbook authors. rangoonsisters.com