Foods of Burma

Before arriving, I had no idea what Burmese food would taste like. I knew Burma was between India and Thailand on a map, and guessed it would be some sort of combination of the two.It turns out I was partially right; their cuisine is heavily influenced by geography. Samosas and biryani were sold on the street, while their curry was to-die for.
For breakfast, the two most famous dishes are mohinga soup and fritters. Mohinga, the unofficial national dish, is a breakfast rice noodle soup in a fish broth made with lemon grass, garlic, ginger, and onions. Bone-shaped fritters and samosas are the most common street food, particularly around breakfast time. Because what could possibly start to your day better than deep-fried goodness?
Burmese curry, one of the other national dishes, tasted different each time I ordered it. Some were lighter and almost souplike, but my favorite curry (pictured below) came as a thick paste on top of fried fish. The curry was very spicy and garlicy, but the main flavor was ginger. It reminded me almost of a heavier version of Thai curry, with even more aromatics herbs and spices.
Many restaurant menus had a section dedicated for Thai food. In Bagan, I couldn’t help but order a bowl of red curry.
Watercress seemed to be the vegetable of choice in Burma, appearing on most menus.
On my final day in Yangon, a friend and I went to a Shan noodle restaurant. After staring at the six pages of noodles on the menu, I eventually chose Shan sticky noodle soup – mainly because I had no idea what sticky noodles were or would taste like.

While I was waiting for the Shan noodles to arrive, to my side a lady was stuffing dumplings with minced spinach and folding them.

myanmar handmade dumplings plateAfter watching her complete the tray, I couldn’t help but order a plate. What I did not anticipate was how they arrived – fried in one large dumpling pancake. The top layer was as thin as paper, while the bottom of the dumplings remained soft and tender as if boiled.

Finally, my sticky noodle soup arrived. Let me tell you something – when Burmese people say ‘sticky’ noodles, they mean it. It took me several minutes to de-clump them enough to grab my first bite. But they were worth the effort. The noodles were fully cooked, yet chewy – and paired well with the full-bodied gingery, garlicy, fish and soy sauce broth.
While five days certainly isn’t enough time to fully understand a culture or its food, I loved everything I tasted. Burmese food is extremely influenced by their geography next to Thailand, India, and China – all of which have cuisines I love. I look forward to breaking out my new Burmese cookbook and trying some new dishes when I return in August!

Lithuanian Vindaloo/Galangal Stew

One of my dad's housemates is Lithuanian. He is a renowned naturopath and physician, and knows about the beneficial health properties of many exotic foods and drinks known to man.

Yesterday, my dad told me that dinner had been prepared by his housemate for some friends from Lithuania and me. Actually, that's not what he said. He told me that he "felt awkward being the only English-speaker at the table", and requested my presence. The guilt trip worked, and I soon walked to the dinner table to see what meal awaited me. I stumbled upon this:

This self-named "vindaloo stew" incorporated a medley of fresh picked organic vegetables from the garden with an almost curry-like sauce. From far away, it actually looked pretty decent. We blessed our meal for 5 minutes, and began to eat.

From the first bite, all I could taste was a bitter, wasabi-like horseradish taste. The combination of spicy dried vindaloo and heaps of fresh ginger-like and peppery galangal stopped me dead in my tracks. My body begged me not to take another bite, and I began to tear up from the spice. I looked around the table to see everyone else's reaction to the seasoning, and couldn't help but notice that my dad was downing it with large bites. Lithuanian eyes gleamed at me in hope that I was enjoying this meal. I sheepishly smiled, and took a few more bites. I was reminded of a wasabi eating contest we had in Korea, when my "Hyong" (host family brother) ate a hunk of wasabi the size of a ping pong ball  for $20.

I couldn't continue eating, but I needed to show signs of politeness and grace since the meal was generously prepared for us. I quickly thought of three strategies:

  1. Angle my spoon towards me, so I could take empty spoonfuls, put them in my mouth, and smile knowingly.
  2. Pick out the butternut squash and broccoli and eat only those two ingredients since they masked the shoe-like flavor of the dish.
  3. Accidentally drop my bowl off the table onto my foot, and then politely excuse myself to leave and go to the hospital and get stitches.

Note: Strategy #3 was quickly discarded.

After the meal, my dad asked me what I thought of it. I responded truthfully about the seasoning, and he remarked how it would, "Clear my sinuses," and was very healthy for me.

The point of this post is that no matter how healthy a food or ingredient is, no matter the number of anti-cancer properties it contains, no matter the massive amount of energy gained from eating it; it only can affect you if it tastes good enough to finish the bowl.

I probably would've extended my life by several days if I had finished my bowl of vindaloo galangal stew, but looking back, it's definitely was not worth it.

Vegetarian Tom Kha Gai Recipe

Tom kha gai (translated literally to mean chicken galangal soup), incorporates so many contrasting flavors that it can be intimidating for a new chef. When I first tasted tom kha gai at a Thai restaurant, I was so inspired that i wrote the following passage about its flavors:

Immediately the creamy milk hits your palate; transporting you to an exotic Thai beach. You’re lying down on a chase lounge; soup bowl in hand. As you slurp the broth, a hint of kaffir lime adds the perfect amount of tartness- enough so it plays off of the coconut milk, while not so much so that the tartness is overwhelming. Shreds of galangal root float about the bowl, each one permeating the broth with an earthy, citrusy flavor. Normally, the rice noodles would seem slightly overcooked and gloppy, but because they are coated in the broth, the flavors meld together to become one. With the last spoonful of broth, the elusive flavor of lemongrass- impalpable yet distinctly aromatic- lingers on.

This past week I attempted my own version of this Thai classic based upon a recipe found online. My variation follows:

Vegetarian Tom Kah Gai


The broth was perfectly seasoned by the combination of bullion, lime, lemongrass, and galangal. Every ingredient added to the flavor and texture of the soup.

Ease of Execution

About 20 minutes from start to finish, including prep time. While lemongrass and galangal root may seem intimidating to prepare, it’s simple once you get started.”


Moderately attractive in the bowl, particularly when sprinkled with chiffonades of basil.


Tom kah gai is an easy to make delicious soup definitely a try.


4-5 stalks lemongrass
2 cans (14 ounces each) unsweetened coconut milk
2 bouillon cubes (or 1.5 cups of vegetable stock)
1 galangal root (cut into 20 quarter-sized slices)
10 peppercorns (or ground pepper
Zest of 1/2 lime
1.5 pounds of sweet potatoes or butternut squash
1 can garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 scallions sliced
Basil (to taste)

1. Peel away the outer dry layers of the lemongrass. Trim the tops. You will use roughly 6 inches above the base. Using a blade/knife, bruise each stalk at 2 inch intervals at all sides.

2. Peel the galangal root and cut into 20 quarter-sized pieces.

2. Heat the coconut milk and water with bouillon over medium heat. Stir in the galangal root, lemongrass, peppercorns, and lime zest.

3. Cut the sweet potato/squash into large bite-sized pieces. Add to the broth, and bring soup to a gentle boil for 10 minutes.

4. Remove soup from heat and add the garbanzo beans, soy sauce, lime juice, and green onions. Serve warm with whole basil leaves or chiffinades of basil (see notes).


  • To chiffonade basil, simply stack the leaves on top of each other and roll them intro a tight bundle. Cut diagonally.
  • In Thailand this soup is served with the lemongrass and galangal root still in the soup. If you would rather not  eat around them at the table,  remove them from the soup before Step 4.
  • Basil can be replaced with cilantro.
  • Mung bean noodles can also be added.