A Little Food… A Vegetarian Food Guide to Burma (Myanmar)

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BURMA-Vegetarian-guideI grew up on crossover foods in the US; that means the American version of only the most famous dishes from each region. That’s well and fine for a sample and an “exotic” dinner when my taste-buds are bored back home, but the real thing is so very, very different once I ventured out on my travels. I have found this is the case with Thai food, as well as the Middle Eastern vegetarian foods I sampled throughout Jordan. The problem with this food pattern though, is that I was left completely unfamiliar with cuisines that never made the leap across the many oceans and seas. It wasn’t until I lived in Chiang Mai for about nine months out of the past year, that I happened upon Burmese food.

Once discovered, dishes and flavors from Burma have become a passion and my Burmese friends ensured I spent my time sampling delicious dishes, salads, and flavor combinations my palate had never considered. These same friends prepped me with advice on ordering vegetarian food, what to eat, and how to find safe street eats for my travels earlier this year in Burma.

Actually eating vegetarian in Burma, though, was a bit trickier than sampling it in nearby Thailand because of language differences, sanitation standards, and regional variances.

My first three questions are always:

  • Are there inherently vegetarian dishes in the national cuisine?
  • Can I eat the fresh fruits and veggies without risking contamination from the water used to clean the food?
  • Is vegetarianism understood and accepted?

We’ll cover the answer to each of these, as well as a thorough guide to vegetarian dishes, below.

A family-style buffet lunch in Bagan, Burma

A family style buffet lunch at the Golden Myanmar restaurant in Bagan.

Vegetarian Survival Guide to Burma (Myanmar)

Can I emphasize again how wonderful it was to sample the street food stalls throughout the country? The Burmese were friendly and fun throughout every meal, and Ana and I felt immersed in the culture packed into tiny stools, crouching and eating among the locals. This is where the conversations happened, we watched what other people ordered, flocked to the crowded places, and enjoyed the accidental orders when what we got didn’t measure up to what we expected (in fact, there are still at least three or four meals I ate for which I have no name, nor any idea how to re-order it!). Ana ate veg for a lot of our travels (by choice), but meat options abound. If you’re traveling Burma with a meat-eating friend, check out these three food guides: here, here and here.

A Burmese woman makes a tofu salad to order on the steps to one of Bagan's many temples. Ana chows down on the street food in Nyaung Shwe on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar). Free Chinese tea on the table at our street-side table

In this guide, we’ll cover all the major areas of Burmese cuisine I managed to hunt down and find while I traveled in the country. As well as how to say vegetarian and some quick tips to familiarize with the food culture in Burma.

For the food lists, you can quickly jump to any of the sections:

It’s Always Soup-O’Clock
You’ve Never Tasted Salads Like This Before
Dinner Delights and International Influence
Snacks, Fried Foods, and In-Between Meals
Sweet and Tasty Treats

Wondering how to say vegetarian in Burmese?

Thut thut luh.  

Or, for another phonetic writing of it: thouq thouq lo. And some say this is closer “theq theq lo.

The guidebook used another long-winded expression for vegetarian (something for “I cannot eat meat), but “thut thut luh” translates as “lifeless,” and when used with food it is immediately understood with absolute clarity and applies to all meat. It’s easy to say, but hard to put the sounds into the Roman alphabet, so have your first guesthouse teach you once you arrive. Note that I never got served meat when I said it, and even in this list of dishes, always order the dish, then specify “thut thut luh” to make sure that they do not add in fish sauce, shrimp paste, etc. This is not a guarantee on the shrimp paste/fish sauce, it really can depend on how well the cook understands Western vegetarianism. I will say this, I never tasted it in the dish, so if it was there it was very light…my philosophy is to do the best I can, but not to ruin my travel experience by refusing to eat foods that could have traces of fish products since it is SO prevalent in Asia.

The Simple Rules

Vegetarian Burmese Food Myanmar

Before we get to the photo breakdown and descriptions of delicious vegetarian Burmese eats, here are some things you should know before you go for any travelers in Burma, not just vegetarians!

  • Breakfast and lunch are the bigger meals of the day; follow the local custom and eat food earlier in the day, when it’s freshest.
  • Hot, fresh street food is safest (even better if it has a long queue!).
  • Tap water is not safe, but the large jugs of water in front of many businesses are a unique Burmese kindness and are safe, free, and encouraged if you need a glass; they place the water curbside to help people stay hydrated in the often extreme heat!
  • State your case upfront about being vegetarian, they will smile, laugh and easily acquiesce once they understand.
  • Rice is the base of most/many meals. Except for in the case of soups, you’ll be served rice with almost every meal.
  • Venture out for breakfast. Nearly every guesthouse serves a boring egg and white bread breakfast, the locals are eating a lot better than that if you venture to the street stalls!
  • The tea on your table is free. It’s usually a fairly bland/weak Chinese tea and it’s a safe way to hydrate since it’s served hot and sealed inside the tea canisters (be sure your cup is dry though when you start pour it though).

We’re ready to get started with the food! As a disclaimer, I’m not Burmese, so these descriptions and dishes are given to the best of my ability! Once you’re there you can sample and discover many I no-doubt missed on my trip. And, if I got it wrong, or you have an amendment to what I said, let me know so I can fix it!

And now I feel it behooves me to warn you: when you finish reading this photo food guide, you’ll be hungry!

It’s Always Soup-O’Clock

Soup is a wonderful and usually very safe meal throughout Asia because they boil ingredients just before serving the soup piping hot. If your soup is luke-warm, particularly if you are eating at an off time of the day, consider a pass (but pay for it if it’s at your table) and find a boiling-hot soup option.

Shan Tofu Soup (Tohu nuway)

shan tofu soup tophu nway

A traditional Shan soup, severed in the morning, but also throughout the day, at Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

I listed this dish first for a reason, I have a full-on obsession with shan tofu soup. The name is a bit misleading, because although it is made with tofu from the Shan region of Burma, the tofu is actually the thick, yellow ingredient in this dish. Ground yellow peas (or chickpeas) are ground and kept liquidy and warm throughout the day. When ordered, they flash boil thin noodles, add the liquid tohu and top with the cooks favorite toppings, including: smashed nuts, sesame seeds, parsley, cabbage, and a huge dose of ground, crunchy chili paste (unless you ask for it not spicy, then it will still come with chili, just not as much :) I love this dish so much I took several visiting travelers to taste it at the Friday morning market in Chiang Mai (I’m looking at you Christine!)

Fish soup (Mohinga)
(Flavorful but only for pescetarians, which I am not, but I tasted it anyway!)

mohinga fish soup

Mohinga, pretty much the National dish of Myanmar, this is a mild fish soup seasoned differently each time, with crunchy additions, thin noodles, and dried fish chunks occasionally added. Not vegetarian, but one for the pescatarians to try. This is often served at bus-stop restaurants and late at night road-side stops!

I consider myself a flexitarian, so I sampled this soup several times throughout Burma from my niece’s dish. Though it’s a common breakfast food, we also ate it all throughout the day at bus stop food stalls. It’s not much to look at, but it is full of flavor and spices. It’s also a great warming dish if you’re traveling up in the cooler north!

Mild Tomato Noodle Soup (Shan Khao Sw, Kau Suetho, or something close)

Shan Khao Suethoy

A soupy Shan khao swe in Hpa-an, Burma

Noodles, basic tomato paste, some crunchy fried beans fritters, and hot broth made this Ana’s favorite breakfast. We ate this daily in Hpa-an. At its most basic, it’s tomato sauce and pork, so make sure you order it “thut thut luh” to get a vegetarian version! It’s often a bit drier when ordered elsewhere in Burma, and tastes different once again when ordered in Shan State, but the beaming vendor next door to the Soe Brother’s Guesthouse in Hpa-an sold us on this delicious dish for breakfast; I think his conversation and tips went just as far as the soup in starting our day out on the right foot!
Where: Small restaurant with chairs on the street-side counter that is just next door to the Soe Brothers’ Guesthouse in Hpa-An (which is where you should stay if you visit!).

Vegetable Hotpot (Myae Oh Myi Shae)

Hotpot in Yangon, Burma

Bubbling and boil hotpot dish on the streets of Yangon stuffed with veggies, bamboo hearts, mushroom and tofu!

Hotpot food stalls lined the streets of Yangon in particular, so when we were hungry we would simply walk up to these, point at the delicious veggies and spices, say “thut thut luh,” then they served a tasty steaming hot bowl of tofu, noodles, and fresh vegetables. Expat Kyle noted that: “Myae Oh” is the clay pot and “Myi Shae” is the name of the curry/sauce. And a Burmese reader emailed in to tell me that this is a popular Chinese-inspired street food dish.
Where: All over the streets of Yangon we found long tables with a family working the small fires with bubbling bowls of hot soup and vegetable.

You’ve Never Tasted Salads Like This Before

This is the part of Burmese cuisine that delights me the most. The flavors in Burmese salads are quite unlike the lettuce/leafy salads common in the west. Instead, these salads blend a range of veggies, nuts, and flavors. Combine unique textures. And then hold it all together with oils, tamarind juice, lime, fried garlic, and nutty dressings. Food handling standards are still questionable at times, so this is where it gets trickier to eat safely (since locals may wash fresh veggies in local tap water, or mix the dish with bare hands on the streets). I paid attention to where locals ate, mostly chose salads when at restaurants, and generally lucked out with no one in our group getting massively ill even once). Note that the Burmese word for salad is something along the lines of: thote, thoke, or thouq when written in the Roman alphabet

Tea Leaf Salad (Lephet Thote)

Lepheto, Tea Leaf Salad

A delicious fermented tea leaf salad mixed with tomatoes, ginger, crunchy mung beans, fried garlic, toasted peas, and various other ingredients to flavor!

This is a top five favorite for me and for good reason–it’s spectacular. The base of the dish is fermented tea leaves, which are a very, very strong and unfamiliar flavor at first. But local cooks mild the flavors in the with the addition of nuts, cabbage, tomato, oils, and various other bits and bots (mung beans, ginger, sesame, bean sprouts, and green tomatoes, among other things, have been known to make an appearance in various iterations of this dish. If there is a cross-over item that you may have sampled from Burmese cuisine, it’s probably this one! Of note is the fact that tea leaves are very high in caffeine, so choose wisely the time of day you consume it! Also, if you want to try it at home, I found a great recipe online.
Where: All over the country, try it at restaurants and if it’s not on the menu, simply ask because there’s a good chance that it’s on the Burmese version of the menu. :-)

Pennywort Salad (Myin Kwa Yuet Thote)

A delicious pennywort salad; this is the best shot I managed since I was usually too busy inhaling it to grab a proper photo! Ingredients vary but include onions, pennywort, nuts, and oily dressing.

Tart and delicious, my palate delighted at the new combination of flavors in Pennyworth salad. The dish combines the bright green pennywort plant, lime, toasted sesame, turmeric oil, garlic, tomato…the list goes on, once again, according to local flavor preference. This is a favorite of mine–please seek it out and give it a taste. If you haven’t tried pennywort before (and I certainly hadn’t thought it any more than a weed in my garden) then you owe yourself a taste! Check out this recipe to try and make one at home.

Shan Tofu Salad (Tohu Thote)

shan tofu salad

Shan tofu salad in Nyaung Shwe, near Inle Lake in the Shan region of Burma. A delicious yellow tofu, sliced and complimented with cabbage, nutty sauce, and spicy chili paste.

Think of this as an inverted tohu nway Shan soup. It’s the same yellow tofu, but instead of liquid and soupy, the tofu sets firm, and is then sliced and garnished with cabbage, spicy chili paste, pickled veggies, and nuts/seeds/parsley. Really anything the local cook prefers is an accent flavor.

A Burmese reader emailed into give this context to the dish: “In Shan state, shan khao swe and tofu nway are usually eaten in the morning as breakfast. Tofu thote is eaten around noon, but only as snack, not as lunch. Even though I grew up in Shan state, I’m still amazed by how Shan people prepare their meals. They use some unknown leaves from big trees.”

Where: Inle Lake is the Shan region of Burma so this is where you can most easily find the dish. Ana and I also hunted down several Shan restaurants near the ET Hotel in Mandalay.

Ginger Salad (Gyin Thote)

A tasty treat, but not one for which I have a photo. Imagine it much like the rest of the salads in Burma, it’s shredded ginger and the ingredients added to it depend on the region and your cook’s taste-buds! If you’re keen to try this one at home, here’s a tasty sounding Burmese ginger salad recipe.

Tomato Salad (Karyanchintheet Thote)

Tomato salad Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

A huge plate of tomato salad, great for adding fresh flavor to a dish of rice

I have a love affair with tomatoes, it goes back about a decade (before that we were fierce enemies) and now we’ll never part ways. For that reason, I adore this Burmese salad. It usually consists of tomatoes, onions, crunchy peanuts, sesame, and oily dressing of some sort. And that’s it. It’s so good with a bowl full of rice and worked well as a compliment to many of the warm foods I tried.

Seaweed Salad (Japwint Thote)

Seaweed salad from Burma

A tangy seaweed salad with a bit of a crunch from the lightly cooked seaweed

This was, admittedly, not my favorite. Though I was on the fence when I first tried it, by the end of my time in Burma I appreciated the tart, tangy salad as a compliment to the rest of my food. Give it a try, since it’s a favorite of my friend. I’m told it’s trickier to find, but we sampled this throughout central Burma, in Bagan and Inle Lake.

Fermented Bean Paste (Pone Yay Gyi)

ground bean paste

A ground bean and onion paste with a very potent flavor ; it’s delicious mixed in with your rice and other dishes!

Pone Yay Gyi is a bit regional. You can definitely find this dish in the Bagan area. It’s a thick, salty dish made from fermented soy beans usually. It’s a delicious condiment to sample with other dishes, or mix into your rice for an extra jolt of flavor.

Dinner Delights and an International Influence

Burma is blessed with a huge range of cultural influences based on its history and location. The Chinese influence is strong in the northern border regions, and many dishes and customs flowed into the rest of Burma. This is the case with Indian food and culture as well. Yangon is a haven for Indian food lovers, Mandalay as well, and small restaurants and influences can even be found in small towns all over the country. Then, beyond these influences from other countries, Burma is home to a range of ethnic minority groups with their own customs, language, and foods. In short, this list of foods is so long because the country is rich with flavors and international cuisine influences.

Stir-fried Chinese Noodles

Stir-Fried Chinese noodles

Stir-fried Chinese noodles, basic but tasty and an easy vegetarian dish when the menu tended toward the meaty

Pretty standard fare in the tourist spots, we ordered this as a good filler that was tasty, filled with veggies, and pleasing to both the kiddos (Ana and I traveled with a Burmese friend of mine and her daughter while we were in Bagan and Inle Lake).

Noodles, Made to Order with Wide Range of Ingredients

Shan noodle dish Myanmar

Delicious Shan food at a street stall near Nyaung Shwe, on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

Noodles are a staple in the Myanmar diet, right under rice as the main source of food. The Burmese severed us boiled noodles, fried noodles, noodles in salads, noodles with crunchy toppings. In short, noodles abound and the toppings and varieties about. This one is particularly tasty with fried garlic, sesame, and other seasonings.

Street-Side Chapati and Dhal

chapati in mandalay

A too-hot-to-hold fresh chapati served with dhal from a street stand in Mandalay.

I converted Ana to what I hope will be a lifetime affair with Indian food after our travels in Burma. Mandalay was the best spot for a our street-side chapati stands. For about 20 cents we were able to get one piping hot chapati and one small dish of Indian food; on offer were: curries, dhal, vegetable, and a potato dish. We’d pick out six and go to town enjoying the flavors and fresh chapati bread.
Where: No doubt the best stand we tasted was almost directly across from the ET Hotel (29A 83rd, Between 23-24) in Mandalay.

Indian Thali, Dosa, and Biryani

indian dosa yangon

A freshly made Indian dosa with warm dahl and a cool coconut paste in Yangon at the New Delhi Restaurant.

Indian restaurants and options abound throughout Burma and they have the wide range of typical fare. There were dozens of restaurants in Yangon and an unlimited vegetarian thali ran about US $2 most places, with veg biryani, restaurants, dosas, and just about anything you love available on the menu. We found the best Indian food in Yangon and Mandalay, which is really no surprise since these are the two major cities. And it works out since some of the major other tourists spots you’ll likely hit have other regional vegetarian delights.
Where: New Delhi Restaurant (262, Anawrahta St) in Yangon. Thinking we would outsmart the guidebook, we asked a lot of locals for the best Indian restaurant, and they all pointed to this touristy (but so cheap) hot-spot. Down about 10 doors is a fantastic biryani restaurant as well with vegetarian biryani (though they run out by mid-afternoon!).

Snacks, Fried Foods, and In-Between Meals

The Burmese like to snack from what I could tell! There was a huge range of deep-fried, pan-fried, and street-side snacks available all throughout the day. From the simple sweet or savory pancakes on the streets of Yangon, to the more complex  flavors in samosas, we never lacked for food options.

Deep Fried Veggies and Beans

deep fried veggies

Deep fried veggies, served with breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even just a snack

These deep-fried snacks were offered with nearly every meal and were frying on the side of the road throughout the evening. The bean ones were my favorites actually, and look out for deep-fried yellow tofu at the same stalls, it abounds throughout Burma!

Fried Dough Sweet or Savory (Paleada/Palata/Parata)

fried dough

Order this one as you’d like it. We most often ate them with banana, though they are just as tasty if you opt for sugar, or even the savory one with beans!

Stands serving these have a range of options and pointing can work well. This is an Indian-inspired dish that resembles the roti stands evidenced throughout other places in Southeast Asia, but has more options. Ana and her friend M campaigned for one of these sweet treats each night, and though not the healthiest dessert on the planet, we loaded our dessert with bananas and everyone in the group enjoyed a few slices. The savory one, “Beq palata” stuffed with beans and fried up was a tasty dinner and makes a good option for any picky eaters (which we weren’t but Ana wanted a change-up from the soups and salads one night!). Note that you can also order “jet oo palata” (eggs with palata) and “[name of any ingredient] parata” according to Expat Kyle! :)
Where: The night market in Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake) had a wonderful stand, fast service and all the Shan soup stands are just next door! These are also served at most tea shops if you ask!

Beans and Red Rice (Kauk Nyin Paung)

Rice and beans

Never served to me when I was on my own, this was actually the Burmese breakfast served at our hotel (Westerners got eggs by default!).

I doubt I ever would have found this simple breakfast dish if A wasn’t with me. She was served Kauk Nyin Paung  for breakfast one day, while Ana and I were served yet another helping of eggs. Her’s looked a lot tastier, so from that point on, when possible, we opted for this dish! And as a bonus, A spotted a vendor from our early morning bus too; once we knew the dish was out there, we were able to pay closer attention and find it on our own!

A Burmese reader emailed in to tell me: “Beans and black Rice (Kauk Nyin Paung) is eaten as breakfast in Shan state. People in Mandalay also eats this in morning. It is usually steamed with a special cooker in Shan state, while the Bamar people seem to cook it just like the normal rice. Steamed glutinous black rice has firmer texture, while the cooked one is soft. Shan people would consider the soft one not good, me too. Kauk Nyin Paung can be prepared with white glutinous rice too.”

Tea Leaf Salad (Lephet Thote)

Lapheto Burmese tea leaf salad

The Burmese tea leaf salad, served with fermented tea leaves, fried mung beans and other various crunchy nuts and seeds, and ginger.

Not to be confused with the actual salad that comes out mixed together, this one has just three ingredients and is served as a snack/dessert, not a full part of the meal. The fermented tea leaves are very tart and strong, so mix to taste with the other ingredients when it’s served to you this way!

Sour Plums

sour plums yangon

A vendor relaxes with the paper, knowing the sour plum fans will seek him out when they’re ready for a mid-morning treat!

These very, very sour plums bake out in the sun and heat, so opt for them early in the day if you’re keen to sample. The flavor is a bit more potent than I can handle, but they’re quite popular with the locals!

Fried Other Things

Indian samosas abound in Yangon. Deep fried donut-sticks were particularly easy to hunt down in Mandalay, and basically, when the craving for deep-fried struck, there were no shortage of offerings on the streets in the big cities.

Sweet and Tasty Treats

My wicked sweet tooth was beyond happy with the quick sweet options. I love portion control and that was easy in Burma since they opt for a small bite of jaggery candy, or a bowl of sweet jelly rather than a huge piece of pie/cake/ice cream like we would in the west! And when all else fails, find the fruit!

Sugarcane and Jaggery Candies Chunks
A street-side stall selling sugarcane sweetened balls of candy. The purple ones are flavored with Sour Plum in the Bagan region of Burma. A container of sweet sugarcane candies free on the table in Bagan, Burma.
Where can you find these treats? Look for roadside stands and little jars on your table with light brown solid chunks. Then sample away, like the Chinese tea, they’re free if they’re on the table! Also, I found a home compound making the sweet sugarcane treats outside of Inle Lake, so keep your eyes on the lookout!

Sugarcane Juice with Lime

Sugarcane juice with lime

A popular treat all over, the pressed sugarcane juice with lime is sweet and refreshing, but be careful if it’s served with ice; choose a popular stand with clean ice storage!

Sugarcane juice is available all over the streets of Burma. The vendor feeds sugarcane stalks through the juicing contraption, and Burma’s version of the juice comes with a generous squeeze of lime! Be warned though, this is a street treat, so avoid the ice and choose a vendor with a generally clean machine and stall!

Jellied Sweets and Coconut Milk
I’m a big fan of dessert but I steer well clear of all jellied desserts for some reason. They’re quite popular all over Southeast Asia, often served chopped, shredded, or cubed and with ice, coconut milk, tapioca, or a variety of other sweet concoctions. You don’t lack on options if you like this type of dessert!

Plentiful Fruit

fruit in yangon

Young boys sell watermelon on the streets of Yangon’s Chinatown

Like most of Southeast Asia, Burma has a huge supply of fresh fruit on every corner and it’s the healthiest way to end a meal. Ana and I stocked up on bananas and clementines before a bus ride and snacked on yellow watermelon for a fun spin on a familiar treat! Fresh avocado is also fantastic in the Inle Lake region.

An Ending Note on Burma’s Vegetarian and Food Tips

To use a trite expression, I could wax poetic all day about the delicious food I ate in Burma. Thank you to the my Burmese friend A for her tips, advice, and guidance. She proved invaluable at helping me better understand Burmese food culture before, and on the ground throughout my trip to Burma with my niece. Without her translating and introducing me to some of these dishes, I would have blindly passed through regions of Burma oblivious to some of the local flavors, foods, and customs.

street food yangon

A street food vendor right on the sidewalks and in the midst of Yangon’s busy foot and car traffic! He’d doing it all right: clean work surface, 10 minute wait he’s so busy, and fresh and piping hot treats made-to-order.

Being vegetarian means that I am sometimes much more conservative on my food choices than meat eaters, out of fear mostly. But that’s silly to some extent. Yes, there is sometimes a huge language gap in Myanmar. That gap is sometimes scary, but once I was armed with my term “thut thut luh” I felt pretty confident to tackle the menu with a bit more gusto than I might usually. And it paid off.

Enjoy the dishes, and let me know what I missed so I can keep a running tally of the foods I still need to try! (And so others can try them too). If I got something wrong, please let me know and I’ll make the corrections.

Now it’s your turn, that was a pretty exhaustive list, which one looks most interesting/tasty/unique to your visual taste-buds?

Recipes & Ideas to Enjoy Vegetarian Burmese Food at Home!

There is no denying I am a big fan of Burmese food. It’s also surprisingly easy to bring home some of the best flavors. These cookbooks best capture the flavors of Burma; and the cultural reading in the books helps better understand the relationship between Burma’s food, history, and politics.

  • Vegetarian Mohinga recipe: Traditional mohinga contains fish, but this vegetarian version is absolutely delightful. A family recipe shared by Cho Chaw, who is also the author of hsa*ba Burmese cookbook.
  • Burma: Rivers of Flavor: A beautiful cookbook that not only explores the delicious foods of Burma, but the culture as well. I met Naomi, a James Beard award-winning author, on my travels in the region. She has a wonderful perspective on how food and culture meet and used that to infuse recipes, stories, food, and culture into one gorgeous book.
  • Flavors of Burma: Cuisine and Culture from the land of Golden Pagodas: Another helpful cookbook that details recipes, as well as dining and serving customs, language, and festivals.
  • Letters from Burma: Before traveling to Burma, it is a good idea to read about the country’s tumultuous history, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s fight for democracy in Myanmar.


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73 Responses to A Little Food… A Vegetarian Food Guide to Burma (Myanmar)

  1. Joseph Alberts January 3, 2017 at 11:51 pm #

    this is a spectacular post!

    i’m headed to myanmar next month as a veggie and cannot wait. much appreciation for all your myanmar info, but especially this; my appetite has been thoroughly whetted!

    hope all is well

    • Shannon O'Donnell January 4, 2017 at 2:48 am #

      Aw yay! So glad that it was helpful, and I hope that you have a fantastic trip, Myanmar has long been one of my favorite places.

  2. sharyn October 21, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

    Oh my.. i grew up in Australia but my parents were from Burma and then I lived there for two years in the mid 90s. Looking at your post made me miss living there so much!! Apart from all my wonderful friends.. I miss the food so much and my stomach is craving anything on your list right now!! I have lived in Cambodia since leaving Yangon and don’t nearly enjoy the street food as much as in Mynamar.. ! Thank you for this wonderful culinary trip you just sent me on .. now just to visit there again one day! But the biggest problem visiting was that we would go back and our relatives would feed us so much all the time that we were never hungry enough to really enjoy everything.. quite a dilemma!! Would love to go back to live there again.

    • Shannon O'Donnell October 22, 2016 at 7:13 am #

      Hi Sharyn! So glad that the post reminded you of your happy memories in Burma! I haven’t been there in a few years, but this January I have the chance to return and I can’t wait. The flavors of Burmese street food and signature dishes are just so unique. I can’t wait to return myself. Like you, I found Cambodian food lacking, I hope you can perhaps find a good Burmese restaurant in your town. :)

      • Sharyn October 22, 2016 at 11:21 am #

        Great you get to go back soon.. Look for something called Pear Bpyo (sorry I can’t transliterate very well).. it is a soybean product.. kind of fermented.. they sell it up near Inle area in little dried cakes which they do lots of things with – it is a salty, strong flavour – very tasty – usually eaten with rice .. but can be prepared many different ways .. I had some local vegetarian friends and this was a staple in their house.

        Chim baung is another one – a sour green leaf made into fried curry dish or a soupy curry.. possibly often with fish.. maybe hard to find eating out though.

        Then another dish is the Ohn-no cow-swear (sorry! that is spelt funny).. a soupy coconut noodle dish usually with chicken .. you should have seen it.. but if there is somewhere that does a vege version (which my mum does at home and my friends there).. it is really delish. I should ask my friend if there are any places which sell a vege kind..

        Oh enjoy your trip!!

        • Shannon O'Donnell October 22, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

          Thank you for the wonderful recs! I haven’t yet tried any of those dishes, so I will hunt them down when I am in the country. They look delicious and I am always game to try to foods. :)

          • Sharyn October 23, 2016 at 1:59 am #

            sorry the pear bpyo is the dahl like curry they serve with the naan for breakfast at tea shops..

            the soy bean stuff i was talking about is called pear bo.. and the dried cake things are for cooking.. so not sure how where they would sell it already cooked up.. but check around if you go up to inle area.

          • Shannon O'Donnell October 23, 2016 at 2:11 am #

            Ah, OK, thanks for the clarification. I might do some homestays in that region, so I will ask my hosts too! See if they could prepare it if I go find and buy the ingredients. :)

  3. Simon June 3, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

    thanks for all that info, i’m starving now.
    why are you vegetarian ?

    • Shannon O'Donnell June 4, 2016 at 11:56 am #

      It’s really tasty food! Some of the most unique vegetarian food I have tried. My reasons are a bit of everything. I never enjoyed eating most meat as a kid. I don’t agree with factory farming practices. We don’t need nearly the amount of meat the food industry claims is healthy. Although I think that meat can be eaten ethically, since I can’t quite stomach the process of watching an animal slaughtered — even gently — I don’t think I should eat them. I am pretty moderate on my views, I don’t shame other people for their food choices but do the best I can to support food practices that I believe are healthy for me, my family, and the environment. :)

  4. Chloe C July 11, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    This actually helped me even though I live in Burma , haha. Anyways, THANK YOU! I can add more of these dishes into my meals as I am planning on going straight on to being a vegetarian :) hope you enjoyed your stay in Burma :D

    • Shannon O'Donnell July 11, 2015 at 7:52 pm #

      I am so glad it’s helpful Chole! It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, going vegetarian there, but if you are lenient on the fish sauce thing then you can eat really well without too much stress. Good luck! I do hope to make it back there one day soon. :)

  5. Sandar December 3, 2014 at 11:22 pm #

    Thanks for loving our Burmese foods.

  6. elliot B August 24, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    Thanks a bunch for this post! I’ve been in Burma for a week and I’m glad that now I can expand my restaurant vocabulary past the word “lephet tho” and “jezu” :)

    • Shannon O'Donnell August 24, 2014 at 9:52 am #

      Glad you found it useful! I still dream of some of those salads, so enjoy, it’s a tasty place to be! :)

  7. Shannon O'Donnell July 23, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    So glad you enjoyed the food post! I miss the Burmese food all the time and can’t wait to return one day. Best of luck with your book and site!

  8. Juan - Myanmar Travel July 11, 2014 at 6:11 am #

    Hi Shannon, this post is so good! Congratulations!

    I have tried all of them and I’m in love with this country and food! Amazing!

    I have just finish an eBook – 11 Dishes from Myanmar you Have to Try – and I am currently working on a photobook about Myanmar People, Food and Culture :)



  9. Lukas Cech January 4, 2014 at 3:32 am #

    Hi Shannon, a big thanks for this guide, I’m about to go to Myanmar 7th of Jan, and this really helped me, going as a vegan :). Now just to get the pronunciation right!

    • Shannon O'Donnell January 4, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      You’re welcome! And have a wonderful time. It’s going to be really tricky to find dishes that strictly adhere, but ask your first guesthouse to help you on pronunciation and you’ll be in the clear. The Shan tophu nuay is delicious, so make sure you hunt that down if you’re in the Inle Lake region. :)

  10. ko ko August 9, 2013 at 2:55 am #

    Hey, Shanon there are 2 types of laphet thoke. the one with the veggies and without veggies.Laphet thoke with veggies serve casually.Without the veggies serve occationally (formal), for example,traditional ceremony. But anyway there’s no rules for that, you can eat just the way you like.

    • Shannon O'Donnell August 9, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

      Yes! Good point, I usually recieved the one without veggies as a little extra at a restaurant when we were waiting for food, not sure if that’s the norm, but I love it both ways! :)

    • Shannon O'Donnell August 9, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

      Yes! Good point, I usually recieved the one without veggies as a little extra at a restaurant when we were waiting for food, not sure if that’s the norm, but I love it both ways! :)

  11. Jennifer Barry June 20, 2012 at 1:05 am #

    I’m not at all a vegetarian – closer to paleo – but these pictures look delish! If I hadn’t just had a snack I would be starving. :)

    • ShannonOD June 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

      Hehe. Every time I think of the post I get a bit hungry — glad it looked tempting, I’m on a mission to inspire people to eat more veggies :::cue my evil laugh:::: ;-)

  12. Samuel & Audrey June 5, 2012 at 1:51 am #

    Shannon, this is an inspiring and comprehensive post.  Although everything looks worthy of trying I must admit I’d like to try the fermented bean paste (pone yay gyi).

    • ShannonOD June 5, 2012 at 8:38 am #

      It’s excellent! The flavor is sooo strong, so it tastes delicious added to rice and with some of the other ones! :)

  13. Marvin @ intrepidmotion May 29, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    What an awesome list and set of photos Shannon!  I don’t think we tried even half of what you’ve got here while we were in Burma. I guess that means we’ve got to hit some of these dishes up on a second go-around.  Thanks for a great write-up, and also for some really great travel tips on your blog!

    • ShannonOD May 29, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      I was lucky Marvin that I had a Burmese friend with me, otherwise I wouldn’t have tried even half of these! Glad you have some new ones to add to your next visit, hope you both are well! :)

  14. Sylvanscribbles May 26, 2012 at 3:55 am #

    Thanks a lot for compiling this huge list Shannon. It is definitely going to be very helpful for vegetarians travelling to Myanmar.

    • ShannonOD May 26, 2012 at 10:06 am #

      Glad it’s helpful! The food was delicious, so I hope all vegetarians traveling there get a chance to taste some of the dishes  :)

  15. Amar May 24, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    I always struggle with veggie food when I am travelling. Thanks for posting this and great food shots!

    • ShannonOD May 24, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

      Thanks Amar! It can be really tricky, but all the various ways to say “vegetarian” is one of the first things I learn before i go to a new place! :)

  16. acoupletravelers May 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    The food looks absolutely amazing! My boyfriend and i are starting out 2 year backpacking trip in Japan in September and traveling through Asia before migrating over to Europe. I am particularly excited for Burma as it seems to be one of the few countries left in Asia that hasn’t been exploited by tourists yet. I also love to cook (I have a food blog – http://avocadopesto.wordpress.com) so I am especially excited for all the food and hopefully will be able to learn some recipes/cooking techniques while we’re over there ! 

    • ShannonOD May 22, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

      Good luck on the final planning stages of your trip! Two years will be quite the adventure, and Asia is a wonderful place to start — you will have plenty of recipes for your blog! Good luck and safe travels :)

  17. acoupletraveler May 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    The food looks absolutely amazing! My boyfriend and i are starting out 2 year backpacking trip in Japan in September and traveling through Asia before migrating over to Europe. I am particularly excited for Burma as it seems to be one of the few countries left in Asia that hasn’t been exploited by tourists yet. 

  18. Audrey Bergner May 22, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    MMMMmmmmm!! That looks like a feast! I like the look of the soups and hot pot dishes! ;D

    • ShannonOD May 22, 2012 at 10:49 am #

      The soups are delicious! Hope you get a chance to try them, thanks for weighing in! :)

  19. Jeremy Branham May 21, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Wow, this is a pretty awesome guide to the food!  I am not a huge fan of vegetarian food but this looks delicious.  I love the fruit as well.  I am trying to work more veggie options and healthy foods into my diet so these really do look good.  I am not sure when I will have the chance to try Burmese food but now I want to! :)

    • ShannonOD May 22, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      Thanks Jeremy! I think the biggest problem with veggie food in the US is that it’s regular food but then substituted to make it veggie. But in SEA, the food is actually crafted with the flavors in mind — and delicious! As for places, I hear there is a good Burmese restaurant in San Francisco next time you’re in the city :)

      • Jeremy Branham May 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

         I will be in SF for a couple of weeks in July.  I will try and find it!  do you know the name of it?

        • ShannonOD May 22, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

          Yep, Burma Superstar, :) Let me know how it tastes!

  20. Rishi May 19, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    Fantastic blog yet again Sharon, though I must be partial when I say that no other country beats India when it comes to pure unadulterated veggie cuisines. 

    I often wonder though….how come most vegetarians-regardless of race, nationalities and cultures- tend to be women? Honestly, I’d reckon out of every 10 vegetarians out there, 8 are women!!!

    • ShannonOD May 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

      It’s a fair point Rishi, I know a lot of men claim they can’t get enough protein to feel good when they eat vegetarian, but I think the real root of the issue is because so few vegetarians eat really well, instead of bulking up on fresh veggies and alternative foods like quinoa, lentils, and that sort ot hing, they just stick with adding more crap to their diet like chips, sweets, and fake meats. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to cook well, man, it can be tasty to go vege!! :)

  21. Mark Wiens May 16, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    Fantastic article Shannon! 

    Even though I do eat everything (meat and seafood included), honestly, I think some of absolute best Burmese dishes happen to be vegetarian. I just couldn’t get enough gyin thote and lahpet thote when I visited. Love the dishes you highlighted, your photos and descriptions. Great guide!

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

      Thanks Mark! I couldn’t agree more about the tea leaf and ginger — it was SO unique and flavorful, and I had also come from Thailand, so it was fun to have some new flavor combinations to try out! Cheers and happy eating  :-)

  22. Ashley May 15, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    YUM! Such a great post! I definitely have to run and make myself lunch after seeing all of this!

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      Hope you found something tasty for lunch yesterday! Have a great day :)

  23. Ava Apollo May 15, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    I know what you mean about crossover foods.  I feel like that’s all I eat (In America)!  My sister is a vegetarian and it’s really helpful to find blogs like this, given that sometimes we have no idea if there will or won’t be veggie options. Thanks for sharing! 

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      Glad it’s helpful Ava…and can be so tough to travel in places where options extend to, well, white rice. I honestly thought I might run into that issue in Burma (like I had in China) but I was delightfully surprised by the options. If you make it to Burma, no doubt your sister will love it! :)

  24. Kyle Crum May 15, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    Best post about food in Myanmar, yet!

    For food taxonomy purposes to help you the next time you come (or anyone else who will use this):

    – Seaweed salad is “Japwint Thoke” in Burmese.  It’s not actually seaweed (even though that’s what the menus say).  It’s some sort of freshwater plant that no one can figure out the name for.

    – Vegitable hotpot is “Myae Oh Myi Shae”; “Myae Oh” is the clay pot and “Myi Shae” is the name of the curry/sauce.

    – The dough is “parata / palata” and is at most tea shops.  A “Beq Parata” is awesome…beans with parata bread.  There’s also “jet oo parata” (eggs with parata) and “[name of any ingredient] parata” :)

    Lastly as a word of caution, if you say “theq theq lo” it usually just means that they won’t add meat to it.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t fish paste / animal stock in it.  But, they’ll usually get the idea.

    I think I’m going to eat some tohoo nooway tonight; even though I had it last night.  It’s just so yummy.

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

      YOU ROCK KYLE! Thanks for weighing in and adding some of the names, I put them in the post along with your tips on the dish. Hope your tohoo was tasty, there are twinges of jealousy creeping up in me right now at the thought. I really appreciate your feedback, it was quite a task to find the names and descriptions since there is so little information about Burmese food on the internets :)

  25. Naomi May 15, 2012 at 4:55 am #

    This has made me SO excited to get to Burma!!

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

      So glad Naomi! When are you heading there? And let me know if you have any questions before you go! :)

  26. Rachel May 14, 2012 at 11:50 pm #

    Mmm, looks tasty! I’m not vegetarian anymore but I still love a good vegetarian meal (most of the time, if possible). I really want to eat that Shan Tofu soup!

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

      I highly recommend the soup, and even if you can’t make it to Burma if you’re ever in Thailand let me know and I can give you some tips for hunting it down! :)

  27. Living Outside of the Box May 14, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

    Wow!  Look at all that food!  Okay…I will be printing off this guide when I travel there…thank you!  :-)  Also, isn’t it funny that it that the translation is “lifeless”, when in fact so many vegetables HAVE life, but dead meat doesn’t?! Just found it slightly amusing…

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

      Do you have plans to head to Burma any time soon?  Also, agreed on the term “lifeless,” doesn’t do justice to the nutrients and life inside of the veggies! :)

  28. Lindsey May 14, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    Ooh my mouth is watering so much right now – thank goodness it’s almost lunchtime! 

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      Hope you got a good lunch Lindsey, now I’m hungry just thinking of the veg food! Hope you’re having a great day :)

  29. Dean Wickham May 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    These all look delicious! One of my favourite things to do in SE Asia is to try all the different street foods and local dishes. Sounds like I will love Burma

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      You will be in heaven in Burma becuase the foods are so different from what you find in Thailand, Malaysia, etc. It was a lot of fun to see how different dishes had integrated into the culture, and sample all of the new flavors! Hope you get over there soon! :)

  30. TravelShus May 14, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    wow – great pictures. didnt know burmese vegetarian food was so varied and so unique.

    my hsband is allergic to sesame and fish and nuts, which makes eating this kind of food difficult, i wonder if its possible to eat some of these dishes unaltered with still avoiding those elements…

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      That’s really tough if he’s allergic to all three of those ingredients…I would suggest pictorial cards with the images on them. And if you go to restaurants, rather than all street stalls, it could be no issue. The street stalls often cook everything in a single pan, but for things like the soup, you could point to the different jars as they prepare it and indicate which ones you don’t want. As long as it’s not life-threatening allergies, you could get by pretty well I think (and carry an epi-pen through SEA if they are life-threatening). Also, ask your first hotel to write it down for you in Burmese script, and that can help!  Good luck  :)

  31. Eeva V May 14, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Thank you Shannon! I have offically added Burma to my travel list because of the food! It looks & sounds so amazing. I do have a question…the term you used to have vegetarian food, how is it pronounced phonetically? I always mix up vowel sounds in other languages and it would be helpful to know the sounds a bit better. Thanks.

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      Hi Eeva! Glad I’ve inspired you to visit, it’s has been such a highlight on my travels. As for vegetarian, it’s tricky, and I am far from an expert but: 

      Thut – kinda close to the English word “tote” like to tote a bag around., but with the o sound a bit more like an “uh”

      luh – like “low” as in the ceiling is low. But again, a bit more of an “uh”.

      That is likely hardly doing it justice, but your hotel your first day will likely break it down for you very happily!  Safe travels! :)

  32. EM at Cubicle Throwdown May 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Looks amazing! I have never had Burmese food before but this has inspired me to try it (as well as put Myanmar on my “to visit” list!) I would have to say the one that looks tastiest to me was the tea leaf salad (lephet thote) – those tea leaves are intriguing me!

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

      Glad it’s inspired you EM! It can be tricky to find, but I know a handful of the major North American cities have Burmese restaurants (like NYC and San Francisco), so I hope you are able to try it soon…and good call on the tea leaf salad, it’s one of the most famous of the dishes, and so, so unique :)

  33. Micki & Charles May 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    Looks soooo delicious! As a veggie traveller too, I know how challenging it can be to find vegetarian food on the road. I think I know the word for vegetarian in at least 10 different languages :).  Thanks for this!

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      Yay for a fellow veggie traveler! It’s funny, I forget so much of the tidbits of languages I learn along the way, but I use the “vegetarian” one so much they are pretty ingrained in my memory!    :)

  34. Sheila May 14, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Mouthwatering photos and list of food. Thanks! Will definitely be a useful reference when we go to Burma.

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed Sheila! Any plans to go to Burma soon? :)

  35. jillacox May 14, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    Oh my goodness, what a fabulous resource. I’m determined to make it to Burma sooner or later and I’ll definitely be consulting your veggie eating guide when the day comes. Thanks!

    • ShannonOD May 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      I’ll cross my fingers for you that you can make it there soon! The country is so beautiful, and changing quickly with the new reforms and that such…plus you get some tasty foodie delights! :)

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