This article is written by Mary Banfield and Morris Averill.
Beware Yangon, for a worldwide vegetarian revolution in on the table. For locals tempted to join this mass movement, for lost vegetarians and travellers, here is your Yangon Survival Kit with advice from nutritionists, vegetarians and chefs on how to stay meat-free in Yangon.
Today up to half of America’s population are planning to reduce the amount of meat they eat. In many nations, Israel, Australia, India and Sweden over one in ten people are vegetarian and the number is rising year by year.
Myanmar is no exception as an increasing number of locals and expats seek a healthier and socially responsible diet.
The green sprouts are shooting throughout Yangon as a host of vegan or vegetarian friendly restaurants realise the commercial value of a diverse menu. Even so, there are challenges for vegetarians, it’s still not that easy.
Five years ago, to ask for a meat free dish in a restaurant “would raise eyebrows,” said vegetarians Wai May Kyaw and Luke Davies.
“While it’s easier today, it’s still tough to eat like a vegetarian, especially keeping it somewhat healthy and not only filling up on rice and noodles!” said Breanne Baildon, a nutritionist.
Online Information: The international service, HappyCow.com is your best resource for a vegetarian, or vegan meal from New York to Shanghai. Twenty-two restaurants in Yangon are listed as vegetarian or vegan friendly.
Taj Indian-Nepali Vegetarian Restaurant, offers traditional Indian and Nepali dishes.
Soe Pyi Swar Vegetarian Centre offers an extensive menu of traditional Burmese dishes.
The Old Eain Café has a selection of breakfast or lunch dishes, and also supplies traditional Myanmar snacks and sweets, such as jaggery that is made from the sap of toddy palm trees.
For contemporary vegetarian dishes try Healthy Me, Sprouts, & Nourish Café.
Location: Most restaurants are located in a short radius from the downtown area, so for those who adhere to a strict vegetarian diet and who love to eat out that’s the place to be based. Highly recommended restaurants include The Taj Indian-Nepali Restaurant, Soe Pyi Swar Vegetarian Centre, Nourish and Healthy Me.
Language: It’s not always easy to find a restaurant that has a clear vegetarian option but there are ways to ask for a meal without meat or fish. “‘That That Loot’ is the word for vegan”, meaning ‘free from killing lives’ says the Myanmar Vegan Society. For those of us who are not fluent Burmese speakers try various pronunciations.
That’s is not completely foolproof. “From what I understand most restaurant staff don’t consider oysters or shrimp sauce to be vegetarian.”
Say: No ‘ngan pya yay’ (fish sauce); No ‘nga-pi’ (fish paste) and No ‘ka-yoo-see’ for oyster sauce. Try your best but don’t get upset if it doesn’t work, said Baildon.
Vegetarian Myanmar Dishes: Most traditional salads are reliably vegetarian. Try Tea Leaf, Pennywort, Silky Burmese Eggplant Salad or egg rolls or for a snack try Moat.
Become a regular: Once you’re a regular at a restaurant the waiters will know your favourite dishes and how to make them. When you find a place that’s respectful of your dietary needs then stick to them.
Home Delivery: For a lazy night at home use yangond2d.com for a home delivery from your favourite vegetarian restaurant.
Check the menu at the door: If you walk into an unfamiliar restaurant ask for the menu before sitting down. If there are no vegetarians option, you can subtly walk away. Otherwise a waiter may pick up that you need help if you stand looking intensely at the menu.
Be flexible: A mistake is bound to happen, so if your bowl of Tofu is delivered with the eye of a fish then don’t panic.
Use Images Not Words: An image has no language barriers. Find an image that says, ‘no meat, no fish’ and show it to the waiter.
Yangon Farmer’s Markets are held at Karaweik Gardens in Lake Karaweik, one of three markets held around Yangon. It’s here you you can pick and choose the healthiest veggies.
For those who are time-pressed, the Go Green shop offers healthy food options and is open every day.
Alternatively, Kokkoya Organics delivers vegetables from the farmer to your door.
Since opening in 2017 the service has become highly popular and reached maximum capacity. In early 2020 Kokkoya will be expanding and until then anyone is welcome people to add their names to a waiting list.
There are challenges in eating healthily in any city, and Yangon is no exception. It seems the best advice for dining is “be flexible, and enjoy!”