Since 2015 Myanmar has seen a dramatic rise in tourism, encouraged by increased accessibility to the country. Therefore, it’s no surprise Burmese food has started making its international debut.
Visitors taste the country’s fresh salads, creamy curries and endless varieties of noodle dishes and look to satisfy their cravings once they come home.
Freya Coote, owner of the London pop-up restaurant Yee Cho, has seen an increase in interest since the pop-up started.
“Myanmar has become a top travel destination in the last couple of years and I’ve found some guests come to Yee Cho to relive their holiday memories.” said Freya who started Yee Cho to share her passion for Burmese food, but also as a way for her to explore her cultural heritage.
Burmese food is a fusion of the food from the countries bordering it. The result is a vibrant cuisine with an unthinkable variety of dishes and techniques which brings together the flavours of South East Asia.
Burmese food vendors and restaurants outside of Myanmar have the freedom to rotate and unveil different dishes as their menu changes, the important thing is to keep flavours and especially the ingredients authentic.
People in London are open minded and the curiosity for the cuisine allows for authentic
flavours to be maintained, even if some dishes may seem unusual and strong tasting to some. One of the staple dishes at Lahpet in London is Lahpet Thohk, the famous tea leaf salad.
“We import a significant amount of produce from Myanmar monthly, a lot of raw Lahpet whole leaf [that] we marinate ourselves, and fried crispy beans,” Chef Zaw Manesh explained.
Meanwhile, Myo Lin Thway, owner of Burmese Bites, a stall selling Burmese food at Queens International Night Market in New York, has also noticed an increasing interest in Burmese food in America.
“I prepare the food the way I know how it should be, as authentic as possible, and serve them. And they like the way it is. Americans, especially younger generation in these days, are very open minded. They are so ready to experience new things, new foods, acquire new taste,” noted Myo who has been living in the US for over 20 years.
Myo serves just three dishes at his food stall: Keema Palata, Chicken Curry Palata, and Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup (Ohno Kaukswe). These simple but delicious and comforting staples of Myanmar cuisine have raised incredible popularity for the food stall, perhaps thanks to importing irreplaceable items, such as the Masala, directly from Yangon for maximum authenticity.
Sharing dishes also means allowing people to connect with traditions and candid moments spent with friend and family members, as Burmese cuisine is cooked with passion and fondness for tradition and culture. Freya tells me her dishes celebrate family moments and traditions, and that the recipes used for Yee Cho are “mainly recipes I’ve learnt from a family friend, Yee Cho, in Yangon. She teaches me new dishes when I visit my family and the pop up is a dedication to her.”
As per tradition, guests are encouraged to share dishes, and although some opt to have their own dish.
“Most opt to have a spread of dishes in the middle of table and share everything, just like in Myanmar homes,” said Chef Zaw from Lahpet London.
Cooking Burmese food outside of Myanmar is not only a wonderful way to showcase the delicious cuisine of the country, but also a way for people to connect with a rich and varied culture. Burmese food is about family, culture, and complex, comforting flavours, and the pleasure of eating it can now be shared around tables from London to New York and back.