We didn’t just eat noodles in Burma. But it sure seemed that way when it came time for lunch.
Our options were pretty standard. Fried noodles or fried rice? With chicken, pork, or veggies? Simple. Tasty. With plenty of regional variations. Somewhere west of Mandalay, on our way to Mount Popa, we stopped at a typical roadside restaurant. As soon as we arrived, fresh veggies went into a hot wok bubbling with four generous ladles of oil. Then came the noodles (oodles of them!). A little fish sauce. Once off the embers, the mixture was combined with some cooked chicken, and topped with the ubiquitous fried egg. It was just what we needed to give our tired cycling legs the fuel to get us to the top of Mount Popa on another hot Burmese afternoon.
Whereas Burmese food lacks the imagination and sophistication of some of its regional neighbors, the country’s position — it shares a border with India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand — results in a cuisine that is oftentimes a fusion (God I hate that word!) between what we traditionally associate with southeast Asia and the heavier and oilier curries from India.
Additionally, Indian and Chinese restaurants can be found just about anywhere in Burma. Stop at a roadside teahouse and you’ll be greeted with samosas and fried flatbreads with chickpeas. Christmas dinner, which we celebrated in Shan State near the Chinese border, was a feast to make any American Jew jealous!
My first meal in Burma wasn’t even Burmese. It was lunch at Nilar Biryani & Cold Drink. As the name suggests, this Indian restaurant just a block from Sule Paya (the 2,500-year-old pagoda that is Yangon’s geographic center) does just one thing (well… two) but boy does it do it well! Large caldrons facing the busy street cook a wide range of biryanis for hours upon hours. The result is chicken that falls off the bone and extraordinarily aromatic rice. The cold drink? An out of this world banana lassi.
No discussion of Burma is complete without a mention of mohinga, the national dish that’s eaten for breakfast. It’s a fish broth filled with noodles (they they are again!), chunks of fish, and various condiments ranging from hard-boiled egg to cilantro. It’s not the prettiest dish, but it made for a delicious and filling breakfast — especially when 80 kilometers of cycling lay ahead.