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Thursday, 15th October 2015

How to be a vegetarian in Burma

Let’s face it, Burma is not exactly known as a culinary hotspot. But you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in the world that’s as vegetarian-friendly as Asia. From India to Indochina, the locals know exactly how to rustle up a feast of vegetables.

Burma is no exception, and while not enjoying the same reputation in the cooking world as neighbouring Thailand, its cuisine is well worth discovering. If you’re a vegetarian, there are many delights awaiting. You may be surprised at just how good Burmese food can be.

Tea ten ways

Burma is one of the few countries where tea isn’t just drunk, it’s also eaten. Lahpet, or sometimes laphet, lephet or any other variation of the spelling, is a kind of fermented or pickled tea leaf used to create all manner of salads that are peculiar to Burma.

Often the fermented tea leaves will be mixed with shredded cabbage, sliced tomatoes, deep-fried beans, nuts and peas to create a main dish. Or you can eat the sour leaves on their own as a dessert or snack.

Salads galore

Burma is salad country and you’ll be amazed at how clever the people are at creating mouthwatering concoctions from local produce like rice, noodles, potato, ginger, tomato, kaffir lime, tea, long beans and tamarind. 

Among the most famous is ?thouq, which is a light and spicy salad made with raw vegetables. Usually this is mixed with lime juice, onions, peanuts, roasted chickpea powder and chillies. 

Maji-yweq thouq, made with young tamarind leaves, and shauq-thi dhouq, created with a type of lemon, are among the best. In Burma, you are never far from an amazing salad. 

Oodles of noodles

The Burmese adore salads and what could be better than to combine these with noodles? In fact Burma’s a great spot for finding ‘dry’ noodle dishes that are essentially a noodle salad with a broth served on the side. Often it’s fish or chicken, but it’s easy to find a vegetable version.

Shan style

The Shan of northern Burma are known for their own particular cuisine and among the most well known is their ‘warm tofu’, which isn’t actually tofu at all. In fact the dish, called hto-hpu nwe, is a thick porridge of chickpea flour that’s served over thin rice noodles, along with pickled vegetables and broth.

Arakan pulses

Rakhine or Arakan food is similar to nearby Bangladesh and India’s Bengal region. You’ll find lots of beans and pulses, flatbreads and vegetable curries galore. In fact Indian restaurants are fairly common throughout Burma, which means you’re never very far from the classic vegetable thali served on a banana leaf.

Fruit bonanza

Finally, if the various noodles and tea salads don’t get your appetite going, then you’ll find Burma is a wonderful place for fruit. From the freshest papayas and mangoes to succulent lychees and the similar-looking rambutan, Burma's incredible climate makes for perfect fresh fruit all year round.