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The highlights of Burmese cuisine, according to chefs Amy and Emily Chung

London-based supperclub hosts Amy and Emily Chung — authors of The Rangoon Sisters Cookbook — share their highlights of Burmese cuisine, from Mohinga to Gin thoke.

By Amy Chung and Emily Chung
Published 3 Jan 2021, 08:05 GMT
Mohinga, the national dish of Burma, is a fragrant lemongrass and fish soup with rice vermicelli, egg, ...

Mohinga, the national dish of Burma, is a fragrant lemongrass and fish soup with rice vermicelli, egg, lime and crunchy chickpea crackers. 

Photograph by Martin Poole

Like its landscape and climate, the food of Burma [also known as Myanmar] is hugely varied. With more than 100 different ethnic groups, there’s a wealth of regional specialities often based on what’s grown and seasonal in the area. This is perhaps best reflected in noodles, which are sometimes served in soup, sometimes dry, sometimes with sauce. You could probably write a compendium entirely based on noodle dishes if you toured the country.

The areas away from the coast tend to utilise more meat and poultry, whereas those that can access the Irrawaddy River are blessed with freshwater fish and shellfish. The coastline is extensive and produces incredible seafood. A unifying factor throughout the regions, though, is dried shrimp — ngapi (fermented and salted fish or shrimp paste) is to us one of the defining smells of Burma.

A typical Burmese spread at home involves lots of small dishes for sharing. Among them are slow-cooked meat, seafood and vegetable curries (hin), subtly spiced but deep in flavour and seasoned oil. There are also fresh, zingy salads (a thoke), which can be sour, salty, bitter, sweet and spicy. Vegetable and lentil side dishes, garnishes and condiments make each mouthful a flavour bomb, and there’s usually a plate of raw or blanched vegetables with a dip. Rice is eaten at every meal, of course.

For the most part, savoury dishes are followed by fresh, seasonal fruits. In the UK, alphonso is seen as the best variety of mango, but we’d argue those in Burma can beat it, specifically sein ta lone (which translates to ‘the one diamond’).

An edited extract from The Rangoon Sisters Cookbook, published by Ebury Press (RRP: £20).

Amy & Emily Chung are supperclub hosts and cookbook authors.

Sisters Amy & Emily Chung, supperclub hosts and cookbook authors.

Photograph by Martin Poole

Amy & Emily’s three favourite Burmese dishes

1. Mohinga
The national dish of Burma, this is a fragrant lemongrass and fish soup with rice vermicelli, egg, lime and crunchy chickpea crackers. It’s eaten all over the country, from street corners to fine-dining establishments. There are also regional variations, using different types of fish and garnishes.

2. Ame hnat
Like other Burmese curries, this beef version starts off by gently slow cooking onions in plenty of oil with garlic and ginger to create a rich, flavoursome base. The curry is cooked until the beef is tender, producing the most delicious, melt-in-the-mouth dish, which tastes even better the next day.

3. Gin thoke
Burmese salads have so much to offer in terms of flavour and texture. This one combines the fresh, sharp taste of pickled ginger with cabbage, garlic oil, lime and crispy fried beans, which are simply mixed together. It’s the perfect balance of sour, salty and crunchy that’s synonymous with Burmese cuisine.

The must-try ingredient: Lahpet

This fermented or pickled tea is a unique ingredient with a distinct umami flavour; it also offers an added hit of caffeine. The leaves are widely used in Burmese cooking, but are best enjoyed with crunchy beans and nuts in lahpet thoke (tea leaf salad), to end a meal.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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