Yangon is not exactly known for its food. However, there are a few places worth checking out and as the city begins to develop many more restaurants are opening up.
There are a few restaurants and bars that are well-known and beloved among the expat community in Yangon. If you are looking to meet someone new or strike up a conversation over a game of pool, you may want to try to the ever-popular 50th Street Bar. Serving up western specials as well as local delights, this is a good place to visit if you need a break from Asian flavors. Higher-end hotel restaurants are also a viable option if you’re looking to dine out in style. Summer Palace in the Sule Shangri-La Hotel serves authentic Cantonese cuisine for lunch and dinner in the hotel’s newly renovated restaurant and the Strand Grill at the Strand Hotel offers a selection of European and Asian dishes in their elegant colonial-style dining room.
If you are looking for restaurants with more of a local feel, Kone Myint Thar offers tasty Yunnanese cuisine. It’s more expensive than most local restaurants, but well worth it. The duck in particular is delicious. Aung Thukha is a good place to experience authentic Burmese flavors. If you’re feeling adventurous, try some grasshopper or frog! Golden Crab offers some good Thai food, especially seafood. A popular dish is the soft shell crab with chili sauce. For a broader selection of eats from both East and West, along with cheap beer, you can’t go wrong with Ginki.
Because tap water in Myanmar is unsafe, it’s best to buy bottled water in bulk at the supermarket. Look for brands like Blue Mountain, Alpine, and Oasis. While some places (not all) sell bottled water, you have to be careful to make sure that the bottle has a sealed cap, as some vendors will try to sell used bottles refilled under a local tap. Drinking and eating traditional Burmese tea is considered an integral part of daily life in Myanmar; as such, you will not have to go far to find a typical street-side tea shop. Though the boiled water used for tea is generally safe to drink, be sure to rinse out the cups that are given to you before you use them. Most tea shop owners will not speak English or have English menus, so if you are looking to try to the standard drink, ask for “lapae yea,” black tea with condensed milk and sugar, with an array of fermented tea leaves for eating on the side. Take caution: Burmese tea is highly caffeinated, so for the optimum buzz, you will probably only need one cup.
A general tip for finding safe food in Yangon is to look for places with tables and chairs. Next, make sure locals are actually eating there. Then, look at where their food is stored, and the general hygiene of the establishment. Another consideration is how long the food’s been sitting out. Oftentimes a plate of pickled vegetables and fresh herbs is placed on the table for customers to add to their dishes—these platters are often reused even as the tables turn, so you might be best off avoiding them. If using this heuristic doesn’t raise any red flags, you probably won’t get food poisoning.
Though you might think it is polite to wait for everyone’s food to arrive before eating, in Burma this is not the case. In fact, you are encouraged to begin eating as soon as your food or the first dish arrives, which is probably what everyone wants to do anyway, European etiquette notwithstanding. Different types of food have dramatically different cooking times, so oftentimes one dish will go cold before the next dish arrives, if it arrives at all…
Though Burmese food might not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of what you are craving for dinner in your home city, if you look hard enough, you can find authentic, delicious Burmese restaurants outside the country. If you are looking to get a taste of the unusual Burmese flavors before traveling to Southeast Asia try:
Cafe Mingala, New York, USA
Daw Yee Myanmar Cafe, Los Angeles, USA
Burma Superstar, San Francisco, USA
Rangoon Burmese Restaurant, Chicago, USA
Mandalay, London, UK