Not all food you will encounter on your travels will be edible. But while you may scoff at the quality of such products on display in Yangon, Myanmar, the locals here are more than used to the dangers by now!
Despite being something of a foodie, I cannot claim to be an expert on Burmese food. It has always been a difficult cuisine to examine, as there is relatively little genuine, first-hand information on it (compared to, say, Thai or Vietnamese cuisines). The Burmese dishes I remember most fondly, however, are Laphet Thoke, Shwe Yin Aye, Ohn Htamin, and Mohinga. They were all very tasty, and range from a simple coconut rice to an Instagram-worthy coconut sherbet dessert, and from fishy noodle soup to spicy tea leaves. But walking around the markets and streets of Yangon I began to realise that not all street food in this country looks particularly appetising…
Quite surprisingly, fish seems to be on the menu a lot in Yangon, despite the city’s landlocked status. The fish I saw wasn’t particularly good-looking, although I hear that Kachin Fish is a worthwhile fish dish from Myanmar. No idea if I could find it on the streets of Yangon, though. Falooda and Samosas were available here, which just goes to show the Indian influence in Burmese cuisine. Yet while you might expect hygiene problems in India, it was a little surprising that (for foreigners at least) the food in Yangon was also questionable in a hygiene sense. Some of it just looked dirty, like it had been sitting there for weeks and gone stale. I left the potato fritters well alone, despite my hungry tummy!
Sometimes, the food in Yangon was downright disgusting. I saw a large basket full of dead grasshoppers, which just looked really creepy. I couldn’t try one myself, although to be fair, I have seen a lot worse in other Asian countries (Cambodia, China, Vietnam…). These snacks are considered a delicacy in Yangon, and they are apparently really easy to catch for the local vendors. They just head to the fields, harvest a large selection of the insects (for no charge), and then sell them at 100% profit on the streets. Easy money!
Falooda is also sold in India, and I have had some amazing varieties in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. However, for me, the best Falooda is the Burmese variety. I can’t put my finger on what the difference is, but I think Burmese Falooda is sweeter, which makes it taste more like cotton candy, rather than a simple milkshake, like the Indian stuff. Still, whatever the flavour, people in Yangon seem to love it with a passion! While some street food in Yangon may be dirty, and while some may be dirty, there’s nothing debateable about Falooda – it’s delicious! I had some rose-flavoured Falooda and it was a godsend. One of my biggest memories of Yangon’s streets is trying to find the same Falooda-seller every afternoon (he seemed to move around every day!) – he seemed to recognise me by the end of my stay!
The fact of the matter, though, is that my opinion is irrelevant. Burmese people won’t care too much about what we foreigners think of their food. Their palette is used to snacks like grasshoppers and stale fish. In fact, snacks in Yangon are routinely enjoyed as a social event on the streets, with makeshift seats and tables made out of any material that can be fashioned from the surroundings. It’s a great way to let off some steam, have a bit of a gossip, and enjoy a cheap meal amidst the frenetic pace of this fascinating city.