Don't Start Your Sugar Detox Diet in Myanmar
Myanmar and its cuisine haven't really penetrated the West in the same way that India, China, and Thailand have. And that's a damn shame, because Myanmar is something of a dessert wonderland.
Photos by the author.
Having been virtually shut off from the rest of the world until only a few years ago, Myanmar and its cuisine have not really penetrated the West in the same way that India, China, and Thailand have. And that's a damn shame, because Myanmar is something of a dessert wonderland.
Burmese desserts—or snacks, to be more precise—are known as moun. But "snack" is not always synonymous with "sugary" for the Burmese. Many moun are more savory than they are sweet, enjoyed in between meals, served alongside sweetened milky tea in the country's ubiquitous tea houses, or sold on the street by face-painted vendors.
Much like the desserts found in the rest of southeast Asia, moun can be heavy on the sticky rice, banana, mango, rice flour, and tapioca. But more so than its neighbors, Burmese cuisine highlights the savory and salty, employing such ingredients as fermented tea leaves and chickpeas.
On the sweeter end of the spectrum, however, are these coconut butter pancakes, which are cooked street-side over charcoal in a cast iron pan. Fried in butter, they can come with a variety of ingredients mixed in, from cashews, peanuts, and almonds to diced fruit and chewy candies.
If you're looking for something lighter, these granular sour plum balls are mouth-puckering tart, with a slight sweetness at the finish.
These rectangular treats are similar, but made with tamarind rather than sour plum. They are crunchier and less tart on the tongue.
This basic jaggery is mixed with nothing but coconut flakes. A handful of any of these sticks of sugar will leave you surprisingly parched.
Ironically enough, you can relieve your thirst with yet more sugar—in the form of sugarcane juice, made from cane that's been pressed through a hand-powered grinder.
The cloudy extract is then mixed with water, ice, sweet syrup, and a squeeze of fresh lime.
Burmese semolina cake is similar to Japanese mochi—a bit plain, with a hint of coconut and a nice crunch from its sesame seed topping. It makes for a convenient on-the-go snack when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth but don't want something that'll make you crash into a diabetic coma.
Tapioca cake is lightly sweetened, very moist, and reminiscent of flan. It's best eaten while smoking a fragrant cheroot cigar.
For these unlikely desserts, vendors cut open a stalk of bamboo and stuff it with some white sticky rice, sugar, and coconut cream. They then plug it with some wood shavings and roast the stalks over coals. To get to the tender rice inside, you'll have to whack it open with a machete, as the Burmese vendors do.
After coming down from a whole-day carb high, consider balancing your blood with a bit of traditional toddy liquor. Did I mention that it's made from sugar, too?