I was a little nervous about getting on as a vegetarian in Burma until I learned that at least they’re familiar enough with the concept to have a word for it: “thathalo” (so what if it translates to “lifeless”?). With some help from the awesome Vegetarian Survival Guide to Burma and advice from a vegetarian friend who lives in Yangon, I set out to eat my way through town.
For street food, Yaw Min Gyi Street and Anawrahta Road are good places to start. Yaw Min Gyi used to be the only place that foreigners and expats could stay, so maybe they’re more accustomed to dietary restrictions. Regardless, we were easily able to order and enjoy vegetarian tea leaf salad and tasty Shan noodles with a peanut-garlic-tomato sauce (see map below) for about $0.50 apiece.
A note about tea leaf salad: it’s unique to Burma and you should definitely try it. But no matter where you get it, it’s also really salty. Really really salty, to the point that I preferred to cut it with another dish. Be warned, and order one to share instead of one per person to start.
The Indian influence in Yangon is most heavily felt on Anawrahta Road downtown, where dozens of vendors and restaurants are concentrated. I went with the Survival Guide‘s suggestion and tried Ingyin Nwe (232 Anawrahta near the corner of 29th) where I feasted on South Indian crepes (dosa, or “thosar” in Burmese). I’m usually a purist and like the filling to be the traditional potato and onion masala, but in this case the flavorful mix of vegetables inside was nice. Get yourself the unlimited side of 3 vegetables, which comes with potato (meh) but outstanding vegetable stew and sambar, and slurp away. The wait staff was super friendly too, and seemed to take joy in watching me down little bowls of hot liquid and then refilling them immediately. The grand total for my big meal was $2.
Chinatown is fun to explore as well, although I was disappointed that I never did find the barbecue spot I had read about. Ask before you go! It turns out that wandering around 19th Street and asking random vendors for barbecue doesn’t get you anywhere. Do look for stands selling large slabs of warm silken tofu in a clear broth – it’s a deceptively boring-looking dessert with a lovely lemongrass-scented syrup.
You must make a trek (it’s really not far – a $2 cab ride north and east of downtown, past Kandawgyi Lake) to Morning Star Cafe for breakfast one day. It’s a bustling outdoor eatery full of locals enjoying the most important meal of the day. Get the yeasted naan “platha” with creamy split peas and fried shallots, delicious creamy Shan tofu with noodles, and samosa salad (!). Wash it all down with a sweet and sour iced yogurt.
If you’re looking for European food at some point and want to splurge (by Burma standards), try Sharky’s near Shwedagon Pagoda, where 80% of the products are sourced in country. This includes everything from salad greens and baguettes to goat milk, brie, and gelato. Pretty cool.
The downstairs is a store and ice cream shop where you can buy cheese, wine, bread, croissants, Burma sea salt, and items imported from Europe. The upstairs is a proper restaurant with a nice vegetarian selection, particularly if you’re starved for dairy. There’s also a cute little outdoor seating area that is nice in the evenings:
The pizzas and veggie burger (no patty, just two kinds of cheese and lots of flavor) are very good, as is the passionfruit cheesecake.
Prices are closer to those in the US, with most meals setting you back about $12.
117 Dhammazedi Road (near Coffee Circles)
Halfway between U Wisara Road and Inya Road
Open daily from 8 am to 10 pm
If you travel to Bagan, don’t miss a visit to The Moon vegetarian restaurant. All those Burmese delicacies you’ve been wanting to try, and more, await you in in this cute outdoor spot conveniently located next to Ananda Temple. So many goodies tempted me on the menu that I wish I’d gone back.
The eggplant salad here was really stunning, with a deep, smoky flavor, sesame seeds, cilantro, tomatoes, green onions, and pumpkin seeds. Kind of like the Burmese version of baba ghanoush:
Tea leaf salad was good as usual in small doses:
Pumpkin curry was a bit bland but great for cutting tea leaf salad:
Black rice was delicious:
And it went great with my favorite item of the meal, which was also the most unique: tender, tangy tamarind leaf curry. I have no idea how I didn’t take a picture of the curry. And I desperately want to eat it again. I didn’t see it on any other menus and didn’t even know tamarind leaves were a thing so this one’s going to take some investigating.
Don’t skip the lemon ginger drink either – it’s spicy, refreshing, and not too sweet.
All this talk just makes me crave Burmese food. Let us know if you have suggestions for some good recipes!