Food and culture : People of Myanmar
Myanmar and Burmese cannot be used interchangeably because the former represents the country while latter represents only one of the ethnic groups. The confusion is due to the fact that Burmese is the dominant ethnic group in Myanmar (with the largest population).
Under them there are more than 135 minor ethnic groups recognized officially. For example, under the Shan major ethnic group, there are 33 minor ethnic groups.
As a result, although these 33 smaller groups belong to the similar lineage (i.e. Shan), there are still subtle differences among their culture. These cultural differences can be seen in how they live their daily lives. One of the most recognizable differences is their traditional foods – which will be the main focus of our discussion for today.
Like many Southeast Asian countries, rice plays a major role in the Myanmar cuisine. Rice is prepared in various ways such as turning into desserts, cakes and noodles. These differences are more noticeable among various ethnic groups whom like to prepare their dishes slightly different from others. Like many other cultures around the world, food plays an important cultural role in Myanmar – being an important part of daily lives and ceremonial rituals.
Given the relatively longer presence of Burmese in Myanmar, it has much more stronger and refined cultural presence. As a result, Burmese traditional food is the mainstream food in Myanmar. As the country is located next to India and Thailand, the Burmese food is heavily influenced by and similar to Indian and Thai cuisines. For example, Burmese curry is very similar to Indian and Thai curries. Nevertheless, I would say that it has less spice than Indian curry and less coconut than Thai curry.
Monhinga, a fish-based noodle soup is a traditional Burmese dish that is representative of Myanmar cuisine. It is not only a staple food for daily Myanmar people but also a must-try dish for foreign visitors. Even though Monhinga is a standard noodle soup for Myanmar as much as Ramen is for Japan, there are many variations of this national dish. Each region of the country likes to add its distinct taste by using a different type of fish as a soup base and/or adding a different variety of spice.
NgPeet, a fish-based fermented sauce sort of like the Burmese version of Japanese soy sauce, is also a staple in Myanmar. And much like the Japanese soy sauce which is used to dip a wide range of tempuras both fried vegetables and meats, the Burmese like to dip everything in NgPeet - especially fresh or slightly steamed vegetables.
Mont-Lin-Maya (“MLM”), affectionately known as “the couple snack” is a staple street food that you can find in local markets and festivals across Myanmar. MLM is very similar to takoyaki – a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan usually filled with minced or diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. For MLM, you replaces octopus with quail eggs and picked ginger with chickpea. Similarly, MLM is very popular among Myanmar as much as takoyaki is for the Japanese.
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