Myanmar food: Mohinga
If there is one dish that could be named as the ‘culinary icon’ of Myanmar, it would have to be mohinga. From north to south and everywhere in between, Myanmar residents start their mornings with a hot bowl of this soup. Given it’s popularity, I set off on a quest to learn more about mohinga, its regional variations and of course to sample a few bowls of the tasty treat.
Simply put, mohinga is a fish soup served over rice noodles. However it is a much, much more complex dish than just that. A bowl of mohinga offers a mix of textures- crispy, mushy, soupy- and flavours- sweet, sour, salty and spicy- all at the same time. The main ingredients are rice noodles, either thick or thin depending on the diners’ preference. This is then topped with a broth made from stewed fish which is deboned and slowly simmered with fish stock, fish sauce, rice powder, flour, sliced banana blossom and onions. A mix of spices is also thrown in which can consist of any or all of the following: garlic, paprika, turmeric, lemongrass, ginger and/or chili. But like most Burmese meals, the final ingredients are added at the table. This is always sliced lime, coriander and dried chillies but may also include fried onions, sliced green beans, crispy bean crackers, hard-boiled duck egg and fishcakes.
Mohinga is traditionally a breakfast food although these days it is available most hours of the day for those seeking a quick, nutritious snack. Few Burmese will cook the dish at home – it is quite labour intensive and most impossible to make a single serving- so it is sold at small stalls or even by roving vendors who carry the broth and noodles on a stick balanced across their shoulders. When ordering, you can chose your type of noodle and then state your preference for fish cake, egg or both! The vendor then pours the broth over the noodles, adds the chosen accompaniments and delivers to your table where you can add further spices and toppings. Note: Mohinga is always eaten with a spoon, never with chopsticks!
I am always amazed to hear my local friends debate their preferred areas for mohinga. The conversation often gets quite heated over where the most authentic and tastiest mohinga can be found. The Rakhine state, for example, uses more fish paste making for a more pungent flavour. The Ayeywarwaddy Delta serves a thinner broth and people in Mandalay prefer less soup compared to those in Yangon. I have yet to try a bowl of mohinga that I do not like, although if I had to chose I would say that I am biased toward the Mandalay variation.
Where to try
As mentioned, mohinga can be found throughout Myanmar and undoubtedly travelers will try it at some point. Many hotels offer it as part of their breakfast buffet. Here are some of our favorites:
Tin Tin Aye (Yangon) – If there was one legendary mohinga shop to be named it would be Tin Tin Aye. Now with 4 branches, Tin Tin Aye is a simple tea-shop style set up but attracts some of Yangon’s wealthiest who pull up in their fancy cars to buy a take-away bowl of the rich broth and noodles. Few tourists venture here but as there is only one dish on offer you do not need to worry about a language barrier- simply point to your preferred noodle type and tuck in to your breakfast.
Rangoon Tea Shop (Yangon) – The mohinga here costs almost 5 USD and you may wonder why this hipster restaurant can get away with it. But perhaps no where in Myanmar can you find a 100% organic, MSG-free bowl of mohinga. And it is delicious! A generous portion accompanied by great sweet local tea and served in a funky atmosphere is the perfect way to fuel up before a day of sightseeing.
Nan Shay Mohinga (Mandalay)– Although not going to win any points for style, Nan Shay Mohinga is certainly getting top marks for its mohinga. Open from 6-10 AM and again in the early evening, the roadside shop is an excellent place for Mandalay-style mohinga. Pull up a plastic chair, pour a cup of green tea and watch the local market across the street come to life as you slurp your noodles. Go early as sometimes they have sold-out by 8AM!
Feel Myanmar (throughout the country)– If you are traveling overland in Myanmar you will undoubtedly come across a ‘Feel Myanmar’ restaurant at some point. This local chain made a name for itself with its affordable, fresh curry buffet in Yangon but has expanded around the country. Their mohinga is delicious and served in a clean, comfortable environment.
If this has got your taste buds tingling be sure to let us know. We will happily take you to our favourite mohinga stalls or if you are keen to delve deeper in to Myanmar’s culinary scene ask about our food-orientated tours!-