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Exotic Soups from Burma (Myanmar)

Updated on September 26, 2015

Influences on Burmese Cuisine

Burma (now called Myanmar), the second largest country in the southeast Asia has a distinctive style of food habits. However Burmese cuisine (not so popular as Myanmarese cuisine) has not received as much global recognition as its neighbouring countries, India (to the west), China (to the north) and Thailand (to the east).

Burmese cuisine is highly influenced by Indian, Chinese and Thai culinary habits. Being under British colonization till 1948, Burmese food habits also reflect European impressions. In spite of influences from diverse cultures, Burmese have sustained the ethnicity of its indigenous gastronomical heritage till date.

My Experience of Burmese Cuisine

I had the first taste of Burmese cuisine at Mandalay, a restaurant run by a Burmese family at College Park, Maryland during my post doctoral research days at UMCP. First time, I was driven by my curiosity to try a new Asian cuisine, but the distinct, subtle taste and the characteristic flavour of the speciality Burmese soups and salads left me craving for more and I had ended up visiting the place as often as I could.

Being one of the largest rice producing countries, Burmese staple food is rice. They have steamed or boiled rice in every meal and their common dishes include rice noodles, rice cakes, rice vermicelli and other rice products. Like many other Asian countries, in a typical Burmese meal, rice is accompanied with curried vegetables, meat or fish and soup and salad. Dessert is not a common addition to everyday meals, but made specially for entertaining guests or on important occasions.

What I find the most interesting about Burmese food are their myriad of exotic soups. I am going to write all I know and could find about the Burmese traditional soups.

Exotic Burmese Soups

In Burma soups are considered an indispensable part of their traditional cuisine, served at almost every meals from breakfast, lunch, dinner and even during snack time. The Burmese concept of soups and salads, ingredients, condiments, cooking styles and variations are quite different from that of the Westerners.

Burmese Soup Culture:

Soup is served along with the main course and other side dishes and are treated as beverage during meals. They do not serve wine or even a glass of water during meals, as they believe that brothy soup will help swallow the solid food easily. Sometimes if the soup is thick, they serve green tea at meals.

Soup also acts as an appetizer, hence they start taking the soup before the main dish and prefers to continue taking in little portions between other dishes through the meal.

Interestingly soup can be served at the breakfast table, with curried rice at lunch and dinner and also during tea times or with fast food combination.

Popular Condiments:

The two most popular condiments used by the Burmese in almost all varieties of soups are fish sauce and dried shrimp paste.

Fish sauce: a paste or sauce made from dried sea fish. Burmese fish sauce is slightly darker in colour than its Thai counterpart, has a relatively mild taste, no added sugar and does not render the dishes with too strong fishy smell.

Dried shrimp paste (Ngapi): sauce or paste made from pounding dried shrimps

Without seasoning with these cooking sauces, the soups cannot get the authentic Burmese flavour. Other than these, they add onions, ginger, garlic and turmeric. Burmese do not use a lot of spices in their soups.

Basic types of Burmese soups:

There are mainly four basic styles of soups - sweet broth called Hinjo, sour soup (called Hinja), bitter soup (called Hinga) and bean soup. The sweet soups are served at room temperature and are usually clear and bland, with vegetables. The sour soup is made so with tamarind pulp or tomatoes and the bitter soup is generally spicy and peppery and served hot with salads. Various kinds of bean soups are made which are thick gravy like.

Cooking oil: Peanut oil and sesame oil are the most popular cooking oils in Burma

Mohinga with vegetables, boiled eggs and fritters
Mohinga with vegetables, boiled eggs and fritters

National Dish of Burma: Mohinga

The national dish of Burma is a special fish soup called Mohinga which is traditionally a favourite breakfast recipe, but can be taken at any time of the day.

Due to its wide popularity and demand in the country, it is also sold as street food in food stalls or by mobile street vendors all over since the morning hours. Mohinga is also served on important occasions.

Mohinga is basically rice vermicelli noodles cooked in a fish broth with fried onions and garlic, garnished with boiled eggs or gourd fritters or chickpea fritters, raw/boiled beans or other green vegetables and coriander leaves.

Being a common Burmese dish, it has a lot of regional variations but the basics remain the same.

Other Popular Delicious Burmese Soups

Coconut chicken noodle soup (Ohn No Khauk Swe): The stock is made of chicken stewed in thick coconut milk. Slices of fried onion, fried rice crackers, a sqeeze of lemon, chopped cilantro and roasted red chili powder is added to enhance the taste.

Lentil soup (Katen Joshi): The broth is made by boiling red lentils in water and served with a lot of garnishes like vinegared green chili peppers, sweet onions caramelized in peanut oil, deeply fried grated potatoes and bread cubes, cilantro or coriander leaves and chopped green onions.

Sour soup (Chin hin): The stock is made by straining the liquid after boiling tender green tamarind pulps or tomatoes and dried shrimp paste. The stock is poured over stir fried (in sesame oil) onions, garlic, turmeric, chopped spinach and green tomatoes, simmered over low heat flame and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Pumpkin soup with Thai basil (Schwe Payon Hinjo): The sweet broth of the soup is made with chicken stock and cubed pumpkins boiled with fried onions and garlic, simmered over low flame until pumpkins get tender, seasoned with salt and pepper and finally garnished with freshly chopped Thai basil leaves.

Bean Soup: Burmese bean curd or tofu (called tohu) is different from the Chinese version as it is made from chick peas instead of soy.

Aren't they sounding amazing?


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Some really interesting soup ideas. Very informative.

    • danielmcbane profile image

      Daniel McBane 4 years ago from Berlin

      I ate a lot of soups when I was in Myanmar. Most of them were really good. I especially enjoyed the Shan-style noodle soups.

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 4 years ago from The High Seas

      Sounds tasty to me.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, these sound so interesting! I don't think I'm much of an adventurous eater, so I don't know if I'd want to try these myself, but I'd certainly like to have a closer look... :D