Breakfast in Burma

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Everything starts early in Myanmar. Landing at Yangon airport in the dark soon after 5am, there were sparks cascading down the side of the terminal building. Someone up there doing a spot of early-morning welding. 

Actually it's sensible to start your day early. Even now at the beginning of Myanmar's winter season (November-February) temperatures in most places we've been to (outside the hill towns) get up into the 30s during the day and there's 60-80% humidity. It's hot.

So we've got into the habit of getting up between 5am and 6am and heading off to explore - sometimes with a destination in mind (the river, a pagoda, a market), sometimes not. 

Always with breakfast in mind. The people here take breakfast seriously and there are loads of streets stalls and little cafes offering a myriad of delicious early-morning eating options. 

 A typical Burmese tea shop

A typical Burmese tea shop

The tea shops are a good start, although almost exclusively a male domain. They are mostly open at the front, but dark inside, with peeling paint. You sit on low wooden or plastic stools/chairs and there is (free) green tea in a kettle or thermos on every table. Black tea is available for a few cents. This tea is kept brewed in a big kettle at the front and then mixed with sugar and condensed milk - it's poured back and forth (see top photo) before being served in a small china cup.

Deep fried dough strips are a tea shop favourite, delicious when hot, chewy and uninspiring 15 minutes later. In some places with more Indian influence there are samosas, or there might be sweet buns or a sort of fried dough pancake with egg, served with little bowls of hot or sweet sauces. 

 The pancake/egg breakfast from a little shop in Mandalay - particularly yummy. Below, Geoff is enjoying his, with a cup of tea.

The pancake/egg breakfast from a little shop in Mandalay - particularly yummy. Below, Geoff is enjoying his, with a cup of tea.

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At our favourite tea shop in Mawlamyine, the husband served the tea and his wife sat behind a raised counter taking the money and placing single cigarettes in small containers. Customers bought a cigarette and lit it using a lighter attached by string of rubber bands above her head. 

 I ate noodle soup here one morning in Yangon. Not sure where Geoff was. They absolutely wouldn't let me pay for it.

I ate noodle soup here one morning in Yangon. Not sure where Geoff was. They absolutely wouldn't let me pay for it.

Women are more likely to eat at a small breakfast stand on the side of the road. Rice noodles are a staple, with vegetables and maybe chicken - teaspoons of chilli, peanuts, coriander, sugar, sauce etc added at the end. Sometimes the noodles come in a creamy broth - again with a choice of additions like onions, fried chicken, egg, or tofu crackers crumbled on top. Mohinga is another traditional breakfast - noodles in a fish and shallot-based broth, with bits of banana stalk. In Hsipaw I got hooked ona sort of rice porridge, with a sweet soya-like sauce and various condiments.

 Banana-flavoured sticky rice from the market - another awesome breakfast dish

Banana-flavoured sticky rice from the market - another awesome breakfast dish

Takeaway is popular, with the stall holder filling a small plastic bag with the (often quite sloppy) food, and then tying the handles for the customer. Takeaway tea and coffee (the latter made from a combined coffee/milk powder/sugar mix) come the same way - in a plastic bag. Any sauces you need for your breakfast dish come separately in another plastic bag. God knows how many plastic bags are used every day in Myanmar.

In the drive-through version of breakfast takeaway you don't even need to get off your motorbike - just drive up and order. 

 Drive through breakfast. The man on the bike and his son were waiting for their pancakes. The stall-holder put them in a plastic bag; another bag contained his cup of tea. 

Drive through breakfast. The man on the bike and his son were waiting for their pancakes. The stall-holder put them in a plastic bag; another bag contained his cup of tea. 

The music of choice in breakfast stalls is Buddhist monks chanting - I suspect it's on the radio, though it sounds the same every day and can become rather monotonous for the uninitiated, with a word that sounds rather like "video" (but which presumably isn't) repeated seemingly at the end of every sentence. At more upmarket tea stalls you might even get monk TV.  Like the radio, but with the chanting monk visible for increased value. Apparently they change the pictures every month or so - we only saw this guy while we were there. 

 The larger words underneath are what the monk is saying, in an old religious language that even most Burmese speakers can't read. Below that in smaller print is (if I understood correctly) religious news. 

The larger words underneath are what the monk is saying, in an old religious language that even most Burmese speakers can't read. Below that in smaller print is (if I understood correctly) religious news. 

Sets you up for the day a treat, it does.

 One morning in Mawlamyine we stumbled across this community breakfast and were literally dragged in to eat with everyone from the street. Organisers collect money from local individuals, shops and businesses and when they have enough, they put on a free street breakfast. We had noodle soup (chicken? fish?, I can't remember...) with chopped coriander and chilli. It was delicious. We sat on the ground on a sack. The photos below are the organisers cooking and serving up, and some school kids enjoying their food.

One morning in Mawlamyine we stumbled across this community breakfast and were literally dragged in to eat with everyone from the street. Organisers collect money from local individuals, shops and businesses and when they have enough, they put on a free street breakfast. We had noodle soup (chicken? fish?, I can't remember...) with chopped coriander and chilli. It was delicious. We sat on the ground on a sack. The photos below are the organisers cooking and serving up, and some school kids enjoying their food.

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 The school uniform in Myanmar seems to be the same everywhere in the country - green longyi for older children (boys and girls) and green shorts for younger kids, with a white shirt

The school uniform in Myanmar seems to be the same everywhere in the country - green longyi for older children (boys and girls) and green shorts for younger kids, with a white shirt