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There's something thrilling about sitting down to eat at a place that doesn't have a menu. You ask the waitress (who is also the hostess and the cook) for something delicious, noodles maybe, and sip a large Myanmar-brand beer as she walks back to her kitchen to cook whatever culinary mystery answers your request.
"Kitchen" might be a generous term--most Myanmar restaurants are a hot plate and a counter set behind a shaded cover and recessed from the dining area that is made up of plastic patio chairs and tables, all inexplicably child-sized. You can see her rustling around, blanching a tangle of noodles from a massive pile that sits on the counter with some unknown greenery, stirring in a formulaic yet far from precise combination of oils and seasonings and garnishes. She chops a little of something, adds a little crispity something else, and carries it back to your table with an efficiency that is as unusual in the dining industry as some of her ingredients.
The food of Myanmar is as diverse as the people. There are 135 distinct ethnic groups recognized by the Burmese government, and the result is a country that is rich in culinary variety. Foods are influenced by neighboring Thailand, China and India, and the only shared quality in the different foods you'll come across is a richness of spices. Curries sit in metal pots in street-stall restaurants, chicken feet sizzle on skewers in carts, and salted fish heads bubble in thin broths. You can eat a lot of things in Myanmar, but you absolutely shouldn't miss a few things; fermented tea leaf salad, Shan noodles and coconut donuts. The fermented tea leaf salad is a flavor combination unlike anything... that isn't made out of fermented tea leaves. It's a little sour, a little spicy, and when mixed with the tomatoes, roasted nuts, crispy beans and sesame seeds it comes with, completely incredible. Shan noodles can be found in the central part of the country, pretty much anywhere that has chopsticks and a place to sit. They're light and flavorful, whether in a broth or a salad or alone, and at approximately 500 kyats ($0.50), you'll likely live off of them. For those with a sweet tooth, coconut donuts are a deep-fried delight: warm flaky pastry encasing shredded, sweetened coconut. They're the perfect finale to a food tour of eclectic Myanmar.
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