Myeik, the food Walhalla of Myanmar
Myeik has a great food scene, different from anything we’ve experience in Myanmar. Be prepared to have a second breakfast, a second lunch and a second dinner.
When it come to food, Myanmar has a bad reputation. Unlike neighboring Thailand, where a wide variety of delicious food is to be found at any place at any time, this is not the case in Myanmar. However, we found great food everywhere in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s capital Yangon has a wide variety of national and (growing) international cuisine, but you have to know the restaurants. A personal favorite is a simple but great dish, Shan noodles, we found both in Shan State and elsewhere, but you have to look out for a local joint that has it. Similarly in Dawei and Mawlamyine, two towns we visited on our trip through southern Myanmar. In these cities restaurant where the food stands out are to be found, but they are exceptions.
Therefore we arrived in Myeik without too high expectations, but oh boy! The food-scene we found appeared the very best in Myanmar. The atmosphere, the food and the drinks are all good, but Myeik also has an amazing local food industry. Myeik is Myanmar’s food whalhalla!
Myeik is a major fishing port and a wide variety of fish is there to be found. The morning fish market has them all on display: rays, squid, sharks, eel, oysters and off course just fish in all sorts and sizes. Besides that, the market is a testing ground for all kind of sea creatures and other local treats and ‘threats’. Our second breakfast was a fact.
Just next to the fish market a whole neighborhood is dedicated to drying of fish. A variety of sea life is filtered and salted by the neighborhoods charismatic people.
This is Myeik’s traditional dish: lovely and cheap. The restaurants are to be found everywhere, along the main streets or in an alley. A big wok, a chef and some plastic tables and chairs often give away their presence. You can self-style the noodles with meat and greeneries to your own taste. Great as lunch or dinner and all it costs around 75 eurocent. Thank you!
Three meals a day is healthy the say. Well, maybe true, but the next pleasure is waiting and can’t be skipped. Hidden away in a small side street there is a cluster of snack shops, like a small market, preparing from somewhere in the afternoon to sunset. These snacks are going to be a whole new meal.
My personal favorite is Upha Moe. This is a crunchy baked thin cocos pancake filled with a sweet rice pudding. There are also other desert like and dough dishes, like for instance mini spring rolls with several kind of fillings. Order a lime juice on the terrace next door and devour the glory.
The afternoons are hot in tropical Myeik and a perfect time to chill out and let the body food processing systems do its job. After all, it’s almost time to go to dinner. There is hardly a better place to do so then in the toddy bar on the lake’s shore.
But hold your hordes. It is a beautiful lake in its own right and therefore worthwhile to walk around it. Every morning the toddy palm trees (toddy is a common name for several species of palms used to produce palm/toddy wine) surrounding the lake are climbed by ‘tappers’ who collect the juice. The sap is then put in big pots where it naturally ferments. Depending on the time the taste of the toddy juice differs. Sweet in the morning, sweet-sour around mid day and sour towards sunset.
We settle us under a parasol in the outdoor bar by the water. The bartender pours full glasses accompanied by small dried fish, like a chips. The juice is light in alcohol and has indeed a sour touch to it.
A nice article about toddy wine can be found here
Just north of the centre there are a few beer stations that serve excellent sea food. Myeik is an atmospheric town where people like to go out for their favorite drinks and food. (Local) restaurants are open till late, rather unusual for Myanmar, but thank god! Only at around nine in the evening appetite returned and appetite was needed. Barbecued fish, crab salad, King prawns, Lobster and more was served by the friendly owner. It all washed away perfectly with Myanmar Beer (the beer is actually named Myanmar Beer).
Upon finishing all the good things that the Andaman Sea has to offer, it was around one o’clock at night. From early morning until late at night Myeik offers a lot of delicious food. We were totally satisfied and breakfast wasn’t far away. It was time to doze off and to save our strength for the next day.
Local food industries
The food scene in Myeik reaches beyond filling the belly, there is an amazing local food industry offering eye- and brain-food.
Edible birds nest
One of the most fascinating is the eatable birds nest industry. There is one house on Strand Road which has become a natural nesting house for the sea swallows. We peaked inside to see the birds nesting in the ceiling. When ready the nests are collected and cooked in sugar water. The nutrient rich gelatinous texture that appears from the nests is mainly exported to China where it is a delicacy. Prices paid for the birds nests are high. At the time of our visit it was $250 per kilogram, but has been as high as $2500 told the birdhouse owner. Exporting the product appears profitable. Myeik is scattered with windowless apartment buildings, up to six floors high, only for the birds. These houses have small holes for the birds and play loud recorded singing of the bird to attract sea swallows
Crab prison: Soft shell crab farm
If you put a crab in a small cage for 45 days it will lose its hard shell. Then, when you ‘catch’ the crab before a new hard shell is grown the animal is more valuable. Soft shell crabs are bigger and have more eatable parts, thus are more valuable then hard shell crabs. Myeik has a number of these soft shell crab farms, of which we visited one. For an animal lovers it might be an unpleasant sight, but it is good to know where food is coming from and how animals are treated before it ends on your plate.
Cashew nut factory
Did you ever not bought a bag of cashew nuts, because they are so expensive? I’m nuts about them, but I did. Dug away on a sandy road on the outskirts of town we visited a charming cashew nut factory. The friendly ladies and the one man working there showed us the steps involved in what finally becomes the product as I recognize it in my bag from the supermarket. For ten hours a day they were busy with many time consuming and labour intensive processes of producing cashew nuts.