Rediscovering Traditional Indian Cuisine Through Burmese Indians

Burmese Indians are a unique and fascinating community with a rich and diverse culture. Over the years, they have developed their own unique cuisine, which has been heavily influenced by both Indian and Burmese culinary traditions.

In this article, we’ll explore the origins, traditional recipes, and popular dishes of Burmese Indian cuisine. So, let’s dive into the vibrant world of Burmese Indian cuisine!

The term "Burmese Indian" refers to a population of Indian descent in Myanmar (Burma). People from all over South Asia, including modern-day India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, are collectively referred to as "Burmese Indians." Although Indians have lived in Burma for centuries, the majority of the current Burmese Indian community arrived between the early nineteenth century and 1937, when British Burma was officially separated from British India.

Burmese Indians are known for their unique and vibrant culture, which includes their distinctive cuisine. As the birthplace of Buddhism, India has had a significant impact on Burmese culture, and ancient Hindu traditions are still practiced today.  

Burmese food is more flavorful than traditional Chinese fare but milder than Indian and Thai fare.

Today, the majority of Burma's estimated 2,000,000–2,500,000 Burmese Indians live in Yangon and Mandalay. This represents roughly 5% of the country's total population.

The majority of Burmese Indians are Tamils, but there are also significant numbers of Telugus, Bengalis, Hindustani speakers, Gujaratis, and Punjabis.

The cuisine is also heavily influenced by the countries and regions that the Burmese people have interacted with over the years, such as India, China, Thailand, and Myanmar. This has resulted in a unique blend of flavors and ingredients that makes Burmese Indian cuisine so special.

Street food is a big thing there, and one can get anything from the ubiquitous banana pancake to exotic Burmese samosas. Soup, salad, meat, fish, or poultry, plus vegetables and a mountain of boiled rice all go into making a typical Burmese meal. You might even find okra and turmeric from Bengal in a stew.  

Stir-fries are another popular dish in Burmese Indian cuisine. They are usually made with vegetables, meat, and spices and are often served with rice or noodles.

In the Burmese language, the term "mont" translates to "snack" and refers to a wide variety of prepared foods, ranging from sweet desserts to savory food items that may be cooked by steaming, baking, frying, deep-frying, or boiling. Typically, mont refers to foods prepared with either wheat or rice flour, but it can also mean different types of noodles, like mohinga. Mont is a traditional breakfast or afternoon snack in Burma.

There is Khow suey from the Shan State, a noodle soup made with egg noodles, chicken or beef curry, and coconut milk and served with a variety of different toppings.

From the state of Kachin, there is Kachin-style dried mustard soup, which is sure to perk you up with its umami flavor. This sun-dried mustard, garlic, and edamame soup is refreshing, fragrant, and tangy.

Rice noodles in a rich broth of onions, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass top the popular dish mohinga, which also features deep-fried fritters of banana stem. Many Burmese people consider this dish to be their national breakfast food, though it is consumed throughout the day.

The Burmese interpretation of the Indian biryani is a prime example of the Indian influence that can be found in many Burmese dishes and breads.

Le Thok Son/Rainbow Salad Bowl is a colorful combination of raw papaya, cucumber, bean sprouts, potato, carrots, and jasmine rice over a bed of four different kinds of noodles: glass noodles, flat rice noodles, wheat noodles, and ordinary noodles.

Indian breads are a staple in Myanmarese breakfasts and afternoon teas. Nanbya is a baked flatbread that is eaten with any Indian cuisine, whereas palata is a fried flatbread comparable to Indian paratha that is typically eaten with curried meats or as dessert with sprinkled sugar. Other popular dishes are chapati, appam, and aloo poori.

 Burmese Indian Cooking Techniques  

Burmese Indian cuisine is known for its unique cooking techniques, which are often used to give the dishes their distinctive flavor and texture. Common cooking techniques used in Burmese Indian cuisine include stir-frying, steaming, braising, and deep-frying.

Stir-frying is a popular cooking technique used in Burmese Indian cuisine, and it involves quickly cooking vegetables, meats, and other ingredients in a hot pan or wok while preserving their flavor and texture. 

Steaming involves cooking ingredients in a steamer or over boiling water, and it is used to quickly and evenly cook ingredients.

Braising is a slow-cooking technique that involves cooking ingredients in a covered pot with a small amount of liquid. This technique is used to create flavorful dishes with tender meats and vegetables.

Deep-frying means cooking food in hot oil, and it's used to make dishes that are crunchy.

So, if you’re looking to explore a unique and flavorful cuisine, then Burmese Indian cuisine is a great option. With its unique ingredients, cooking techniques, and dishes, it’s sure to tantalize your taste buds and take you on an exciting culinary adventure.