One word: thatalo.
It literally means: “no living things”
With this magic word, you will go a very long way. I learned this word at the border, and once I did, I never looked back. You could easily walk into any place in Myanmar and get a vegan dish without any problems. And on top of that, people will LOVE that you know some of the local language.
Traditional Myanmar food consists mostly of rice, a variety of fried vegetables and unfortunately, a lot of meat. But don’t panic! Simply get all the side dishes for less than one Euro.
The first thing I ate, right at the Thai/Myanmar border, was fried green vegetables with loads of garlic, onion and soy sauce. And boy, do I love my greens! For me, this was a kick-start, and it only went uphill from there.
On a Myanmar menu you will find a whole section of fried vegetable dishes and raw salads, always accompanied by a delicious peanut sauce and rice or noodles. Since the basis of most of the meals is chili and garlic, I was very a happy woman.
On top of that: there are markets EVERYWHERE. Before a long bus-train-boat ride, I stocked up on carrots, watermelon, coconut, tea leaves, nuts, etc… And if I forgot, no problem! There would surely be a market on the way.
Rise and shine!
Breakfast was usually included with the accommodation and consisted of eggs and bread, or fried rice. By asking for “thatalo breakfast” at check in, I always got something that other travellers were jealous of: Shan noodles! Shan noodles are a light red spicy soup with thick noodles and cilantro. A great way to start the day, and a typical Burmese breakfast. I just love to eat like a local wherever I can. And I can assure you, it feels really good to have a better food option than others for once. Some fellow travellers even opted for thatalo breakfast after they saw how spoiled I was. Vegans for the win!
Lunch and dinner
Delicious vegan BBQ consisting of tofu, filled paprika, cauliflower and marrow leaf: 0,71 Euro!
As a low budget traveller, I’ll eat just about anywhere. But my choice always depends on the people owning the restaurant. If they seem to be caring and full of smiles, I get this feeling in my gut that the food will be similar.
Sometimes you’ll find menus translated into English too.
A delicious clear soup with cilantro and garlic is often complimentary with your dish. Fried vegetables could be:
• marrow leaf
• mustard leaf
• bamboo shoots
As for the salads:
• cucumber salad
• tomato salad
• carrot salad
• cabbage salad
• marrow leaf salad
• lemon leaf salad
• sea-weed salad
And almost every fried vegetable you can get as a salad and visa versa.
You just order whatever you like and specify with: “thatalo?”
One thing really worth mentioning is tea leaf salad (sorry, no photo, I already ate it before I could think of making one). I kind of got addicted to it. It’s a salad made of wet green tea, dried yellow beans and spices. I feel like it is incredibly healthy, and it tastes fantastic!
Also worth mentioning are the delicious curries, fried noodles and fried rice. In my personal opinion these are not as nutritious as the above mentioned dishes, so when I was craving noodles, I ordered some green vegetables as well to up the nutritional value a bit.
In case there is no English menu (which is a good sign actually), you simply ask the waiter “thatalo”, maybe point out a dish on someone else’s table and let yourself be surprised. You’ll get about five small dishes like soup, aubergine mash, yellow beans, durian salad,…etc. And the staff will be delighted having you in their restaurant.
Did I mention the prices? Most of the time I ate for less than 1000 kyat, which is about 0,71 Euro. Or that moment when you ask for the bill and you need to pay the full 35 cents — I don’t know about you, but for me, it makes the food even more delicious.
Vegan on the Myanmar train
On my first train, I suffered. 13 hours from Yangon to Thazi without a restaurant car, and the people passing selling food only had meat dishes for sale. Luckily I bought some steamed corn in the morning, because after that it was finished for me. However, I just didn’t know how to get creative yet.
Taking this in consideration, I stocked up on food for my second long ride, but soon noticed that the offer depends from train to train. This one was selling loads of food, and it sure was vegan! There were vegetable noodles, rice with durian, nuts, seeds, fruit, ... It was like going out for dinner in your lazy train chair. Just the way I like it.
Vegetable dishes on the train will cost you maximum 0,21 Euro.
Other times, when the train got delayed and therefore the sellers called it a day, I bought some cooked rice and pimped it with my survival package of tea leaves and spices.
I wish that every country had a magic word like this. With thatalo in your vocabulary, you will sure as heaven not die from hunger during your visit in Myanmar.