There are more than 47,000 Burmese domestic helpers in Singapore. The number is growing as more Burmese takes up jobs to take care of our elderly, children and homes.

As newcomers to Singapore, many will find it a challenge to adapt to Singapore’s way of life. One of the top adjustment issues is FOOD.

While most Burmese will gradually get used to local Singapore fare, it augurs well for employers to be patient while they adjust.

Understanding our helper’s dietary habits is important to help her adjust to her new work-life environment.

To top it all, providing her with fares that she is used to is our way of showing our consideration and care towards our helper.

So here goes our first blog – understanding the Burmese food and eating habits.

Burmese food has had a number of influences over the years, with the local tastes being flavoured by Mon, Indian and Chinese elements.

Like these other traditions, Burmese meals are often centred around rice, which is accompanied by a number of dishes to create an overall flavour combination.

The prominent flavours to look out for are sour, salty, spicy and bitter, with the best Burmese dishes managing to combine all of these.

Most of the food on offer will be vegetable-based or features seafood, as meat is a rare commodity in Burma and therefore likely to be more expensive.

 

Breakfast – In Burma, people may eat toast or noodles at breakfast and may not count this as a ‘meal’. (This may be in addition to the two meals per day reported below.)

Main and other meals – Most ethnic groups eat similar dishes of rice and curry, usually served with a soup, salad and/or stir-fry, with variations in meat and available vegetables. Elders are served first; then the father, followed by the children. Monosodium glutamate may be used in cooking.

Eating practices: In rural areas, people eat around a communal pot, using their fingers, and it is rare to see a fork or spoon. In other areas, spoons are the most common utensils. In urban areas, people eat at a table using plates and bowls, and communal food is placed in the middle of the table.

Fruit and vegetables – Bamboo shoots, mustard leaves, pumpkin leaves, cucumbers, beans, gourds, yams, eggplants, cassava leaves and rosella leaves. Many vegetables are also fermented. Common fruits include papayas, mangoes, durians and bananas. Jack fruit is cooked and used in savoury dishes.

Snacks  – Green tea leaf salad (Lephet thoke), glutinous rice around a palm sugar stick, street food such as pork skewers, Mohinga (rice noodles in a fish-based, curry-flavoured soup) and fried tofu.

Beverages – Water and Burmese tea (green). Tea is usually drunk without milk and unsweetened. Coffee is often drunk with condensed milk but no sugar.

Common traditional foods

Htamane – made from glutinous rice, fried coconut shavings, roasted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, ground nut oil and ginger. A glutinous, rice-based savoury snack, and a seasonal festive
delicacy in Burma.

Laphet – (Burmese tea leaf salad or pickled tea salad), made from fermented green tea leaves and crisp fried garlic, peas and peanuts, toasted sesame and sometimes dried shrimp or fish. Laphet is served in many ceremonies. It is also eaten as a snack or after a meal, when it is called Laphet thoke, and is prepared with fresh tomatoes, garlic, green chilli and shredded cabbage. It is dressed with fish sauce, sesame or peanut oil, and a squeeze of lime.

 

Mohinga – (Bamar) An opaque, curry-flavoured fish broth with rice vermicelli and hearts of banana tree stems, seasoned with onions, garlic, ginger and lemongrass. It is often served with hard-boiled eggs or fried fish cake. Mohinga may be eaten at breakfast or as a snack
throughout the day.

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