Trying to stay healthy and gluten free in Myanmar was a mixed experience full of frustration and some really pleasant meals. In this post I want to share my experiences in seeking gluten free Myanmar food and provide tips to others that want to do the same. I should first caveat this article by explaining that I am not a Coeliac. Gluten certainly makes me feel unwell and brings very uncomfortable symptoms for days afterwards; however, I do not need to be as vigilant as some people who become seriously ill as a result of their autoimmune condition.
Having said this I certainly made an effort to avoid gluten, because not only does it disrupt my digestion, but it makes me feel puffy, lethargic and achy for a few days afterwards. I did my very best to avoid running into gluten in Myanmar and here I detail my suggestions for if you plan to visit and need to stay gluten free.
The Myanmar people are incredibly friendly and hospitable and will go out of their way to help you. However, I found that more often than not when I tried to explain my issues with wheat and gluten, restaurant or hotel staff would nod and say “yes”, even when they clearly didn’t have a clue what I was on about. To counter this situation I got one of my Myanmar friends to translate a few words about my intolerance for me. I highly recommend you download this image and carry it around with you at all times. It made a huge difference in providing at least some information.
Loosely translated it says: “I have a severe allergy to bread and anything containing wheat. If I eat it I will be very ill. Please don’t give it to me.”
Finding gluten free breakfast in Myanmar
Finding gluten free options was a common challenge at breakfast times. Breakfast is included in most room rates and is mostly a standard serving of some eggs and bread with jam. There is usually another egg and rice option, but staff will automatically assume that you want bread because you’re a tourist. Before you sit down show them the above translation about your allergy.
Other gluten free meals in Myanmar
Traditional Myanmar cuisine is nice enough, but not something to write home about. It was in Myanmar more than most other countries that we found ourselves seeking Western alternatives to local dishes. Western options are starting to become more and more abundant, which makes it quite easy to find tasty salads that suit a gluten free diet. A couple of times I also went for a bun-less burger after checking that there were no bread crumbs in the meat burger itself.
There are a number of gluten free Myanmar dishes such as tea leaf salad and rich curries
When you want to try a local dish there are some pretty nice curries that are worth a go. They are not particularly spicy and like the country itself, have similarities with both Thai and Indian curries. Generally curries should be a fairly safe bet because they are made with coconut milk or a beef or chicken stock. The only thing you need to watch for if you severely allergic to gluten are soy sauce and some varieties of fish sauce. If you can communicate effectively enough with the cook it is worth asking to check the kinds of sauces they use. This is usually a good solution in Thailand, because many of the sauce brands are the same as in the West. However, in Myanmar things might be a bit more complicated because brands tend to differ. Do your best!
Other dishes are stir fried meat and/or vegetables often in some kind of sauce and served with rice. Again the things to watch out for here are the soy and fish sauces that might be made with wheat. Many of the traditional Myanmar sauces tend to have quite strong flavours – either fishy or fermented in taste. We got served many dishes that were covered in dried shrimp, which was pretty annoying for me as I am mildly allergic to it as well. Even the most basic things like fried rice can come with a generous serving of dried fish!
If you need to avoid shrimp use the below translation:
“Is shrimp powder used in this? I can’t eat it. I am allergic to it.”
It certainly will be a challenge staying sqeaky clean from gluten in Myanmar, but it is possible. If you are visiting Myanmar and need support with translating information about your food requirements please get in touch with me via the comments section of this post and I will do my best to assist. I have a number of reliable connections in the country and would be delighted to assist you in enjoying gluten free in Myanmar!
Pyin Oo Lwin
Club Terrace – Great food set in a classic British summer club. The service was impecable and plenty of gluten free options available.
Hi Snacks and Drinks – A great bar with delicious, authentic Myanmar whiskey sours and tasty snacks. The owner is very welcoming and chatty!
New Simple Life – Incredible food made with love. The salad is a perfect gluten free option and a taste of all the ingredients you will miss in Asia.