Burmese Tea Shop Experience

New Bagan Tea Shop

New Bagan Tea Shop

Published April 17, 2016

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Burmese tea shops are the bomb! Any street with businesses in Myanmar has at least 1 (and more likely several) established tea shops. They are a core part of life in Myanmar and I stopped and ate at them often during my visits to this amazing country.

You can usually spot a tea shop by a lack of signage, a ton of basic plastic chairs or wooden stools thrown around a sea of tables in an open air structure, and a crowd of Burmese sitting and drinking perhaps chatting with friends or reading a newspaper. Despite the basic façade, tea shops are a really rich part of understanding Burmese culture and I highly recommend visiting at some point with someone who is Burmese so you can get their take on the tea shop scene.

Tea Shops

Here are some of my observations from dining in tea shops around Myanmar.

The Tea

Sweet Tea in Mandalay

The main consistent feature of all tea shops is unsurprisingly the tea! There are two main types of tea available. Plain hot unsweetened green tea is usually served in a big thermos right at the table for free. It’s a pretty basic green tea and just a replacement for water on the table.

And then there is the famous Burmese sweetened tea. A mix of brewed black tea and a LOT of unsweetened milk is mixed together in a dramatic pouring (see video) and is served hot in a small mug.

Burmese call it “”lapae yea”. I understand why the mugs are not big here as there is only so much of this sweetened tea that one can drink. There are however various levels to sweetness that you can ask for.

This is a rich drink but one that you really should try – especially at the price of around 200 Kyat a glass (less than $.15 cents).

The Food

Kitchen in Tea Shop

The Kitchen in a Tea Shop

The food and its preparation can range from shop to shop but you will typically only find snack foods or breakfast options at tea shops rather than the curries and salads that make up the main meal options in Myanmar.

The cost of food in tea shops is very cheap. Typically under 500 Kyat for most items ($.40 cents).  Oil is front and center in basically all of these dishes. Sometimes these foods taste way too oily for me but let’s be honest, fried foods are always pretty good.

Samosas were a favorite of mine. At one tea shop in Mandalay, I had the most amazing potato/onion/mushroom samosas, while a tea shop in Kalway served delicious samosas that had curry with potato flavorings.

Samosas

Shan noodles are a typical breakfast or snack item served at tea shops. I found the preparation of this to dramatically differ from place to place. But most can be served spicy tomato sauce on the side, some will come with fresh herbs while others have crispy rice in them.

Shan Noodles

Steamed Buns – this version was made stuffed with a delicious mushroom mixture.

Tea Shop Food

Mohinga – one of the more famous Burmese breakfast noodle dishes.

Preparing Mohinga at Farmers Market

Preparing Mohinga at Farmers Market

Fried dough is often served in different ways. This preparation with fried shallots and a sweetened banana mixture was pretty good.

Donuts w/onion at Tea Shop

Donuts w/onion at Tea Shop

Culture

Mandalay Tea Shop

Tea shops are the social epicenter of Myanmar. People go to tea shops to gossip and chat, watch soccer games and just enjoy time with friends.

Bars really don’t exist in Myanmar and it is not a big alcohol drinking culture at all. Restaurants really just exist for visiting tourists. So tea shops are really where the Burmese go to socialize with each other.

When I asked one of my guides if they always go to the same tea shop, I was told that they actually tend to frequent different ones to talk to different people.

One think you’ll notice about tea shops is that they are mainly crowded with men. About a 9:1 ratio as far as I could tell. One of my guides told me that women will stop by and get tea and food to go but its mostly the men who stay and hang out. Traditionally in Myanmar culture, there was the belief that if a woman was hanging around tea shops, she was not a good wife or potential wife as she should be taking care of the home. This sentiment is slowly changing but you still see that the crowds are predominately men.

Lottery tickets, betal leaf and cigarettes are also common goods to buy at tea shops.

IMG_2879

Take out is popular in Myanmar so you will often see people arriving at tea shops and taking tea or food home in little plastic baggies.

Just note that many people who work in Burmese tea shops are locals who do not speak English. So go in prepared to point and be patient with explanations of what you’re looking for. And have them write out the cost – I thought my waiter was saying 5,000 but really he meant 500!

I hope you’ll include many stops at tea shops as part of your Myanmar travel experience!

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