One of the unfortunate things about Bagan, Myanmar is that, at the time of this writing, it’s not possible to rent an Airbnb apartment anywhere in the area. Although it’s not that surprising that there wouldn’t be Airbnb or other vacation rental stays in Bagan (disregarding the legal status of these stays), I can’s tay that it’s not disappointing. I generally prefer to cook my own food. And I have a long list of reasons why:
- It’s healthier.
- I know exactly what I’m eating
- Seriously low chances of food poisoning
- It makes a place feel like home when I get to cook there
- I get to post lovely recipes for you all to enjoy!
But… I don’t have a kitchen here. And I haven’t for the past week (almost 2 weeks). So I have to make do. How am I doing it? Well… I’ll tell you. It’s not easy and I’m not a huge fan, but to be honest I have one restaurant I’m relying on in particular called The Moon, which has two restaurants, one in New Bagan and the other in Old Bagan. This restaurant is completely vegetarian and focuses on healthy foods free of MSG. Since MSG and other mysterious additives are a major part of Burmese and Asian cooking, going to this restaurant takes a lot of guesswork out of things. Mostly, I get what I want and I can feel pretty certain I’m getting something healthy (enough). They even have a steamed vegetable dish (thank GOD).
Some of you may judge me for eating out, but the truth is, this is an HONEST travel/food blog about my personal experience travelling and eating. And sometimes that means magnificent homemade creations at my best, and at my worst it means dining out and sharing my strategies for staying healthy while not being able to cook. So this is what it is. Take it or leave it (I recommend you take it, you may need it someday).
But moving on… what about for those lunches/dinners when I don’t feel like going to The Moon? Well, after a few months of time in Southeast Asia where I haven’t had a kitchen, I’ve got some tips and tricks that I follow:
- The fried rice probably won’t kill you. The ingredients in fried rice are pretty simple, and although it’s not the healthiest option, the ingredients are usually the same across the board and you can rest easy (usually) that it’ll come to your table piping hot (extremely important). People with celiac disease, BEWARE, because a lot of soy sauce has wheat, you’ll have to prepare yourself to order the fried rice without the soy sauce. Many restaurants do this without a problem (I’ve done it many times), but be careful if you don’t feel like you can communicate with the server. Consider a different option (soy sauce is going to be your worst enemy, celiacs, if you’re travelling through SE Asia).
- Saute fried vegetables are usually fine. Again, this dish generally comes out piping hot. With this dish (and, let’s be real, most dishes in Asia that are in restaurants), you run the risk of having some MSG or soy sauce in your food. With a refined tongue though, you should be able to taste when a meal has MSG (does it taste too good to be true?) and if it has soy sauce (darker color and slightly nutty flavor). For me though, this is usually a safe enough bet.
- If you’re really not feeling like taking any chances, order some plain white rice with a fried egg and some vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Get a fresh fruit juice (without sugar) on the side, or a fruit plate if it’s available. Obviously, this isn’t the most nutrient rich meal, but if you’re starving and need something to keep yourself going, I’ve ordered this at almost every restaurant I’ve visited in Southeast Asia, and it’s never a very difficult thing to communicate (bonus for if you’re tired!).
- DO NOT over intellectualize your orders because you’re uncomfortable. Don’t order something with “no lactose”. Ask if it has milk, yogurt, or cream instead. Don’t say “gluten-free”, ask if it has wheat. If you still have doubts about something… be brave, ask to see the ingredient that you’re questioning. And another word of caution… don’t bother with Google Translate. You’d be better off looking for pictures on your phone or drawing a picture (believe me, I tried to communicate about food using Google Translate once here in Myanmar and it did not work at all).
- I can’t believe I’m saying this, but look for the nearby Indian restaurants. Indian food (usually) is a safe bet as long as the restaurant looks clean. Some dishes may have cream in them, but it’s a bit easier to avoid things like gluten and dairy at an Indian restaurant, and there’s also a dramatically lower risk of consuming MSG. Also, the staff tends to be easier to communicate with, which is a major advantage too. When I’m travelling in these areas now, I look for Indian restaurants right away when I know I’m moving to a new place. Lentil-based dishes and many curries are a good option at Indian restaurants (and of course, the Indian fried rice “biryani” is good too, just make sure it doesn’t have cheese).
So that’s what I’ve learned about restaurants. I’m surviving.
But, onto BREAD! I’ve found bread that suits my needs in almost every location in Southeast Asia. In Singapore, I visited a shop called the Bud of Joy to get some whole wheat bread. This particular store also sold some gluten free bread options and a couple of nut butters and jellies as well. They can make custom orders. Here in Myanmar, I found a restaurant/bar called Sharky’s that sells whole wheat bread. In Bagan, I had to ask specifically for their whole wheat country loaf, but I was able to get some. In Yangon, it’s possible to order the whole wheat bread, and there are also a variety of other special breads (including gluten free) and specialty health food items available for purchase and delivery.
Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the bread… I already ate it all (sorry everyone)…
Today I’m sitting at an internet cafe in New Bagan, drinking a mango smoothie. The place is called Cake de Bagan, and it’s possible to get (obviously) a mango smoothie (no sugar or milk, also obviously) or a strawberry smoothie for a very affordable price. The place is clean and there’s air conditioning, and best of all the wifi is relatively fast! There’s some outdoor seating as well as a resident stubby-tailed cat to keep you company, it’s a good place to set up shop and work away from the hotel during the day while having a tasty and healthy snack.