Burmese food has a bit of a Marmite effect on tourists; some can't get enough, others just don't get it...
But with a little bit of homework, and some help with pronunciation, it's possible to eat like a Burmese king and enjoy it.
Let's start with the most famous, and the most bizarre to a foreigner: Lahpet Thoke, or Tea Leaf Salad.
Agreed, the concept isn't great: fermented green tea leaves served on a bed of dried shrimp, fried garlic, peanuts and sesame seeds. BUT try it, because it's delicious. Crunchy, and limey. It is the Burmese equivalent of a packet of crisps or a mid-morning twix, and very popular with students studying late thanks to the caffeine boost.
What about breakfast? No toast and marmite round here. Although the most popular brekka isn't that far from Kedgeree: Mohinga...
It's a fishy broth served with noodles and sliced banana hearts. Customise as you will - your options are slices of hard boiled egg, crunchy corn fritters, chilli flakes, coriander and lime.
You'll find Mohinga nationwide for breakfast, but in the colder Chin State they prefer something more filling: "Sa Bu Ti", or a sort of Corn Porridge...
Imagine sweetcorn soup, with lardons, and Nik Naks on top. DELICIOUS. And steaming hot, which is wonderfully cosy as you slurp between your hat and scarf and watch the world waking up around you.
If you want something lighter, Pe Byote Nan Byar is a great option:
Steamed Burmese beans served with Naan bread. The beans are sort of salty and sweet, and the bread is chewy. A triumph, and not too far from peanut butter on toast if you're feeling homesick.
And, of course, a cup of tea:
But don't be fooled by thinking that bit's simple. You have to specify which kind of tea you'd like, and it's not a case of milk-and-two-sugars please; there are at least 16 variations. However, with thanks to the Rangoon Tea House (you must go when in Yangon), you can order your brew like a pro:
Originally from Shan State, but devoured country-wide, something close to Bolognese is popular for breakfast and lunch. Most commonly made of pork cooked in tomatoes, it is served on sticky rice noodles and with a peppery broth on the side. You'd have to have no taste-buds to be un-moved by this:
It is also termed as a Salad, so thumbs up for health-hunters.
Another "salad", which looks less lovely, but tastes like comfort defined, is Nan-Gyi-Thoke. It doesn't scream vitamins, and the chickpea powder is a bit discombobulating on first meeting, but dive in because it's fab.
On to lunch (...although they actually don't distinguish much between breakfast, lunch at supper, and everything here could be eaten at any time of day). Right up in the north in Kachin state, a sort of chicken porridgey-risotto with crispy crutons is my first choice. It's geographically close to China, so conceptually close to congee, and if you're ordering is called "Chat Thar San Pyoke":
And while we're on a roll with our far-fetched comparisons, the Kayah sausage, a far-flung relative of the Cumberland:
They're spiced with Kayah pepper, and will banish the bland old pork sausage from your fridge for evermore.
Now we can't ignore the ignoble Burmese Curry. It may be oily, and accompanied by scary side-shows, but dig beneath and the flavours are great. Go for mutton or pork rather than chicken or fish (beware feet and bones).
And something sweet (and totally extraordinary) to finish: Kyat U Kazaw. My freind Su Nge reacts to this in a similar way to my reaction to the promise of a 99-flake. It's a sugary, ricey, eggy soup, and the queue for the stall in Myitkyina was half-an-hour long. Maybe Kalinko needs to diversify... these guys are onto something.