The Burmese Teahouse Culture
One of my favourite dining experiences in Myanmar is visiting teahouses, I’ve found myself attracted to these little shops with tiring stools serving up thick milk tea prepared with tonnes of condensed milk. I’m a sucker for condensed milk so it’s no wonder this appeals so much to me. Otherwise, I always take my tea black sans sugar. Apart from serving overly sweet caffeinated drinks, tea houses in Myanmar also always come with delicious snacks, though sometimes I question the freshness of it.
In my 2 weeks of teahouse hopping, I’ve noticed some etiquettes that one should stick by, especially being a foreigner and not accustomed to the local culture.
1. The food on the table is always served to you even though you didn’t order it. But it’s simple — What you take, you pay. The plates are also for serving/sharing, so if you’re going to chew up one half of a samosa, don’t be gross and put it back on that same plate unless you intend on finishing all 3 pieces.
2. The hot tea kettle serving weak Chinese/green tea is always complimentary. It seems to be the equivalent of iced water in restaurants
3. Observe what the locals eat if you don’t want to make a bad choice in ordering. If everyone is slurping a bowl of mohinga, follow suit. Add lemon/coriander/chilli to your liking.
4. People don’t seem to hang around too long at tea-houses, especially in the mornings. They leave when they’re done in the morning, and relax over long conversations in the late afternoon. Your plates and dishes will not be cleared for the next hour if you’re going to sit there. If it gets crowded and other people join the table, be sure to put your finished bowls & plates near to you so that the servers don’t get confused as your table buddies get the bill for their breakfast. Only when you call for the bill, that’s when they look at your empty plates and calculate how much it amounts up to.
5. No matter how many times you look at that tasty samosa and pray that it will be crispy as you pick it up, it wouldn’t be. 90% of the time it would be served cold and slightly soggy. Unless you show up early in the morning as the teahouse opens, you will never get hot fried snacks. Also the food snacks tend to run out at popular teahouses, sometimes as early as 730am. I guess what they say about the early bird catching the worm is true!
6. A good teahouse is one that serves you thick real tea/coffee. Not 3-in-1 mixes or masked with too much condensed milk to make it taste think. When you have been to enough teahouses and tried many cups of the same drinks, you’ll understand what I mean.