|Instant noodles and vermicelli are popular dining options for people who are living on their own.
MYANMAR are not averse to eating fast food even though most of us seem to prefer the ritual of going to the market, buying fresh meat, fruit and vegetables that we can cook ourselves.
For example, when a group of friends gather, they will often prepare and cook their food together as a way of socialising and passing time.
Basically, Myanmar people love to cook and eat fresh food, whether it’s because of hygiene, tradition or value for money.
Housewife Daw Myo Myo is no exception. She says she enjoys shopping and cooking and will never turn to fast food.
“I never pay attention to fast food in the shops. I really love to buy ingredients at the market and cook food personally. It is fresh and nutritious.”
However, for many this isn’t always possible. There are only 24 hours in a day and people often have trouble finding the time to buy and cook their own food, which in turn affects their eating habits.
This might mean that families or individuals are forced to eat at restaurants or buy their food pre-cooked at street stalls. But often people resort to quick and easy snacks they can prepare themselves. In most households you will be able to find at least one example: instant noodles.
But do consumers see instant noodles as a tasty snack or the result of a busy lifestyle?
Twenty-three-year-old Ma Mi Shwe says that while she doesn’t have a lot of time to spend cooking, she tries to avoid eating instant noodles as much as possible.
“Despite coming in many different flavours, I really don’t like eating instant noodles. I have limited time for eating and only turn to instant noodles when I’m very hungry and have no other option. I admit the soup is quite tasty but I can’t stand the noodles themselves. Often I leave the noodles and just drink the soup,” she says.
Not everyone is so negative about instant noodles. Retailers and distributors say sales – normally solid – have received a boost from product placement in South Korean drama series’, which has made instant noodles fashionable among certain age groups.
“South Korean actors can often be seen eating instant noodles in their films. It attracts customers to the product and increases our sales,” says U Ye Myat Htoo, the marketing manager of Cho Cho Industry Limited and Yathar Cho Industry Limited, which distribute Shin Shin and Yum Yum noodles respectively.
Fifty-year-old office worker U Wai Linn Oo says he likes instant noodles and eats them both at the office and roadside stalls with egg or vegetables. He says they save him both time and money – although he has noticed a recent price rise.
“The price is not so bad, especially compare to other similar meals. Once Myanmar traditional food such as mohinga – rice noodle with fish gravy – and ohn-no khaukswe – noodles with coconut and chicken curry – cost K150 or K200, while a packet of instant noodles would be K100. Now the noodles are about K200 but still cheaper than mohinga or ohn-no khaukswe,” he says.
Some people are also attracted by how easy instant noodles are to prepare – all they require is boiling water.
Bachelors like Ko Myo Wai, who lives in an apartment in Kamaryut township, are notorious for relying on cheap, simple meals like instant noodles. He says, in his case, this stereotype is not far from the truth.
“Because I live alone I am too lazy to cook just for myself. So I keep instant noodle packets and eat it a lot, I have liked eating them since I was young,” says 26-year-old Ko Myo Wai.
He says the range of flavours is another selling point. “I never get sick of eating instant noodles because they come in one flavour after another. But I would have to say my favourite is Yum Yum sour soup in the shrimp flavour.”
“Instant noodles taste pretty good and the price is pretty reasonable, I think.”
For instant noodle companies, bachelors like Ko Myo Wai represent a key market segment and keeping them interested and brand loyal is essential, says U Ye Myat Htoo.
“We are always testing what we think the customers will like and trying to bring new styles and flavours into the market,” he says.