musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Mandalay’s Curry Nirvana!

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A trip to Mandalay would not be complete with a meal — or a dozen — at the world’s greatest restaurant, Aye Myit Tar. Okay, it may not boast the most mouth-watering dishes on the planet, but it’s certainly one of my very favorite spots to dine and soak up genial atmosphere. This venerable culinary institution serves satisfying meals from late morning until nine o’clock, or later, each and every night. The food is very tasty — assuming that you have a craving for Myanmar cuisine — especially those trademark oily Burmese curries — but what makes the place so special is the amazingly attentive service by the crew of friendly young waters. In a word, it’s outstanding!

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I sometimes will joke with friends about the service at Aye Myit Tar, likening it to a Monty Python skit; a team of three or four — or six — waiters hovering over your table; filling up the water glasses, pouring more beer, dishing out more rice, running back to the kitchen and getting you extra orders of the side dishes. By the time you have finished your meal, you are full to bursting. Once again, images of a Monty Python film surface: “Would you like a wafer-thin mint with that, sir?” Uh, maybe not!

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But seriously, it’s no exaggeration; the diligent waiters seem like they are in constant motion, bouncing from table to table, darting into the kitchen, and back again, smiling the entire time. Of course there are those lulls when the customer flow temporarily eases and they get the opportunity to sit down and rest for a spell, or pose for the camera (as these photos will illustrate), but for the most part these guys work hard all day — starting with vegetable cutting detail early in the morning — and into the night. Most of these guys come from a village near Monywa and they live upstairs at the restaurant.

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Admittedly, the menu at Aye Myit Tar is limited. There is curry, curry, and more curry. Hey, at least it’s not like yet another Monty Python flashback and you are facing a dozen varieties of spam! At Aye Myit Tar you have the choice of beef, pork, chicken, goat, fish, or even lobster curry. Plus there a few fried dishes on the menu. But if you are vegetarian or not in the mood for a curry of some sort you will find the selection a bit lacking. Each main dish, however, is accompanied by a staggering amount of side dishes, including vegetables, salads, and soup. Let’s just say, your table will be overflowing with dishes!

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While the food is indeed good, there is an energy and positive vibe in the restaurant that I find addictive, which is why I keep going back and back, even when I’ve had my fill of curry. Some nights, if I don’t feel like a huge meal I’ll just drop by for a beer or two. I’ve become friends with several of the waiters over the years and make sure to tip them well, and they always reciprocate and give me gifts of some sort before I leave town. On this last trip, Ko Ko Oo bought me dinner one night and threw in a platter of fresh fruit, Kyaw Myu Htun gave me a six-pack of Myanmar Beer, and the newest kid on the block, Myint Kyaw, bought me a new longyi. These guys are gold!

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Aye Myit Tar is currently located on 81st Street, between 29th and 30th Streets, right in the heart of Mandalay. But before the end of this year, most likely sometime in November, they will be moving back to their old location, also on 81st Street, but a few blocks further south, between 36th and 37 Streets. At the refurbished new digs they will have a total of six floors and even an elevator! And don’t forget those curries!

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