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Posts tagged ‘Aye Myit Tar restaurant’

Chinlone Books Opens in Mandalay

Next time you hear someone complain that there are no good secondhand bookshops in Myanmar, tell them about Chinlone Books, which just opened their biggest and best branch yet in Mandalay. Not only is it one of the very few bookshops in Myanmar, it’s a very good one too!

After opening their first branch last year in the Shan State town of Nyaung Shwe (located inside Aye Aye Travel), Chinlone Books decided to take a really big step and open up a proper bookshop in Central Mandalay. This took many months (well, a few years, all things considered) of planning, but earlier this month Ye Man Oo and his father, U Khin Maung Lwin, finally got the doors open!

Chinlone Books in Mandalay is not your typically disorderly secondhand bookshop that one finds so often in Southeast Asia. Instead, this is a very well organized, and surprisingly well stocked bookshop. They have a variety of fiction and non-fiction books in stock, including many books about Myanmar and Burmese history. They are also well-stocked with plenty of dictionaries and phrase books, and also have many titles for children, students, and young adults. In a cooking mood? They have plenty of books about cookery too.

In addition to books in English, they also stock books in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish and other Nordic languages. You might even find some Japanese, Turkish and Portuguese books if you look hard enough. And now that the shop is officially open, you can only expect the stock to grow and grow.

This has been a difficult and turbulent year for Myanmar, highlighted by the much-publicized problems in Rakhine State. Expectations for tourist arrivals are now much lower than expected at this time last year. Knowing that he can’t depend on a dwindling number of tourists to stay afloat, Ye Man Oo has astutely decided to also cater to the local market. You might be surprised or not, but a growing number of people in Myanmar enjoy reading books in English. In addition to adults and students (Mandalay is also home to an international school and several universities), Chinlone books also has some teachers and monks as regular customers. As any visitor to Myanmar soon discovers, the locals are incredibly curious and motivated people, and having a resource such as a secondhand bookshop in Mandalay, has been a delightful surprise for many.

Chinlone Books is located on 82 Street, between 33 and 34 Streets, just around the corner from the Hotel Queen, and within walking distance of the famous Zeigyo Market and Aye Mtyi Tar restaurant (which is on 81 Street). They are open daily from 9 am till 9 pm.

If you are in Mandalay, drop by the bookshop and give Ye Man Oo a hard time, or better yet, buy some books and enjoy a pleasant conversation with this impressive young businessman!

And a Time for Feasting

One of the great joys of visiting Myanmar, at least in my opinion, is sampling the various types of food. There are plenty of good restaurants serving traditional Burmese fare, such as Aye Myit Tar in Mandalay. You can also find places specializing in dishes from Shan State and other regions from around the country. The sheer variety is amazing.

You can also get very good meals at teashops. Most teashops in Myanmar have a nice variety of noodle and rice dishes, as well as bread and fried snacks. Get there early in the morning to taste some of the scrumptious noodles dishes such as monhinga, mondhi, and ohno kauk swe. Finger licking good indeed!

While I love dining at restaurants and teashops, I can honestly say the absolutely best food I’ve had is at the homes of friends. In Mandalay, I might be invited to Ye Man Oo’s for dinner, or to his uncle, U Nyunt Tun’s house. Incredible food! If I’m in Nyaung Shwe I have to juggle invitations, enjoying home-cooked treats at Mar Mar Aye’s house or a feast at Ma Pu Sue’s place. When in doubt; just say “yes” to them all … and prepare to eat a lot!



Mandalay Calling!


Whenever I return from a trip to Myanmar I am often asked about the situation in the country, specifically what has changed lately. Most everyone is aware of the new government that was formed this month by Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD (National League for Democracy) party, and that’s obviously a big change, and one that hopefully will be a harbinger of many positive changes in the country.


But the biggest change, by far, that I’ve noticed in Myanmar over the last two years has been the explosion in mobile phone usage. In previous years, both the cost of phones and SIM cards was so high that it made their use prohibitive for most of the population. But thanks to new government regulations and the entry of two foreign telecom companies —- Oredoo and Telenor — the price of both phones and especially SIM cards has dropped considerably, enabling millions of people in Myanmar to use phone services and social media. And they are doing it in droves!


With these recent developments, many of my friends in Myanmar now have phones as well as access to a variety of apps, the Internet, and social networking sites such as Facebook. It’s been amazing for me to witness this sudden revolution in a country where even an old-fashioned mobile phone was a rarity five years ago. The free Line texting app is very popular in both Thailand and Myanmar, so that’s making communication very easy for me and my friends. Whenever I hear a beep on my phone nowadays, I’ll think: it’s Mandalay calling — and most of the time that’s the case. It might by Mr. Htoo, also known as Htoo Htoo, a local jack-of-all-trades who mostly works as a motorbike taxi driver in Central Mandalay (just down the block from the Nylon ice cream shop!). Or it could be some of the kids from 90th Street in Mandalay. This week I heard from Baw Ga, Ye Man Oo, and Khang Khant Kyaw. Where, I wondered, were Ye Thu Lwin and Ye Win Zaw? Checking in from Bagan was Nine Nine, telling me about a cool new singer he thought I’d like. In Nyaungshwe I can quickly contact with Ma Pu Sue, or from the hinterlands of Muse, Yan Naing Soe has also been sending me messages. I’m just waiting for the day when I get a call from a monk in the village. And honestly, I imagine that day is not too far in the distant future.


And it’s not just text messages; with Line you can also make free phone calls — and even video calls! Some days I feel like Dick Tracy with a high-tech wrist watch. Honestly, the stuff amazes me. As a result of this app, I’ll often get calls from Yan Naing Soe, Ye Man Oo (who has the best English skills of the bunch), or even Kyaw Myo Tun, a waiter at Aye Myit Tar restaurant in Mandalay. Yeah, some days the connection sucks and it’s almost impossible to hear clearly, but on a good day — or night – when the lines are clear, it’s like magic.


This week has produced a flurry of messages from the Mandalay crew especially, all of them excited about the annual water festival this week. If it’s been as hot there as it’s been in Bangkok lately — and this week has been a scorcher — they are all going to be soaking up as much water as possible. Happy New Year!


Birthday Dining


Yesterday was the birthday of my friend Chiet, so I took him out for a big dinner. Chiet is from Cambodia and I met him about 14 years ago when he was a little brat, wandering around the streets of Siem Reap, where I was running a bookshop at the time. We stayed in touch over the years, he grew up, and he is now working a construction job in the Bangkok area. Being nearby, we are able to meet for meals at least a couple of times each month. Normally we go to a Thai place on Sukhumvit Soi 49, but for his birthday I decided it was an occasion to splurge and treat him to something really special, that being the dinner buffet at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Hotel.


The one good thing about Chiet, besides being an all around nice and cheerful guy, is that he appreciates a good meal and can keep up with me when it comes to putting away some food. Thus, I figured he could put a good dent in the buffet spread at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit … and I was right. I jokingly told him that I’d be angry if he only ate two plates of food, so he did me proud my polishing off five plates. And, at the ripe age of 26, he also had his first taste of lobster, which he liked it quite a bit.



About two months ago I had my own birthday celebration while I was in Mandalay. The dinner spread wasn’t nearly as extravagant as the one I had with Chiet in Bangkok, but it was still pretty tasty and very memorable. I invited 15 friends from the 90th Street neighborhood that I frequent, including the teashop owner U Tin Chit, to have dinner with me that night at Aye Myit Tar restaurant. I reserved a big table for the crew and we were given very attentive service by Ko Ko Oo, Kyaw Myo Tun, and the other waiters. Ye Man Oo and his brother Ye Thu Lwin gave me a traditional Burmese shirt along with a gorgeous longyi. They insisted that I wear the new outfit to dinner, which I was more than happy to do. Two of the other kids, Baw Ga and Khang Khant Kyaw, ordered a big birthday cake.



Ye Thu Lwin explained the procedure for “distributing” the cake. I had to cut small pieces of cake and then feed each guest one of the pieces. Luckily, I manage to perform this feat without cutting anyone or dropping cake on the floor. But then came the part they hadn’t told me about: the food fight! Well, it wasn’t as wild as people throwing food around the room, but the kids — and the adults — soon started grabbing bits of the cake icing and smearing it on one another. Ah, good messy fun! I have to say, it was one of the more enjoyable birthday parties I’ve ever had. More Mandalay magic!






Mandalay’s Curry Nirvana!


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!



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!



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.



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!



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!



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!



Mandalay’s Noodle Nirvana


As usual, my first night in Mandalay was spent dining at Aye Myit Tar Restaurant on 81st Street. This time, however, there was one thing missing: Nyein Htun, one of the waiters whom I’ve known for about five years. When Ko Ko Oo, one of the other waiters, told me about Nyein Htun’s absence, at first I assumed that he’d gone back to his home village near Monywa, but instead I was told that he was now across town, working at another restaurant.



Actually, this other establishment hadn’t yet opened yet when I first arrived in Mandalay. But three days later they held a grand opening brunch and Ko Ko Oo gave me an invitation to attend. This restaurant, Aung Noodles, specializes in, well, noodles, or kyauk swe as they are know in these parts. The restaurant is located at the corner of 11th Street and 76th Street, near the northwest corner of the moat that surrounds the old Grand Palace. It’s a bit off the beaten tourist track, or at least far from my hotel and usual haunts, but the food was so good that I found it worth the drive, or in my case, the long bicycle ride.



On the morning of the grand opening I met Ko Ko Oo at Aye Myit Tar and we took motorcycle taxis to the new noodle joint. I don’t think they told Nyein Htun I was coming, because he looked very surprised to see me. I was, as expected, the only Westerner in attendance. At this restaurant, Nyein Htun is not waiting tables, but training to be a cook. Judging from the excellent quality of the noodles that he dished up, he’s learned well. The noodles were flavorful without being overly greasy, and augmented by lots of fresh vegetables and juicy chunks of chicken.



Aung Noodles is run by a relative of the woman who owns Aye Myit Tar, so the grand opening was a big family affair with many of the employees from Aye Myit Tar in attendance, most of them bringing gifts for the new owner. Even though it was mid-morning, not yet ten o’clock, Nyein Htun served me a cold Myanmar Beer with my heaping bowl of noodles. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t drink during the day (and indeed I don’t; limiting my beer intake to the nighttime hours), so I dutifully sucked down the brew with a smile while slurping my noodles. And I have to say, it wasn’t a bad combination!



I went back again about ten days later, after I’d returned from my trip to Shan State, and had another satisfying bowl of noodles, Nyein Htun waiting on me with his usual diligence. I hope this place does well. It looks like nothing fancy from the outside, but I can honestly say that serve some very tasty noodles dishes.



Hotel Queen in Mandalay

During my many visits to Mandalay I’ve stayed at four different hotels, always searching for the “perfect fit”. Except for the first dump, which will remain nameless, they’ve all been pretty good, but the best of the lot, or at least the one that I’m most satisfied with, is the Hotel Queen.


Located on 81st Street, it’s just down the road from my favorite restaurant in town, Aye Myit Tar, adding to the convenience factor, at least for me. It’s a longer walk to the place where I rent my bicycle, but at least the Hotel Queen’s location is a whole lot quieter than the chaotic area on 27th Street, near the Zeigyo Market, where I used to stay. I don’t miss the noise on that street at all.


The rooms at the Queen are more than adequate (the usual hot water, AC, cable TV), but it’s the friendliness and attentive service of the staff that really makes the place shine. Ma Khin Thida and her crew do a great job of making you feel welcome, and the head of housekeeping, Kyaw Zay Htun, is a heads up fellow who always takes care of any special requests. These people are gold.


Another bonus is the free breakfast. At many hotels and guesthouses in Myanmar this free meal usually consists of some bland “American Breakfast” offering such as eggs and toast, maybe some fresh fruit if you’re lucky. But the Queen offers a very ample breakfast buffet of Western and Asian dishes, with treats such as the Burmese monhinga noodles, and a good selection of fruit and juices. The monhinga, in fact, is so good that I’ll often have a second bowl. No wonder I can never lose weight on these trips, no matter how much I cycle around town.

Fine Dining in Mandalay


As usual, upon arrival in Mandalay, my first night’s meal was spent at Aye Myit Tar Restaurant on 81st Street. And that’s also where I went on my second night … and my third night too. At that point, my stomach pleaded for a change of cuisine and I skipped the fourth night, but was back again on night number five. Yeah, the food at Aye Myit Tar is delicious, and the portions are generous (plus second and third helpings are not unheard of either!) but I know most of the wait staff at the restaurant and they always spoil me shamelessly, so dining there is always a treat.



Aye Myit Tar might not qualify as “fine dining” for those used to western cuisine, but for local tastes the curry and rice dishes are always tasty. Each main dish that you order (usually a curry of some sort; your choice of beef, chicken, pork, mutton, fish, etc.) is accompanied by an array of side dishes that include vegetables, salads, soup, and a tray of crunchy things (carrots, okra, cucumber, etc.). All in all, it’s a gut-busting orgy of food.




In their new location, Aye Myit Tar is now just down the street from my hotel, so I’m always riding my bike past the place, often stopping to chat with some of the waiters who are hanging outside. Even outside of regular dining hours, these guys start work early each morning, working on food prep and cleaning the place: 15-hour work days are the norm. So, if you’re dining there, don’t forget to leave a tip. These young men will appreciate it very much!







Burmese Birthday Dinner


Has it already been two full weeks? Indeed it has; two weeks ago tonight I was in Mandalay and as it so happened, that particular Thursday night was also my birthday. Where to go for dinner? Ha, as if there was any other choice; Aye Myit Tar on 81st Street, my favorite  restaurant, was where I dined. No cake and ice cream, but plenty of good Burmese food.


Joining me for a gut-busting feast were Moe Htet Aung and Zin Ko, two of the kids I know from 90th Street. As usual, there was also the revolving cast of diligent waiters, including Nyein Htun, Ko Ko Oo, and Kyaw Myo Aung. I opted for the pork curry, while Moe Htet Aung got fried mutton flakes (and no, that’s not a new breakfast cereal), and Zin Ko ordered the prawn curry, and rice; lots and lots of extra helpings of rice.



The boys both ordered fruit juices to drink, but I quenched my thirst with a couple of bottles of Myanmar Beer. The beer company is currently having one of those promotions with “prizes” hidden under the bottle cap. Sometimes you only get a message such as “Che Zu Tin Ba De!” (Thank You!), but other times you get a cash prize (I won 500 kyat , which is about 50 cents, the night before), and sometimes even a free bottle. I’d like to report that I won a free bottle of beer on my birthday, but alas, that did not happen on this night. But I did receive some gifts from the waiters; a Myanmar Beer t-shirt (too small, so I later gave it to Moe Htet Aung), a Myanmar Beer windbreaker (much too small, so I gave it to Zin Ko), and a longyi (just the right size; I wore it the next night).



As usual, the restaurant was busy, local diners and foreign tourists streaming in for meals. Before the night was over, I had struck up a conversation with two young women at the adjacent table. They were from Hong Kong and visiting Mandalay for the first time. They asked for suggestions, so I offered a few tips on places to see, including the “Snake Pagoda” in Paleik, and the Mingun Home for the Aged, where the vivacious Nurse Thwe Thwe Aye runs the place nearly single-handed. Ah, don’t get me started; so much to see and do in the Mandalay area.



At the start of last month, I had no plans to go to Mandalay, but because of the situation with my hospitalized friend, this “last minute” trip turned out to be a happy accident falling on my birthday. And the night was made even more special and enjoyable by having my friends join me, surrounded by a familiar cast of smiling waiters. And even though I didn’t win a free beer that night, I DID win one two nights later, my last night in town!




Helping Hands


An unexpected trip coming up this week: back to Mandalay. As much as I love the city and my friends there, this trip is not one of pleasure, but born of necessity. My friend “H” is still in the hospital in Bangkok, still in ICU, in fact, and his condition has not improved. I’ve talked to the doctors at the hospital, his cousin in Alabama (his closest living relative), and the administrators at the school where he’s been teaching in Mandalay. The consensus is that he will not be able to return to work again, even if he survives this illness.



The school needs to hire a new teacher and vice-principal to replace “H”, and they also need to use the apartment that they were renting for him in Mandalay. I’ve been appointed to be the one who goes to the apartment and takes care of moving everything out of it. I’ve been exchanging e-mails with his cousin on a daily basis, trying to figure out how we are going to handle this. It’s almost certain that “H” will not be able to return to Mandalay, no matter what happens, so we will have to put his possessions in storage for now, and maybe try to sell some things, or give others away, at a later date. I’ll also take some smaller items and any paperwork back to Bangkok with me.  Frankly, I’m not looking forward to having to deal with this stuff, but it needs to be done and I don’t want to shirk the responsibility. I owe it to my friend.



I’ll only be in Mandalay for four full days, so I’ll need to organize all of this stuff pretty quickly, plus go to the school one day and clear out any personal items from his office and classroom. In addition to all the things in his apartment — the usual mix of furniture, TV, stereo, microwave, etc. — he has a motorcycle. I don’t even know where to start.




But I’m lucky to have many friends in Mandalay to help me. People I trust, and who I trust will give me good advice. Through an exchange of e-mails, my friends on 90th Street have been helping me with suggestions on where I can store some of the items. They’ve also been asking about “H” and his condition. He’s not a regular at the teashop like I am, but he’s been there a few times with me, and he’s also helped funnel money to people when I asked him to help. When I wanted to send some money to buy new school uniforms for the kids, “H” drove down there on his motorcycle and gave the funds to U Tin Chit. When young Aung Phyo Zaw drowned earlier this year, “H” also agreed to help me out by taking money to the family. So, needless to say, they know him well on 90th Street.




Although I’m not looking forward to having to deal with this apartment stuff, I’m very much looking forward to seeing everyone over at U Tin Chit’s teashop and the kids on 90th Street again, plus the waiters at Aye Myit Tar restaurant, and other friends such as Htoo Htoo, Htun Zaw Win, and Ko Soe Moe. This task may not be a pleasurable one, but with the help and comfort of good friends, I’m confident it will all work out.



This trip was thrown together very quickly, so I wasn’t even aware of the dates, but I’ll be in Mandalay on Thursday the 28th, which is the American holiday of Thanksgiving. And the 28th also happens to be my birthday.  Surrounded by friends in one of my favorite restaurants, I do believe I’ll be ordering an extra beer that night.



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