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

Posts tagged ‘Aye Myit Tar restaurant’

Fine Dining in Mandalay

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Burmese Birthday Dinner

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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Helping Hands

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Scenes from a Burmese Restaurant

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Whenever I arrive in Mandalay, I head to the Aye Myit Tar restaurant on 81st Street (between 29th and 30th streets) for dinner the first night. I invited my friend, Htoo Htoo, also known to many tourists as Mr. Htoo, to join me for dinner, since my American friend, Walter (who teaches at an international school in town), was busy that night.

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But before the evening was out, we were joined by two more surprise guests; Moe Htet Aung and Zin Ko, friends from the 90th Street neighborhood. I had mentioned to them that I eat dinner at Aye Myit Tar frequently, so they knew where to find me. They had already eaten earlier in the evening, but they joined us for soft drinks after the meal, while I worked on a second bottle of Myanmar Beer.

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I ended up eating dinner at Aye Myit Tar almost every night I was in Mandalay, the only exception being the night I met Walter for dinner at V Café, and another night when I went with Moe Htet Aung and Zin Ko to a karaoke bar & restaurant on the other side of town. After that first night I told Moe Htet Aung and Zin Ko that they were invited to join me for dinner any night that they were free, and that ended up being every night I was in town! But I was more than happy to have them join me. They’re good kids and I enjoy their company, and the prices at the restaurant are low enough that having two extra guests is not a huge expense.

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One night at Aye Myit Tar I was pleasantly surprised to run into my Australian friend, Judyth Gregory-Smith, the author of Myanmar: A Memoir of Loss and Recovery, who was dining there with two of her local friends. Judyth is a frequent visitor to Myanmar and was checking in with her friends and checking up on her various projects. She is also in midst of writing another book.

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As usual, we were spoiled by the incredible service at Aye Myit Tar. The waiters remain diligent, attentive, friendly, polite, and sometimes silly. A good combination! My usual crew of Nyein Htun, Ko Ko Oo, Aung Myo Ko, and Kyaw Myu Htun were supplemented by a revolving cast of others. It gets to be comical at times, all these waiters taking turns to fill up my glass of beer, dishing out more heaping spoonfuls of rice, refilling the side dishes of vegetables, bringing out another bowl of soup, and giving me extra servings of curry. To say that I feel bloated when I leave the place is an understatement! For such good service I always make sure to tip the guys extra, and this time I brought them all souvenir key chains from Inle Lake as a bonus gift. These guys work long hours — usually from seven in the morning until at least nine every night, with only an hour or two break in the afternoon — so I feel that any extra perk that I can give them is more than deserved.  

 

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A Time of Gifts

A lone red-robed monk walking between the banks of a flooded rice paddy, a black dog trotting at his side. Watching the monk slowly walk towards the rising sun, I marveled at the peaceful sight.

Sometimes the best pictures are the ones you don’t take with a camera; they are the ones that pass fleetingly, but remain engraved in your memory. I was on my to the airport in Mandalay this morning when I saw that monk, and even if I had a camera clutched in my hand, I don’t think I could have summoned the presence of mind to snap a photo, as transfixed as I was on the sight.

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In fact, my last two days in the country, back in Mandalay after four days in Shan State, I couldn’t take any photos at all, at least not ones that were properly in focus. While teaching an English class at Tat Ein village in Shan State, I had lent my camera to some novice monks, who were gleefully taking photos and playing with the zoom lens function. At some point the lens got stuck and they sheepishly handed the camera back to me. I looked at it, tried to zoom in and out; nothing. Tried to turn the camera off and back on again; nothing. Hmmm … Major Tom, we have a problem. I tried again and again, changing the battery and playing with the buttons some more, and the damn thing still wouldn’t work. Later that night, back at my hotel, I figured out a way to get the lens to close manually and then open again. Voila; I could take photos again. But when I tried to turn it off, the problem reoccurred; it got stuck and an error message appeared. I also noticed that the shots that I was able to take weren’t quite in focus. Looks like a job for the repair department at Canon.

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I tried to put the problem in perspective, reasoning that I’d already taken a lot of photos and had only three days left in the country, so I could live without my precious camera. But the very next day I had a trip to Taunggyi and Kakku planned with some monks from the Shwe Yan Pyay monastery, and I really wanted some photos from that trip, mainly so I could make some prints for the monks themselves. My friend Ma Pu Sue saved the day, by letting me borrow her camera for the day. Her camera uses the same type of memory card as mine did, so that made it even easier. The only problem was that I took so many photos at Kakku that I used up her battery and had to resort to my faulty old camera for a few shots at the very end of the trip in Taunggyi and at a Pa-O village. Oh well, at least it wasn’t a total loss.

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It felt odd not having a camera to use the final two days in Mandalay. There were a few moments that I would have loved to have photos of. One was a group of children outside a monastery on 90th Street playing a game that resembled stickball, or baseball or maybe even cricket. They were using a flat piece of wood to hit a rubber ball around a dirt field. I’ve seen kids play soccer, badminton, chinlon, and other sports, but never anything quite like this one. I had a go and popped up the first ball thrown to me. I totally whiffed the second ball, but when the third offering came, I belted it high and far, over everyone’s heads. Home run!

That evening I took Moe Htet Aung and Zin Ko to a restaurant that had karaoke rooms. Watching them sing Burmese love songs would also have made for some fun photos, but seeing their joy at singing those songs was worth the price of admission. My contribution was a rendition of “Top of the World” by the Carpenters and a weak attempt at Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” Hey, they were the first two English songs on the menu and looked easier to sing than the Eagles medley. I’m just thankful that nobody was there to record that session and post it on YouTube.

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The last day in town I met Sophia, a young university student from Germany. We were both renting bicycles at Mr. Jerry’s bike shop on 83rd Street, and she struck up a conversation and asked where I was going. I told her that I didn’t have any real plans. My only real appointment that day was a trip to U Tin Chit’s teashop on 90th Street later in the afternoon, and dinner with Moe Htet Aung and Zin Ko in the evening. I asked Sophia if she wanted to experience a Burmese teashop and she readily agreed, so we hopped on our bikes and headed to the Minthiha branch at the corner of 28th and 72nd streets. After a round of tea and various fried and baked breads and snacks, a woman and her young son sat our table and had their lunch. Later she introduced herself, Wan Thu Khin. Her 6-year-old son, Lu Phone, his cheeks smeared with thanaka, also introduced himself and showed us the English language lesson he was studying. After a colorful and possibly inebriated gentleman had walked by and introduced himself, the conversation evolved and Sophia asked where she could buy a Burmese longyi, women’s style, of course. After taking Lu Phone back to school for his afternoon class, Wan Thu Khin offered to show Sophia a shop in the nearby market. I tagged along and it turned out to be a fun outing, watching the women pick out a colorful longyi, trying it on Sophia, and then having it altered (for free!) at a shop run by a friend of Wan Thu Khin. We roamed the colorful aisles, stocked with every imaginable product you think of — from fruit and vegetables to electronic goods and mattresses — while vendors smiled and chuckled at the sight of two longyi-clad foreigners walking around. The final mission was to apply some thanaka on Sophia’s face, which a female vendor was happy to do. With longyi and thanaka, she had received her initial immersion in Myanmar culture. If that wasn’t enough hospitality, Wan Thu Khin, invited us to visit her home while we were in town. Alas, since I had to return to Bangkok the next morning, I couldn’t accept the invite.

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Later that afternoon, Sophia followed me over to U Tin Chit’s teashop on 90th Street. On the way we stopped at Shwe In Bin Kyaung, a lovely old teakwood monastery, and passed several other old monasteries, including the massive Ma Soe Yein complex. At 90th Street, Sophia was the star attraction. I introduced her to U Tin Chit, Ko Maw Hsi, U Nyunt Htun, and the group of kids that soon formed. They brought out hot cups of tea and bean cakes, and then Ye Thu Lwin, a bright young student of English, showed up. He asked me; “What is your friend’s name?” I replied: “You can ask her.”  A bit shy at first, he ended up asking Sophia all sorts of questions in English, and she turned the table and asked him some questions too. I couldn’t help but smile at this exchange. Once again, I wish I’d had a camera to take some shots of all the cuteness, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

As we prepared to leave we were showered with gifts from U Tin Chit and some of the others; more bean cakes, apples, bottles of water, and some cans of Red Bull, the latter which I took only out of courtesy. I never drink that crap, so I gave my can to Mr. Jerry at the bike shop later. Before I left town that night the gifts kept on coming; longyis from Ko Ko Oo and Nyein Htun at Aye Myit Tar restaurant, cans of Myanmar beer from Kyaw Myu Htun, and a packet of thanaka paste from Zin Ko and Moe Htet Aung, not for cosmetic purposes, but to treat the insect bites on my left arm.

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I was reflecting on all this gifts and last-day events as my taxi took me to the airport this morning. As usual, I was moved by the kindness and generosity of the people in Mandalay, both old friends and new acquaintances.  I know that I sound like a stuck record every time I write about this stuff, but it bears repeating: these people are amazing. Far from wealthy in monetary terms, but rich in spirit. I may not have any photos as keepsakes of those last two days, but I’ll never forget any of those priceless moments.

Mandalay Weekend

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My bags are packed, documents are in order, and this weekend I will be back in Mandalay; hunting down Mr. Htoo to see if he’s free for dinner at Aye Myit Tar, making fun of Nyein Htun’s latest hairdo, and catching up with my friends over on 90th Street. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this trip very much.

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I’ll be in Mandalay for a few days, then off to Shan State, where I’ll teach an English class at the primary school in Tat Ein village, visit the monks at Shway Yan Pyay Kyaung (I promised a couple of them that we’d go to see the ruins in Kakku), and catch up with friends such as Htein Linn and Ma Pu Su. And then I’ll return to Mandalay for a few more days before going back to Bangkok and resuming my daily work routine. A quick trip this time; I won’t even visit Yangon or Bagan.

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Hopefully, I’ll have time for one or two posts while I’m away, but no promises. I plan to be riding bikes — while dodging farm animals of all sizes and vehicles of all types — on the main streets of the city and back roads in the countryside. Rainy season is in full swing, so I’ve got umbrellas and a raincoat packed too. Hey, I was a boy scout, so you can bet that I’m prepared!

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Mandalay Restaurant

Today’s guest photographer is Aung Myo Ko (pictured above), a personable 15-year old waiter at the Aye Myit Tar Restaurant in Mandalay. I’ve been dining at Aye Myit Tar ever since my very first trip to Mandalay about seven years ago. The food is tasty (although their curries may be a bit on the oily side for many Westerners), and the service is always incredibly attentive and friendly. I’d even venture to proclaim that the service is more worthy of praise than the food. I was mesmerized by the scene I witnessed the first time I ever dined there. I was dining alone, yet I had a crew of four waiters hovering over my table, constantly filling up my glass of beer, dishing out more servings of rice, or giving me second (or third) helpings of the vegetable side dishes. The young waiters dashed swiftly between tables, taking orders, laughing, even singing at times. And always those smiles. I was hooked, and since then it’s become my first night ritual to have dinner at Aye Myit Tar whenever I arrive in Mandalay. Beef curry and a large bottle of Myanmar beer, please!

 

Aung Myo Ko has been working at Aye Myit Tar for over two years. Like most of the other young waiters, he doesn’t go to school, but works every day, both lunch and dinner shifts. Some of these kids also live at the restaurant, sleeping in an upstairs back room. Here are some photos that Aung Myo Ko took of his friends at the restaurant recently. If you are in Mandalay, stop by for a meal. The restaurant is located on 81st Street, between 36th and 37th Street. From the restaurant, it’s only a short drive or walk to the famous Moustache Brothers’ house, where shows are held each night.

 

 

 

 

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