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Posts tagged ‘Myanmar Beer’

Bigger & Better: Mandalay’s Aye Myit Tar

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My favorite restaurant in Mandalay, Aye Myit Tar, recently moved back to their original location on 81st Street, between 36th and 37th Streets —- but with a twist. The restaurant is now a towering six-floor operation, complete with an elevator, private dining rooms, and an entire floor devoted to wedding receptions. It’s bigger, taller, shinier, and dare I say, even better.

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No matter what the place looks like, the bottom line is the food, and Aye Myit Tar still serves up a gut-busting array of tasty curries, vegetables and other treats for both lunch and dinner. And, in another continuation of their long-standing tradition, the service at Aye Myit Tar remains ridiculously attentive and friendly. These guys — and now a few young ladies too — go out of their way to provide outstanding service.

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On this trip I discovered the good service at Aye Myit Tar is not limited to food and beverage. I cycled by the restaurant one morning and stopped for a chat when I saw some of the waiters hanging out outside the building. A strap on my shoulder bag was torn, so I asked them if there was tailor nearby where I could get the bag mended. Ko Ko Oo, one of the waiters who I’ve known for several years, asked to see bag and inspected the damage. He told me to wait for about ten minutes and then ran off with the bag, only to return within the specified time frame, the bag now completely mended. I asked him how much for the repair and he waved me off, saying there was no charge. Another example of just how amazing Burmese hospitality can be. That was sweet of Ko Ko Oo not to ask for any money, but I made sure to tip him extra at dinner that night!

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In recent trips I’ve been joined for dinner by friends from 90th Street, such as Zin Ko, Baw Ga, and Ko Min. Two other kids from the neighborhood, Khant Kaing Kyaw and Ye Win Zaw, expressed an interest in joining the dinner festivities, so I invited them to join us too. Even with a gang that large, the prices at Aye Myit Tar are low enough that it didn’t dent my budget too badly.

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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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Mandalay’s Noodle Nirvana

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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Mandalay’s Most Enjoyable Restaurant

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Back in February I received an alarming e-mail from a friend in Mandalay telling me that my favorite restaurant in town, Aye Myit Tar, was gone. Gone? What did he mean? Closed, moved, burned down, or what exactly? Well, my friend replied, it’s not in the old location any longer. In fact, the building where the restaurant had been located was just demolished!

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The thought of Mandalay without Aye Myit Tar was too disturbing for words. I love this restaurant. It may not serve the finest meals in town, but they are perhaps the most filling. Plus, when you combine the tasty cuisine with the attentive service and friendly vibe, nothing else ranks higher on my list of places to eat in Mandalay. I like the food — oily curries and all — but the service is so attentive that it borders on the comical. It’s not uncommon to have three or four waiters waiting on my table … and I often dine there alone.

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When I arrived in Mandalay I ran into another friend, Mr. Htoo, the first afternoon. Mr. Htoo is a driver for hire (take your pick: motorcycle or trishaw, he’ll even arrange to rent a car for you) and is a fountain of knowledge about all things Mandalay. So, one of my first questions to him was: What happened to Aye Myit Tar? Instead of replying, he whipped out a business card with the restaurant’s name and their new address printed on it: they are now located on 81st Street, between 29th and 30th Streets, only three blocks from my hotel!

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There isn’t a whole lot of variety on the menu at Aye Myit Tar. It’s almost like something from a Monty Python show: you have your choice of curry, curry with chicken, curry with beef, curry with curry, curry with mutton, curry with prawn, or curry with curry spam and curry. But it’s the side dishes that really make the meal complete … and fill you up in the process. With each curry dish you get side orders of various vegetables, salads, and a soup of the day. And the waiters don’t hesitate to bring out second and third helpings if they notice I’m enjoying a particular dish. More beans, more soup, more tomato salad, some more rice? Sure! Once again, visions of a Monty Python skit come to mind; just one little wafer-thin mint (or in this case, a bite of tea leaf salad) is liable to tip me over the edge and dislodge the contents of my stomach all over the walls.

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The waiters at Aye Myit Tar are a hard-working bunch, to put it mildly. Most of them come from very poor families and have had to drop out of school (some while still in their early teens) in order to earn extra money for their family. They all live on the premises, sleeping upstairs, and eating most of their meals there too. They are usually up at the crack of dawn, cleaning the restaurant, cutting up vegetables and doing other food prep. By late morning they are serving lunch and don’t stop work until evening diners have left around 10 pm. They work every day of the week, with only an occasional day or two off a few times each year when they return home (most come from a small town near Monywa, which is where the owner is from also) to visit their families. So if you happen to eat at Aye Myit Tar, don’t forget to tip these guys. They deserve it!

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The waiters at Aye Myit Tar are extremely diligent and polite, but they also aren’t shy about asking me to take their photo. And one click invariably leads to a couple of dozen shots. I always tip my regular waiters well and make it a habit of bringing them small gifts from Bangkok each time I visit. As is the Myanmar way, they reciprocate with gifts for me; they might chip in and pay for my dinner, bring me free plates of fresh fruit or a cup of coffee, or give me a gift of a new longyi. I’m always tempted to leave town without telling them, just to avoid a final night of goodbye gifts, but I enjoy their company too much to do something sneaky like that.

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On my first night in town, I invited Mr. Htoo to eat with me. When you order a bottle of Myanmar Beer they now have this “bonus” under each bottle cap. Sometimes it’s a discount off a meal, sometimes you get a free beer, but usually it’s just a note saying “Thank You” (“Che Zu Tin Ba De”). I got lucky the first night, winning a free bottle of beer, and before week was out, after another five visits, I claimed a second free bottle at Aye Myit Tar. Needless to say, I drank a lot of beer that week.

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