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Posts tagged ‘Myanmar cuisine’

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!



Second Helpings


No trip to Myanmar — hell, no trip anywhere! — would be complete without sampling the local cuisine. Myanmar cuisine, or Burmese food, sometimes gets a bad rap from visitors who complain about oily curries and greasy fried food. But if you steer away from that common crap and pay attention to what’s available, and are willing to sample more than curries and fried rice, you’ll find that there is an amazingly diverse variety of food served in Myanmar.




Honestly, Myanmar cuisine is among my favorite eating experiences in all of Asia. You can find tasty dishes at restaurants and teashops, or the “rice shops” known as tamin sain where you sometimes have dozens of different dishes to choose from on your table. Yeah, it’s a feast!





But my favorite meals are normally at the homes of friends, or even at places such as the Tat Ein school kitchen. Man, these people know how to cook! The various salads and savory soups are especially creative. It’s all good, but I think the best dishes of all are found in Shan State. Don’t delay any further; take that second helping and enjoy!










Burmese Roadside Scenes & Snacks


Here is an odd, but hopefully interesting mix of photos that I took in Myanmar earlier this year. Not your typical tourist hotspots, but scenes from the roadside and beyond. Normal, everyday things and places, and of course some tasty treats to eat!



















Bigger & Better: Mandalay’s Aye Myit Tar


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.




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.





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!






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.











Nyaungshwe’s Unique Superb Food House


For me, it’s no contest: the best restaurant in the Shan State town of Nyaungshwe (which is where most tourists who visit nearby Inle Lake stay) is the Unique Superb Food House. With a name as bold as that, the meals had better be close to wonderful, and thankfully this place doesn’t disappoint.


I’ve been a customer at the restaurant for almost ten years now and I don’t recollect a single meal that was even close to mediocre; they have all been delicious. The only blip I can remember was one night after the power had been out for several hours and the beer didn’t have much time to chill and wasn’t as cold as usual, but that’s the only negative thing about the restaurant that I can summon from my memory banks. And it certainly wasn’t their fault that the power went out for so long.


What I like about the menu at Unique Superb is the balance of Myanmar cuisine and Western dishes. They serve local Shan and Intha dishes such as braised chicken with mint and green pepper, tofu salad, pumpkin soup, and various fish dishes and vegetable curries. They also offer western favorites such as fried chicken, pasta, filet mignon, and French fries if you get those cravings too. There is also a selection of tasty soups, flavorful local salads, and a lot more. Honestly, I never get tired of eating here and sampling new dishes.


Besides superb food, the service is always friendly and efficient. It’s a family-run business and Daw Ni Ni and U Okka, with the help of their children and other relatives, do everything from waiting on tables to preparing and cooking the food. Admittedly, the service can be slow when large groups of tourists descend upon the place. It’s a small restaurant with the proverbial one-wok kitchen, so they can get overwhelmed when too many customers arrive at the same time. But even when that happens, it’s still service with a smile and they will try their hardest to accommodate each diner. You’ll often see one of the little kids trotting out to bring you a complimentary plate of fresh fruit after your meal. A nice touch from nice people at a nice place.


Unique Superb Food House is located on Myawaddy Road, just a few doors down from the Golden Kite Restaurant (which is on the corner of Myawaddy and the main drag, Yone Gyi Road). If you walk down Myawaddy Road you’ll see a sign for Win Nyunt Traditional Massage on your right side. Walk another 50 feet down the narrow lane and you’ll see Unique Superb Food House on the left. The open-air restaurant may not look like much from the outside, and you won’t be dazzled by the décor, but I guarantee you the food will impress your taste buds. And for me, that’s all that counts!


Bamboo Delight for Shan & Myanmar Cuisine


In the Shan State town of Nyaungshwe, within rowing distance of famous Inle Lake, Ma Pu Sue continues to offer her acclaimed Bamboo Delight Cooking Class. Assisted by her husband Lesly, Sue takes her clients through all the steps needed to cook the food, not only traditional Myanmar and Burmese cuisine, but also local Shan and Intha dishes. And those local treats, my friends, are some of the tastiest ones you will eat in the entire country.


The Bamboo Delight experience starts with a trip to the local market in the morning. While guiding you around the colorful market, Sue will buy all the ingredients needed for that day’s meal (your choice: lunch or dinner) and explain their uses. Next it’s back to her cozy home where she and her visitors will prepare and cook the meal. And then the best part comes: eating the lesson!


I’ve known Sue and Lesly for several years. They are very personable and always helpful. Both are fluent in English also. Honestly, you couldn’t ask for two nicer hosts. I always make it a point to drop by their house for a visit when I’m in town, and they will invariably invite me over for a meal, time permitting. During my last visit, Lesly cooked up a big pot of monhinga. In many parts of Myanmar this popular dish is eaten in the mornings for breakfast, but really it’s a treat that is delicious any time of the day or night.


Nowadays, the cooking classes are so popular with tourists, that it’s rare that Sue has an entire free day to relax or spend time with her two school-age daughters. But even when she has “kitchen duty” you can tell that it’s not a hardship at all: Sue loves what she is doing and it shows in her vibrant personality and delicious recipes. If you are visiting Nyaungshwe or Inle Lake, think about adding a Bamboo Delight class to your schedule for a truly unforgettable experience. A guaranteed highlight on any trip to Myanmar!





What’s Cooking in Myanmar?

As the year winds down, it’s beginning to look a lot like … Burmese food! Call it Myanmar cuisine, or the old familiar, Burmese, but the tasty and underrated cuisine from this country is ready to take its place at the world’s culinary table. Yes, I love the food that I’ve tasted during my travels in Myanmar (everything from noodle dishes such as monhinga and mondhi, to the amazing fermented tea leaf salad), but I’m not the only one; before this year is out, there will be three excellent new books about Burmese food available in bookshops and from online dealers.


Just published this month is Ma Thanegi’s Ginger Salad and Water Wafers: Recipes from Myanmar. This is actually an expanded version of her An Introduction to Myanmar Cuisine that was first published in 2004. This new edition, published by Things Asian Press, includes gorgeous photographs by Tiffany Wan, showing you not only the wide variety of food featured in the book, but also many captivating sights from around the country. Chapters in the book cover: Soups, Main Dishes (various meat and fish curries, stews, steamed and grilled dishes); Soups; Salads (an incredibly diverse section, with recipes for Tofu, Grilled Eggplant, Pennywort, Long Bean, Green Mango, Ginger, Tomato, and Shrimp Paste salads); Vegetables; Relishes; Rice (there’s more to rice than you think: coconut rice, rice porridge, briyani, fried rice, rice salad); Noodles (don’t get me started, this is one of my favorite food categories in Myanmar cuisine, and Thanegi offers a wide range of recipes of the more popular dishes); Desserts and Snacks (fritters, pancakes, sauces). If you think that Burmese food consists of nothing but oily curries and greasy fried rice dishes, prepare to be enlightened!



And the first bookshop in the world to have the new Ma Thanegi cookbook in stock? No, it’s not my shop in Bangkok, Dasa Books, but Golden Bowl Travel in Nyaungshwe’s Shan State. Shop owner Ma Ma Aye is very proud to offer Ginger Salad and Water Wafers to travelers passing through town. She is also stocking other titles by Ma Thanegi, including Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy, Nor Iron Bars a Cage, and the fascinating alternative guidebook from Things Asian Press, To Myanmar With Love.



Earlier this year, Naomi Duguid’s latest cookbook, Burma: Rivers of Flavor was published. As in her past cookbooks, Naomi not only showcases the food of the country or region, but also focuses on the people and culture. Naomi spends a lot of time in each country she visits and Myanmar is no exception. She has a true appreciation and love for the country, and it shows in her book. Here is one very good description of her book that I found online:

Interspersed throughout the 125 recipes are intriguing tales from the author’s many trips to this fascinating but little-known land. One such captivating essay shows how Burmese women adorn themselves with thanaka, a white paste used to protect and decorate the skin. Buddhism is a central fact of Burmese life: we meet barefoot monks on their morning quest for alms, as well as nuns with shaved heads; and Duguid takes us on tours of Shwedagon, the amazingly grand temple complex on a hill in Rangoon, the former capital. She takes boats up Burma’s huge rivers, highways to places inaccessible by road; spends time in village markets and home kitchens; and takes us to the farthest reaches of the country, along the way introducing us to the fascinating people she encounters on her travels. The best way to learn about an unfamiliar culture is through its food, and in Burma: Rivers of Flavor, readers will be transfixed by the splendors of an ancient and wonderful country, untouched by the outside world for generations, whose simple recipes delight and satisfy and whose people are among the most gracious on earth.



Next up, scheduled for January 2014 publication is Robert Carmack’s latest food offering, The Burma Cookbook: Recipes From the Land of a Million Pagodas. Robert has travelled to Myanmar dozens of times over the years and knows both the country and it cuisine inside out. This is the product description of the new book:

The Burma Cookbook is a lavishly photographed cookbook and historic travelogue, tracing contemporary and colonial Burmese dishes over the past century. With its rich traditions of empire, The Burma Cookbook highlights the best of present-day Myanmar, including foods of its immigrant populations – from the subcontinent, down the Malay Peninsula, and Britain itself. The authors spent some ten years researching the book, while organizing and hosting culinary tours to uncover the country’s most popular dishes. The authors had exclusive access to The Strand Hotel’s collection of historic menus, pictures and photos, while contemporary photography by Morrison Polkinghorne portrays Myanmar street life.

By the way, Robert and Morrison continue to conduct their very popular “Food Tours” of various Asian locales. They have a Vietnam food tour scheduled from December 29 through January 5, and their next tour to Myanmar will revolve around the annual water festival in April next year. For more information, check their website:

And the common denominator connecting these three cookbook authors? Not only are they are all avid travelers, ones who give back to each country that they visit, but they have all shopped at my bookshop in Bangkok. I can confidently say that they are all good people with good taste — in both food and books!


Bamboo Delight Cooking Class

Back in Shan State, in the still-sleepy town of Nyaungshwe (but maybe not for much longer; construction is booming and more motorcycles are zooming), Ma Pu Sue has opened the Bamboo Delight Cooking Class.


Sue has worked in the tourism industry for many years, most recently as a guide who can take visitors to scenic places in the area, such as Inle Lake or nearby villages, or further afield on multi-day treks. But lately her focus has been on her Myanmar cuisine cooking classes, which have proved to be enormously popular with foreign tourists.


Instead of only showing her visitors the basics of Burmese food, Sue offers them a total culinary experience. She takes each client to the bustling morning market where she picks out various food and spices, explaining how each item will be used. After that it’s back to her house for food preparation and cooking. And then the moment that everyone looks forward to experiencing: eating a tasty meal!



While I was in Nyaungshwe earlier this month I dropped by Sue’s house several times. Two of my friends from Bagan, Nine Nine and Htun Htun, were in town, so Sue invited the whole crew to her house for a “snack” one afternoon. Inside the house, Sue’s two daughters and another girl from the neighborhood were cutting banana leaves to use as “plates” and containers for some salads that she was making. Later, we got to sample some of the veggie treats, which came with a tasty garlic dip. Sue also served some fried tofu, tea leaf salad (a staple in almost every Myanmar home), and other tasty sauces and dips.



I’ve also been treated to lavish meals at Sue’s house and I can honestly say that everything I’ve tasted has been extremely delicious. The cuisine found in Shan State is different than some of the more common, and oily, “Burmese” dishes found in other parts of Myanmar. There are plenty of fresh vegetable dishes, savory soups, creative salads, fish from the lake, and an assortment of curries with chicken, pork, and beef. A little something for everyone, some dishes of which may surprise you.  



If you are interested in learning more about the local cuisine and have time while in Nyaungshwe, you can contact Sue at:


Scenes from a Burmese Restaurant


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.


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.



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.




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.




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.  




Mandalay’s Most Enjoyable Restaurant


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!


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.


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!


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.



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!


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.



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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