A sophisticated foodie scene exists in Myanmar’s largest city
When you think of Yangon, or Myanmar for that matter, cuisine and gastronomy don’t exactly spring to mind right away. Yet, unbeknownst to the rest of the foodie forward world, Yangon seems to be plotting a quiet but definite revolution.
Without getting into complex historical references, the past has seen Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) left behind in the Southeast Asian tourism boom. While Bangkok and Bali were enjoying an influx of Europeans, Australians, and Americans looking for sun, spice, and rich indulgences, Yangon’s tourism remained sluggish.
But there is much to be said about a country which has maintained its “authenticity”, and as the Myanmar borders open wider and wider, Yangon’s choice, diversity, and quality of cuisine blossoms. Italian pizzerias, contemporary tea houses, artisanal delis/bakeries, eclectic bars, and even fine dining establishments are sprouting on main streets and side alleys.
On our recent visit we were warmly welcomed at the airport by our English-speaking Khiri Travel tour guide, who expertly handled our tour in Yangon. It may be the “new” Asia, but when one has no other local contacts, and only a short week to cram a plethora of activities, we put our trust in the hands of the professionals.
Rangoon Tea House
You would be mad not to visit the Rangoon Tea House (77-79 Pansodan St) which has become “the” institution for modern Burmese cuisine. Founded by a young entrepreneur Htet Myet Oo, the two-storey building is split into two levels, with two completely different design settings. Whilst downstairs is a bustling, bright, and rowdy contemporary tea house, upstairs is a dimly lit, colonial-style speakeasy, with low ceilings, velvet sofas, and barman in suit vests. Here we encountered our first Burmese fermented tea salad, Lahpet Thoke, the national dish of Myanmar. And it was explosive! An exotic combination of bitterness from the fermentation of tea, the softness of cabbage and tomato, and a whole lot of texture from beans and chickpeas. Actually all the dishes here had their merits. Try the grilled aubergine salad—the vegetable is so incredibly fresh and the pop of fried onions and sesame makes this dish unique.
Tuk Tuk Thai Café
Another establishment that took us by surprise was the quaint and unassuming Tuk Tuk Thai Café (114 Bogalazay St). It’s set in a narrow two townhouse building on Bogalazay Street, a popular hangout where you’ll find other funky eateries, galleries, and gift shops. The interior is cozy and colourfully kitsch. You simply must order their version of Nam Dtock (Thai grilled beef neck salad), which appeared to be dry and not bathing in fish sauce—as we’re used to—but still bursting with rich flavours. Another difference we spotted was the use of more fresh mint and coriander, and large chunks of crispy garlic which they dressed atop of the delectably sinewy but succulent beef. Another mouth-watering dish was the curry leaf seabass, which we found to be at a fine dining standard. Cooked sous vide with salted egg yolk cream sauce, this dish had a multitude of complex layers. Finally, this eatery had the best latte we tried in Yangon, which is usually typically an indication of restaurant quality.
As one of just a handful of fine dining establishments in Yangon, and a new one at that, Seeds (No.63/A, U Htun Nyein St) offers a multi-faceted dining experience that is breathtaking. The restaurant itself boasts an expansive grassy yard, which stretches out to Inya Lake by a wooden boardwalk (at the end of which sits a charming gazebo and pod couches in which to watch the glorious sun setting over the lake). There’s also a single tree pod, cocooned by bamboo, which makes for the ultimate fantasy romantic proposal dinner spot. As for the menu, Swiss Chef Felix Eppisser’s dishes are not confined to one continent, as he explores recipes from Spain to Japan and all over the globe. Our favourites were the salmon and cream cheese mousse with dill, and the Parma ham with butter and herbs, which had a deliciously rich glaze and a chocolatey finish. Unique, specialty, and imported produce is hard to come by in Yangon, so be aware that the prices here are as opulent as the dishes. Don’t expect the standards of Bangkok fine dining just yet, but do keep some cash spare for this rare gastronomic treat.
Taing Yin Thar
A renowned restaurant in Yangon, given that it is the only one that represents dishes from all regions of Myanmar—from Yangon to Mon, and Shan State and beyond—Taing Yin Thar (No.2/A, Kanbae Rd) is a foodie must. It’s commonly a place where tourists, expats, and diplomats come to dine in comfort, and at a fair price, without forfeiting the authentic (high quality) local taste experience. We suggest you order the silver mullet fish curry, which hails from the Yangon region. The fish is wonderfully rich in gelatinous fat, that complements the sharp citrus, herbs, and the spice of the curry. Pair this with a plate of potatoes with mustard leaves from Shan State; the combination of carb, coriander, and bitterness is highly addictive. Lastly, order the Pennywort salad, which is floral and refreshing and our personal highlight, and don’t pass up the massive soft shell crab, which comes out the size of a lady’s fist, and packs a punch to match.
For information about travel in Yangon, and Myanmar in general, visit: www.khiri.com/myanmar
Words and photos by Samantha Proyrungtong