Myanmar seems to me like the last frontier in South East Asia which has yet to be truly explored culinarily. The country was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series, and that episode truly mesmerised and drew me into the vast and varied food culture that’s available in Myanmar, which reflects its position as a crossroads between India, Thailand, Laos, and China. Well, I finally made it there and very much excited about what’s to come.
Jing Hpaw Myay
For dinner, my Malaysian mate brought me to a local Kachin restaurant in Yangon called Jing Hpaw Myay (quite a tongue twister of a name), located not far from the magnificent and grandiose Shwedagon Pagoda. Kachin is the Northernmost state of Myanmar, bordering with Yunnan in China. It’s one of the main ethnic groups in Myanmar, and this restaurant is dedicated to the food from that specific region.
We started off with some local Kachin rice wine. Can’t really say no to booze, and no exceptions were made for this particular occasion. The rice wine was sweet and had a nice sourness to it, almost like an alcoholic Vitagen or Yakult yogurt drink. Very drinkable indeed.
The first main dish was shredded beef with sliced garlic and green chillies. It was a surprisingly flavourful dish with some heat from the chillies. Probably one of my favourite dishes throughout the entire trip.
The proprietress had suggested the next dish, which was rice seasoned with local herbs, chicken and vegetables. It was certainly very fragrant with the addition from herbs, and once again packed with flavour. Another delicious revelation.
Next was some local fried river fish. The fish was fresh and had a nice meaty texture to it.
The meal was accompanied with a mix of pounded ginger, chilli and fish. This dip was rather spicy and perhaps a tad overwhelmingly so.
Truly a great way to start off my trip to Myanmar. It was a revelation that food from Myanmar could be spicy, but I suspect that it’s proximity to Yunnan and Sichuan might have influenced its culinary heritage to some extent. A hypothesis that will need to be explored further for sure.
Rangoon Tea House
Tea houses are were most Myanmar folk might spend their time to meet up and discuss about various topics, and it was said that even politic uprisings were born from discussions at a tea house. That said, it is a place were tea is served (no shit, Sherlock), and typically serves a range of local dishes e.g. Mohinga, a local signature dish with rice noodles in an intense fish broth.
Some of my newfound mates brought me the Rangoon Tea house in the city center. It is an upscale tea house designed in a modern-esque colonial fashion, located above one of the seemingly derelict shophouses.
Being rather famished, I had opted for the Chicken Biryani. Due to its proximity to India, as well as presumably due to the Brits bringing in the Indians back during the colonial days, one could easily get their Indian food fix with a range of samosas, pratas (roti chanai), and even some proper Biryanis. Admittedly, this particular biryani did not disappoint. Portions were ample, and it was very well executed with spices which weren’t overpowering, and was overall pretty tasty. I’m not opposed to fancy places charging a tad extra, as long as the food is up to snuff and makes you feel sated. This place certainly did that.
For the next day, I’m off to Bagan, which is a city in Central Myanmar with thousands of temples, pagodas, and stupas still standing from the ancient Kingdom of Pagan which ruled between the 9th and 13th Century. It is certainly the stuff of legends, and we will get to that in the next chapter.
Jing Hpaw Myay – 2B Kyun Taw Street, Sanchaung township, Yangon. Website.
Rangoon Tea House – 77-79 Pansodan Street | Lower Middle Block (Opposite Shwe Bank), Yangon 11182, Myanmar. Website.