Min Lan (မင်းလမ်း), perhaps Yangon’s best known seafood restaurant chain, serves amazing and delicious Rakhine-style fare. We paid tribute to this local favorite, dining at the chain’s Sanchaung Township location within hours after landing in Rangoon.
So…you might be wondering what Rakhine style food is. Also called Arakan, Rakhine is a region of Burma that hugs the country’s western coastline. Its people speak a very distinct dialect of Burmese. And although one of the country’s poorest states, the region possesses some of Burma’s richest culinary traditions.
The name itself, which literally means “King’s Road” in Burmese, is in fact, the site of the restaurant’s first humble shop, still located on King’s Road in Bahan Township.
The morning we landed, I knew exactly what I wanted to eat. So immediately after attending a function at my mom’s clan association, we were whisked away by a family friend to the nearest Min Lan. Upon parking, a security guard quickly raced to the car and escorted us to the restaurant, all the while shielding our party of 5 from the sun with a massive umbrella. Talk about customer service.
Before I talk about the food, I feel compelled to describe some observations that constantly shocked me, even though I’ve been back to Burma multiple times. Min Lan, like most diners, had an army of waitstaff, many who looked no older than 12. One of the most striking and heartbreaking things about dining in Burma is the restaurant industry’s reliance on child labor, even in commercial capital of Yangon. It’s gut-wrenching, to say the least, to be complicit in this trade.
Rakhine cuisine has a flavor profile of its own, especially when compared to what’s considered traditional Burmese food. Rakhine flavors emphasize tongue-numbing spice, salt and sour. The dishes are also notably much lighter, using far less oil than Burmese counterparts. And seafood is a major centerpiece of Rakhine-style dishes.
My family’s collective sweet tooth drove us to order some traditional desserts. The first was a chewy steamed cake made with rice flour, called mont paung (မုန့်ပေါင်း), the insides filled with palm sugar, and the outsides laced with coconut shavings.
The second dessert, mont let saung (မုန့်လက်ဆောင်း), is the Burmese version of a popular Southeast Asian dessert known among other things, as cendol and banh lot. Unlike its regional counterparts, Burmese mont let saung can be made with unflavored rice noodles (other varieties tend to be infused with pandan leaf extract) and served in a rich brown syrup made with palm sugar, which has an incredibly deep and velvety flavor.
The fact that the Thai version is called lot chong (ลอดช่อง) lends me to believe the Burmese and Thai versions are somehow intertwined (the Burmese spelling of let saung is lak chong). Xinfully has a great post discussing her own confusion as to this dish’s origins.
Min Lan’s claim to fame is its mont ti (ရခိုင်မုန့်တီ), the undisputed icon of Rakhine cuisine. I opted for the salad version (the dish is traditionally served in soup form), which came with a bowl of soup flavored with pike conger, a sea eel native to Southeast Asia. The salad itself was a refreshing heapful of freshly handmade rice vermicelli, served up with a heapful of green chili paste (another iconic Rakhine condiment), fried pea fritters, fried fish cakes, coriander and freshly diced onions. Absolutely mouthwatering. I could have eaten two bowls.
I also ordered a lovely dish of ngamot Rakhine gyet (ငါးမုတ်ရခိုင်ချက်), aka pomfret curry, Rakhine style, cooked in a tart and mildly spicy sauce accentuated with tamarind juice.
To redeem ourselves from these indulgences, my dad requested some vegetable salad (အရွက်စုံသုပ်, aywetson thoke), a spartan mix of blanched vegetables topped with some dried shrimp.
Min Lan currently has 5 locations sprinkled throughout Rangoon, in Bahan, Mayangon, Kamayut, Sanchaung and Thingangyun Townships.
Min Lan Seafood Restaurant
No. 45, Corner of Baho and Khitta Streets,
Sanchaung Township, Yangon