Category Archives: Burma

On the journey back home

Two Decembers ago, I returned to Burma for the third time, en route from neighboring Thailand, where my family had spent the bulk of our Christmas holiday.

To be honest, I struggle with writing about Burma. In some ways, I’ve been both blessed and burdened by my upbringing as an American of mixed Burmese and Chinese heritage. (My family is part of the overseas Chinese diaspora, with deep roots in Burma.)

Continue reading On the journey back home

Rakhine style eats at Yangon’s Min Lan

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.

Continue reading Rakhine style eats at Yangon’s Min Lan

An almsgiving feast in Yangon

My family’s trip to Burma this past January coincided with my aunt’s and uncle’s. In honor of my grandmother, who passed away 17 years ago, they arranged an almsgiving ceremony at the Tipitaka Monastery in the centre of Yangon. As I’ve said before, the community is interwoven into the fabric of Burmese life. Almsgiving ceremonies, which are really communal feasts, including a donation of alms to the monastery, are just another manifestation of the this generous spirit. And the lunch served was absolutely delicious.

Continue reading An almsgiving feast in Yangon

Late night hankering for mohinga? There’s a place in Yangon.

Mohinga is to the Burmese what menudo may be to the Mexicans. It’s the stuff of life, found all across Burma, in homes, street stalls and in restaurants. As a kid, I regularly ate it for breakfast on weekends (there was no way I was going to school with a potent fishy breath). Over the years, I’ve had countless iterations of mohinga. I’ll tell you this: once you’ve eaten enough bowls of mohinga, you realize that no two persons cook the same recipe–every chef makes the dish their own.

Continue reading Late night hankering for mohinga? There’s a place in Yangon.

The OG ‘khao soi’ at Yangon’s San Pya Daw Kyi

I’m not about to start a feud between Thai and Burmese cuisines. But having been fueled by endless bowls of khao soi* while I was in northern Thailand, I beyond excited to grab a bowl of the ‘original’ Burmese coconut chicken noodle soup, aka on no khauk swe (အုန်းနို့ခေါက်ဆွဲ) when I flew into Burma.

*Khao soi just means ‘noodles’ in Burmese. Khao soi is Thailand’s take on the Burmese coconut chicken noodle soup, and has an intense coconut milk broth, on wheat noodles and a curried protein (chicken or beef).

Continue reading The OG ‘khao soi’ at Yangon’s San Pya Daw Kyi

YKKO – Yangon

YKKO (short for Yan Kin Kyay Oh or ရန်ကင်းကြေးအိုး) is one of the few restaurants in Yangon specializing in kyay oh (literally ‘copper pot’), a Burmese noodle soup with flat rice noodles, pork intestines and an egg. It has a few franchises throughout town, but kyay oh (ကြေးအိုး) is not nearly as popular as biryani. I think kyay oh has Chinese origins, but I’m not 100% sure.

The folks here let you choose what kind of noodles (flat, thin, thick, etc) you want and how you want it cooked (fried or in soup). First up was kyay oh with flat noodles. The soup base is very meaty and there’s a half-cooked egg that’s added on top.

My sister ordered a variation of dry kyay oh, called kyay oh si gyet (ကြေးအိုးဆီကြက်), meaning it’s been fried in cooked oil and garnished with fried garlic. It comes with a soup that’s lighter than the one found in kyay oh.

I ordered the same thing, except my soup base was meatier and there was a quail egg included. The pork meat is really tender and easy to eat.

No. 286, Seikkantha St.,
Kyauktada Township, Yangon

Peace,
Justin

Golden City – Yangon

Golden City (ရွှေမြို့တော် ချစ်တီး စားတော်စက်) is a Yangon-based franchise serving Burmese-style Southern Indian (Chettiar) cuisine. Most tourists who go to Burma realize that Indian and Chinese restaurants are much more common than native Burmese ones, especially in the cities. I think it’s because locals would much rather eat home-cooked Burmese food.

The insides are clean and comfortable. It’s a rather spotless restaurant, but it’s thoroughly local. And there’s an army of waiters at your beck and call.

My dad ordered aloo poori (အာလူးပူရီ) with goat curry (ဆိပ်သားဟင်း), served in the traditional Southern Indian style. Potato poori (puff-like bread) is dipped into the curry sauce and eaten with the side of dahl. It was pretty tasty, but not warm enough. (Burmese people tend to eat curries once they’re cooled, but I’m not used to that at all. It’s sorta unappetizing.)

As appetizers, we got some samusas (ဆမူစာ). Burmese samusas look more like flat, triangle-shaped dumplings than their Indian counterparts. The insides are a bit saltier too. Since my aunt thought they’d been out for awhile, she asked them to refry these, which explains why they look so greasy.

Someone also ordered Panthay (Chinese Muslim) rice (ပန်းသေးထမင်းကြော်), which wasn’t distinct at all. It just tasted like Chinese fried rice.

Panthay (Chinese Muslim) noodles with chicken (ပန်းသေးခေါက်ဆွဲ). It’s a dish of noodles and meat curry in a lightly oiled sauce, topped off with egg. It’s not spicy, and has a very distinct masala spice scent.

A variation of Panthay (Chinese Muslim) noodles with goat meat.

All in all, the food was okay, but nothing spectacular.

Address: near Downtown?

Peace,

Justin

Nilar Briyani – Yangon

In Burma, biryani (dan pauk) is king. It’s the Burmese equivalent of McDonald’s in America. Yangon, the country’s biggest city, is literally is dotted with biryani shops dominated by a few famous chains, among them Kyet Shar Soon (ကြက်လျှာစွန်း), Nilar (နီလာ), and Shwe Nyaung Bin (ရွှေညောင်ပင်). Sadly, I only had biryani once during the trip, at the downtown branch of Nilar.

Making dan pauk (ဒံပေါက်) is a very arduous process that normal people can’t undertake everyday. My mom doesn’t even know how to make dan pauk by scratch and instead resorts to ready-made spice mixes (bought in Artesia’s Little India) or calls up Dan Pauk Mg Mg, a Burmese Indian guy renowned in the community for his biryani. (He’s the nephew of the founder of Burma’s largest biryani chain). I think Indians know their stuff when it comes to cooking biryani. They make the best sweetmeats too!

Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the mutton biryani, hseik-tha dan pauk (ဆိပ်သားဒံပေါက်) had run out so all of us settled for chicken biryani, which is still good and generously sized, for $2 USD a plate. The chicken was tender, almost fat free (not like the hormone-infested American chickens), and very flavorful. As with all heavy meals, the biryani came with side dishes including roselle leaf soup (very sour, might I add), fried chili paste and cabbage zested in lemon juice. All of these are given to balance out the richness of the oil-laden biryani.

In America, my mom tends to be the quieter one outside the home, but in Burma, she’s a completely different person. Without any language barriers, she and my auntie were able to convince the owner to give us durian ice cream for free. I love durian! 🙂

Address: No. 216, Anawrahta Street, Pabedan Township, Yangon

Peace,
Justin

Shwe Pu Zun – Yangon

First stop upon landing in Burma: an obligatory pilgrimage to Shwe Pu Zun (ရွှေပုဇွန်, literally “Golden Shrimp,” but more a bakery and desserts shop), hands down, my favorite faloodah shop in the WORLD. Shwe Pu Zun is one of those rare Burmese eateries that actually meet international standards. I could imagine opening a franchise here in the States one day. Until then, it’s just a dream.

Ordering at the counter with a hoard of other people. Shwe Pu Zun probably attracts mostly middle and upper-end folks, because it’s not cheap by Burmese standards. The menu’s not too extensive, but they’re good at the food they serve.

The inside is spacious and clean. Pontsettias all around because it was Christmas that day.

The first thing I got was the one and only Burmese-style faloodah (ဖာလူဒါ), served with milk-soaked bread pudding, rosewater, tapioca and green verimicelli. It’s sweet-smelling and very tasty. All the faloodah crap I eat here in America can’t match Shwe Pu Zun’s.

Next was durian ice cream, which was okay. It was a bit too sweet but the durian taste was certainly there.

Last order was milk kulfi (ကူလ်ဖီ). If you’re familiar with Indian desserts, you know that it’s India’s answer to ice cream. The texture is very smooth and milky, and it’s rather thick, so it melts more slowly than ice cream.

Address: Shwe Pu Zun No. 14/A, Min Nandar Rd, Dawbon Township

Rating: 4.75/5

– Justin

Shwe Shan Lay – Yangon

One of my personal goals in this food voyage of mine (from my mom’s dining table to a hole-in-the-wall resto in the middle of nowhere) is to enlighten people about both little known and well known food cultures around the world. It’s always a delight for me to try new foods (unless it’s about consuming odd animal body parts like testicles, ovaries and that nonsense.)

I took pictures of just about everything I ate in my last trip to Asia (200 photos on the last count), thinking that I would blog about it along the way. Alas, accessing internet and a time crunch became major issues for me, especially in Burma. So here I am, writing about the interesting things I ate, 7 months later. Better late than never, I suppose.

While wandering through Yangon’s Chinatown, at the heart of Burma’s former capital, my family stopped by Shwe Shan Lay (ရွှေရှမ်းလေး), a home restaurant next to a famous Chinese temple, specializing in ethnic Shan cuisine (As a side note, the Shans are an ethnic minority living in the highlands and known for their use of preserved and fermented ingredients and pork).

One of the saddest things about Burma is how pervasive child labor is, from live-in maids to waiters. This is common throughout Asia, but nowhere as blatantly practiced. The young boys serving us were probably all younger than 10 and most likely had been bought from rural families who need extra income. I guess it’s one of the sobering realities of visiting other countries.

Anyway, everyone ordered variations of Shan noodles called (Shan khauk hswe (ရှမ်းခေါက်ဆွဲ), which are vermicelli rice noodles, pickled mustards, and ground pork, in a curry gravy and garnished with crushed peanuts. A large serving cost only K800, or ~80 cents, easy to say for a foreigner. But the average Burmese person makes little more than $1 a day, so it’s no wonder most people can’t afford to eat out everyday. I thought it was a little dry.

The dish was served with mustard greens. The Shans are famous for their mustard greens (called Shan mon hnyin gyin or ရှမ်းမုန်ညင်းချဉ်), preserved vegetables that are characteristically sour and complement almost any rich dish. My parents managed to smuggle a jar or two back to the US, along with at least 20 pounds of pickled tea leaves and other foodstuffs.

I also ordered a large bowl of Shan tofu salad (ရှမ်းတိုဖူးသုပ်), which is a salad of yellow tofu (made from chickpeas, not soybeans), and dressed in a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and peanut oil, then garnished with cilantro, fried onion bits, peanuts and red chili, K700, or ~70 cents. This is one of my favorite Shan-style dishes, because I love how smooth and firm the tofu is. And even when eaten alone, it has a distinct taste, unlike soybean tofu, which is essentially bland when eaten by itself. This particular dish was absolutely delicious, with perfectly dressed and soaked slices of tofu.

The restaurant also had two cats that I couldn’t help but take pictures of before we left. 🙂

Address: No. 71, Sin O Dan St, Latha Township, Yangon, Burma

Rating: 4.25/5

– Justin