We are (carefullly) planning a trip to Burma next month (Feb-March 2007). Does anyone have any recs for restaurants that are not government-controlled? We want to be sure our money goes straight into the proprietors' pockets, not the government's. And, of course, the food needs to be good!
Finally, my report from our trip! It will be long, so apologies! We ended up sticking with mostly Lonely Planet-recommended (I know, I know...so boring!) simply to avoid getting sick.
-Lunch at Aung Mingalar: As noted above, nothing special, but tasty all the same. I had Shan Noodle soup, B had some beef with noodles dish (rather salty he reports). We both loved the pickled, cilantro-scented kale (?) side dish that came with both of our meals. What is that stuff?! I want to make it at home! Very inexpensive, maybe 2000 kyats (our exchange rate was about 1250K=$1US...the recent NYT had an error in the story)?
-Dinner at Yunn Dee Thai (we were looking for Sabai Sabai but we couldn't find it). We got our food very quickly, which leads me to believe that it was just reheated, and not freshly prepared as it was everywhere else in Burma. However, pretty good, nicely spiced versions of Choo Chee FIsh and shrimp with basil and chili. As with other Burmese restaurants we ate in, atmosphere was a little disheartening - mostly empty, only Westerners dining. Inexpensive (8000K with beer?).
-Lunch at Shiki Tei in the Park Roya Hotel: we wanted something air-conditioned and soothing because we were over-heating. Had the $6US set lunch (curry rice for B, tempura udon for me). Nothing special, but it hit the spot. Very serene dining room with few people (a few Japanese guests, one heavily-drinking table of young Burmese).
-Dinner at Sandy's: Nice location, but the lighting is weird (flurorescent) and there was no air movement. Kandawgyi Lake had freaked us out because it felt so perfect and well-manicured - definitely a govt affair. ONLY Westerners at Sandy's (one large tour group). We both had the veggie clay hot pot and that same pickled kale stuff we had at Aung Mingalar.
-Min Min's, right around the corner from the Teakwood Hotel (where I highly recommend a "nicer" room - cool bathroom with stone-covered walls! I had mohinga both mornings we were there - man, that could give pho a run for its' money) for a tasty tofu, beansprouts, and veggie dish. More like soybean cake, which is how it was described on the menu. Different texture from what I'm used to in the West. B was sleeping, so I was going solo. So yummy, but I can't discern any specific spices/flavors, like many things I ate in Burma. Everything tasted so fresh, the individual ingredients didn't seem to matter. I am starting to get used to Burmese time, as my food takes a long time to come out, even though I am the only one dining there, and moreover, I don't care. It's so wonderful just looking out on the street, watching the world go by. Sugar cane juice gets extracted right before my eyes and it's so fascinating to watch the strong, wiry guys pull the stalks through the mill while I am eating. 2000K with bottled water.
-Next day, late lunch at Golden Kite, the temple of backpackers' food: Pizza for B and tagliatelle with tomato sauce for me (I asked for any Asian food - they don't have it). The pizza was the best we had in Burma - crisp, thin crust and bright-tasting tomato sauce. Tagliatelle was okay - filling and completely edible. Again we were the only ones eating. Mandalay beer (I was wary about trying any wines in Burma). A bit expensive (~7000K?).
-Last lunch in Inle Lake: We both had veggies and rice, fried potatoes for B at Big Drum. With beer, maybe about 7500K?
-Dinner at Shwe Mo: Cheap Chinese veggies and noodles and beer. Freshly prepared and way too attentive servers as usual (but we are used to that from other SEA countries). Prettily lit store front. ~5000K.
-Late Lunch: San Kabar. Mushroom pizza for B (not nearly as good as in Inle Lake), fettucine for me. Overpriced and not worth the money. 8800K with beer.
-Dinner at Aroma 2: Beautiful courtyard for eating. Indian curry thali for me, veggie korma thali for B. Delicious at the outset, but I got tired of trying to eat all the chutneys (a bit too sweet for my taste). B loved it all! Very relaxing! ~5000-6000K?
-Snack at Holiday: Fresh lime juices (nicely tangy-sweet, so refreshing) and fried potatoes (can you guess that someone is homesick for Western food?!).
-Dinner at Wonderful Tasty: Check out their missive: Nepali, Tibetan, Burmese, and Italian foods! I had the Nepali set menu (my favorite thus far). Dal soup, fried dough strips with wonderful parsley-laden dipping sauce, eggplant curry with unlimited rice. B had the pita stuffed with veggies - good, but a bit watery. They should have drained veggies a bit more after washing. Mandalay Red (strong ale, 7.5% alcohol). Price? Cheap, maybe 6500K?
Roadside stand on the way back to Bagan from Mt. Popa: Bought jaggery (sugar cane liquor) for a friend. The friendly owner invited us to take tea (Chinese) and snack (lots of different nuts and tea leaf salad, which I didn't try because there were used spoons stuck in it...too bad). B loved the nuts he was nibbling on.
Snack again at Holiday: fries, lime juice, tofu+veggies. Nothing special, but it hit the spot. (Before I forget to mention, we got a small dish of peanuts everywhere we went to out side of Rangoon...we are home now, expecting peanuts before every meal!)
Dinner next to some temple ruins on Restaurant Row called Pyi Wa restaurant. Very cool they way they have the ruins all underlit! Romantic, really! I ordered badly - veggie soup as an app and the identical boiled noodle with veggies (same dish, just larger, with noodles!). Oh well, at least they were both light and tasty! B had fries and veggie pizza (still not a good as Golden Kite in Inle Lake). Crust was way too pillowy - we like our crust thin and crsip. But pleasant enough. Mandalay Red again. ~6000K? (We bought some drinks for a fellower traveler who joined us after dinner.)
Ngapali Beach: Whatever is written about the seafood and grilled squid is TRUE!
-Lunch at Mingalabar: Munching on peanuts, and then our grilled squid (3000 K) and red snapper (3500K )come out. YUM! The snapper is small, but flavorful and oh so moist. The squid came with chili (Vietnamese style nuom cham) and garlic dipping sauces. Wow, a little rubbery, but so good. I want more!
-Snack at Pleasant View Island (PVI) out on the jetty near our Hotel. Beautiful spot with surprisingly modern architecture (feels like upscale Thai/Vietnamese beach places). Passable fried banana and a delicious Chinese tea. We will return for a sunset dinner.
-Dinner at PVI: Whole fish with ginger and scallions. Better than any version I've had in the West. That whitefish was positively MEATY (and I don't eat meat, only seafood). The flavors were so bright and fresh. We stripped that poor fish of everything but its bones and head. Best meal in Burma this far, but it was pricey - 18800K plus 2 beers and a gin sling. It was worth the splurge!
-Lunch at Smile: Across the street from Sandoway Resort. I had the Thai glass noodles with shrimp which was absolutely delicious (2500K). So fresh, crisp and light tasting. The dressing was just a whisper of flavor that was perfect and sprinkled with fresh coriander leaves. I would have gone back the following day to order this again. B got the fish burger and fries (3500K). He said it was okay - he would've liked a better fish to bun ratio. Just not enough fish in his estimation. Mandalay Red to wash it all down.
-Late night at Mingalabar: Grilled squid was better prepared (or maybe more fresh) this night. Not one bit of rubbery-ness. Great! (3000K)
Rangoon: Flying out next day. We stayed out near airport.
-Dinner: Padonmar. Not what we were expceting. We were shocked by the tour groups but we still loved the interior of this place - open sides with a roof. Felt serene (before the groups arrived), like something from Chiang Mai. Can't remember what we had but everything was tasty (I think I had a salty-ish curry...B?). Pricey, maybe 8000K but it was a nice way to spend our last night in Burma.
Overall, I found the food tasty. Reminded me most of food I had in Luang Prabang, Laos last year. Nothing that knocked my socks off, but the same muddle (in a good way) of spices that I had in LP. Everything just tasted good and fresh. For me, that was enough. What an experience this trip was for us! I'm still in a daze. For those of you who would like to see photos and B's flickr site, please email me off-line. (See my profile for my email address.)
Just got back from Myanmar this week. Absolutely amazing. I especially liked the Shan salads for a change of pace from all of the noodles and rice from neighboring countries.
I had an interesting seaweed salad at a restauraunt on Inle lake, a sardine and tomato salad at the restaurant across from Ananda temple ( something Gate restaurant) in Bagan.
A bean salad as well, ( I had been missing beans in my diet for two months.) Most of them had ground peanuts sprinked on them. Their curries were totally different too, very rich tomatoey sauces that tasted more European to me.
The most outstanding meal was at Inle lake - the Good View which was a splurge $ 40 total including a bottle of Myanmar Wine, other drinks and dessert. a real sampling of sauces. I couldn't believe how many items were on their "set" menu.
Lashio Lay in Mandalay for real local Shan food. Barbeque places in Yangon Chinatown that you pay by the piece. They even de-cob the corn for you. I found out that Okra is called "lady fingers" there. they are quite good, not slimy, barbequed.
My partner, however, got a case of "Pork Rangoon " at the Flower Restaurant in Yangon when the pork had gone off. I spit mine out and he just put on more spicy sauce and paid dearly on the flight back to Alaska.
The pizza at "Mister Cook" in Nuang Shwe by Inle Lake was the only passable pizza I've encountered in SE Asia. I normally don't ever order anything with tomato sauce because I'm always disappointed but they seem to get their tomato sauces down better in Burma.
A plug for Aquarius Guest House in Nuaung Shwe by Inle Lake. They served up free Chinese Tea , fruit and soy nuts and little fried squiggles of crispy dough every time you came back from an outing. also a free breakfast included in the $12 price for a couple.
Eat at local restaurants (not in expensive hotels and high end restaurants) and your money will - mostly - stay out of the hands of the junta. Many hotels and expensive restaurants in Burma are owned by friends of the military, usually connected with drug money. On the other hand, the cheaper places are family run and actively evade taxes, so less of your food money will end up in the wrong place.
Unfortunately, the food in Burma is not exciting. The few Burmese restaurants in the US tend to offer modified Thai or Indian food and the real food in Burma is an unexciting variation of both. Sandy's, recommended by Morekasha above, is good, has an extensive menu, a lovely location, and, to my knowledge, is not in with the bad guys (though, I'm sure they have to pay for the privilege of existing). But, it is better to sample street food or hole in the wall food when in Burma. Some examples:
- The biryani restaurants on Anwaratha Street in Yangon.
- The samosas on sale at the bus stand on the ne corner of sule pagoda.
- The chapati stand in Mandalay. This is an institution amongst backpackers. You can't miss it!
- The noodle shops on the sw corner of sule pagoda (32nd street?)
- The indian food stalls on the narrow street next to Central Hotel.
Don't miss out on teashops. There are a zillion of them all over the place. Small tables with little stools set around them, they are the best way to talk to people. Walk into a reasonably crowded one and sit down. Soon enough, someone will come over to talk. Could be in English but keep your phrase book handy! Mandalay has the best tea shop culture, but you'll find them to be friendly places - except perhaps in Yangon.
Amongst restaurants, try Lashio Lay restaurant in Yangon for Shan noodles. Especially if you won't be traveling north of Mandalay to Hsipaw or Lashio.
If you're traveling to Mrauk U and end up spending a night in Sittwe, try the Rakhine Catfish Curry. Unfortunately, the eating places are mostly nameless, but ask at several, and peek at the curry, till you find something you like. Also, try the Rakhine soup, mondi. You won't get these elsewhere.
The best Indian restaurant in Myanmar is Aung Padamya in Pwin u Lwin. Don't miss it if you go there.
Also, try the veggie burger at Cafe Aroma in Yangon. It is good! The best coffee is also in Pwin u Lwin at the Golden Triangle Cafe and Bakery.
gumnaam - Thanks for the detailed report! Between all of the opinions we have been getting, I think we'll be happy just to patronize friendly mom and pop places serving healthy, filling meals that won't make us ill (and please, no banana or pineapple pancakes!).
We leave on 23 Feb. I will be sure to report back!
Sam, between you and Morekasha, I am feeling better about making the decision to go visit this beautiful place. Of course, we will remain vigilant and as responsible as possible. Thanks for your informative post. I extend the invitation to you to email me if you wish to discuss Burma a bit more off-board.
I've been to two Burmese restaurants in the US, Burmese Star in SF and one in Washington D.C. (can't recall the name). I enjoyed both immensely and I am looking forward to having the real deal!
I worked in Burma a number of years ago, for several years, and all over the country. As MOREKASHA says, there is no need to worry about your money going to the SLORC. There are multitudes of good small restaurants and lots of great road and street food. I like the Tandoori style food in Manadalay and elsewhere. You can recognize them by their tandoor out front. The trash that goes into them in the morning is a prt of the fuel supply. You used to be able to recognize state enterprises by the Soviet architecture. Supposedly not so any more: the state joints are the fancy places (?).
Alice, I was in Yangon and Bagan in December. Contrary to popular belief there are a lot of privately owned restaurants and stores. In fact there is more street and commercial life there than I saw in the entire Soviet Union back in '82.
Back to the chow, in Yangon we had shan noodles @ Aung Mingalar @ 341 Bo yar Nyunt Rd, around the corner from the Grand Plaza Park Roral Hotel. A nice little corner place. Nothing great but tasty.
Also ate @ Thiek Di Shin @ 331 Anawrahta St. A little more upscale than most, but not upscale by Western ideals. This was recommened to us but nothing we had here was memorable.
Aung Thukha @ 17A 1 Street West, north of downtown and not far from the Shwedagon Pagada (which is a must). It's on a side road (if the roads there can be called roads) by the Savoy Hotel. Walking in it looks a bit funky but was packed for lunch w/locals (no tourists). There is a version of a steam table w/cauldrons, where you go and pick out your dishes. This place is very crowded and seemed to be loved by the locals.
Sandy's Myanmar, north of downtown, on the lake next door tothe Kandewgyi Palace hotel. Had a great beef salad (listed under the beef dishes as beef w/chilli, not the salads). Spicy, fragrent and zingy. Everything I expected in a trad dish, unlike most food I had when there. The tea leaf salad was a dissapointment, I had a much better one @ the 50 Street Expat Bar where you can also change $ for a good rate. The pork w/pickeled mango was also really good. Great flavors and unique too. The mutton rib w/yellow pea was fine as well and I don;t liek mutton! Beef curry w/roselle was another decent dish. They have some ok foreign wines but I wanted to try the local rose but there were out that night. Another night @ sandy's we had beef jerky which was a bit flavorless,The hill country soup was a nice red consomme w/veggies, mmmm good.
Don't eat @ Mr Guitar bar and restaurant, not worth a detour.
All of these places take hard currency only, and most will take dollars. Things are very cheap there. Most meals cost way under $10.00 pp. The big splurge @ Sandy's which has a tourist trade w/wine and mutliple main dishes for 2 was maybe $40.00 us.
Hope this helps.