Indian Restaurants in Mandalay

Variety is the spice of life so the famous saying goes. For my partner and I that invariably means not only exploring the traditional cuisine of a country, but also looking further afield. This has been met with varying degrees of success, but if you’re in the mood for Indian food (unnecessary rhyme) in Mandalay we’re happy to report you’re in luck. We found 2 excellent spots that showcase different approaches to the cuisine, so if you have time and enjoy a curry I’d recommend trying both.

 

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On the hike up to Dee Doke Waterfall outside of the city

 

Quick Info – Indian Population in Myanmar

Over the centuries many Indians have called Myanmar home. The 2 countries share a boarder, so immigration and trade have long been a part of their shared history. However it was during colonial times that the population of Indians in Myanmar grew to its largest, with large numbers settling primarily in the 2 major cities: Yangon and Mandalay.  Interestingly ‘Burmese Indians’ are actually from several different countries, speaking an array of different languages and practicing different religions.

In no particular order…

1) Indian Tadka (27th Street, between 63 and 64)

Indian Tadka is actually part of a group of restaurants, with 2 more locations in Yangon. The service, atmosphere, surroundings (and of course most importantly the food) infer this is a different level of eatery. It’s opulent. It’s rich. It’s on the more expensive side… It’s also totally worth it.

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Why get one curry when you can have four?

The menu is broad ranging but manages to keep you from getting overwhelmed, with a variety of mutton, paneer, vegetable, and chicken dishes on offer. Pair this with their freshly made garlic naan and cold beer and you can’t go wrong. I’m not huge on spice, but this place isn’t your average curry house in the UK where spicier means better. The dishes are complex, with several packing considerable heat but in a smart, layered fashion.

“Indian Tadka is the place to go if you feel like treating yourself”

During my time in Mandalay I tried many different dishes, but the standouts were always the paneer butter masala (a luxuriously intense dish, delicately spiced and creamy, packed full of chunky, homemade Indian cheese) and the kadhai mutton – a super tasty and rich tomato-based sauce with tender, boneless mutton and pepper. The portions are ample and thoughtfully presented, with attractive swirls of yogurt and cream to complement the heat. They also provide free  poppadoms, mint chutney, and Indian-style pickled  onion (sirke walk pyaaz). It’s worth adding there is Chinese cuisine on offer as well, however I’ve never been able to peel myself away from the main menu. Dishes range from 3,000- 6,000 kyat ($2.25 – $4.50).

In short Indian Tadka is the place to go if you feel like treating yourself – and let’s face it even the most thrifty of travelers need some TLC every now and again.

2) Kaung Thant Cafe (27th Street, Corner of 82)

Now to a place considerably less formal, more affordable, yet just as tasty… the famed Kaung Thant Cafe. Not so much a cafe more a collection of tables on the street, I was shown this place by a local friend and it became one of my favorite haunts whilst living here. Even though the sign for Kaung Thant isn’t in English it’s easy enough to find – just look for a yellow shopfront on the corner of 82, usually partnered with a fair amount of eager customers ready to sample the delicious Indian food.

“look for a yellow shopfront on the corner of 82, usually partnered with a fair amount of eager customers”

Kaung Thant Cafe offers Indian food with touch of Myanmar influence, and they’re well-known in the city for their legendary homemade chapati. One should be enough, although on our last visit we recently ended up sharing a second because they’re too good not to. Complimentary tea is provided, although I would recommend getting a cup of sweetened milk tea (le pay yeay) to have alongside your meal.

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Squeezing as much food (and people) onto our table at Kaung Thant Cafe

My absolute favorite dish here is the mutton curry (although the beef is a close second) and I wouldn’t personally stray from these 2. These (along with the chapati) is what they’re famous for. The curries here are a completely different style to those at Indian Tadka; they have more of a broth-like base and are slow cooked for hours allowing the meat to tenderly fall apart. This cooking method along with the expert blend of spices makes for a deliciously rich meal, happily mopped up as much chapati as you can handle. Alongside your main curry (as in most Burmese meals) you’re provided with a selection of smaller dishes free of charge – in this case a simple dhal curry, along with curried cauliflower, and chutney.

The price of all filling, tasty food? Less than 5,000 kyat (around $3.75)  for 2 people. If you’re a foodie it should be firmly on your list – whether you’re on a tight budget or not.

“Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity” – Jonathan Safran Foer

 

 

 

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Restaurants in Mandalay – Golden Shan

Get more than your money’s worth of scrumptious Shan food at this popular buffet…

Golden Shan is a very well-known restaurant in Mandalay and a regular haunt for many expats, locals and tourists alike. It has moved to a new location – still on the West side of the moat but on 22nd (Pinya) Street, corner of 90th. As local motorbike and taxi drivers are very familiar with the old venue, make sure to double check they’re headed to the right place. Being lost can be fun, but not while you’re hungry.

Quick Info – Shan People & Food

The Shan are an ethnic group of Southeast Asia. They are mainly based in the state of Myanmar that bears their name; however there are significant populations of Shan people all over the country and neighboring countries of Thailand, Laos and China.

“Just like other ethnic groups within Myanmar, Shan people have their own distinct culture, language, food and dress”

Just like other ethnic groups within Myanmar, Shan people have their own distinct culture, language, food and dress. They have experienced a difficult past when it comes to their relationship with the government; despite these political troubles Shan State has always remained a favored place visit. The area is famed for its hosting of the Balloon Festival in Taunggyi (Taun-gi), hiking in Hsipaw (Si-po) and the breathtaking Inle (In-lay) Lake.

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Ah! The hot air balloon is on fire! Oh no, my bad. There’s just fireworks exploding from it (Taunggyi Balloon Festival)

Shan food is an incredibly popular style of cuisine across the entire country – you’d be hard pushed not to find Shan Noodles for breakfast in most towns. General characteristics of Shan food are that it’s full of vegetables, not too spicy, and shares similar flavors to Northern Thai food.

So what’s the deal at Golden Shan?

The Golden Shan is a buffet which offers a literal feast for only 4,000 kyat (less than $3). You pay, head up with your plate, and then gorge on delicious Shan cuisine to your heart’s content. There are usually around 30 dishes on offer at any one time, and thankfully the English-speaking staff are kind enough to help you out if you haven’t quite got your Burmese down yet (so no mystery meat or super spicy curries unless you want it). If you want no meat of any kind then fear not – a lot of Shan food is vegetarian so they have a ton of options.

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As with any self-respecting restaurant in Myanmar, there’s cold beer on offer to wash the food down (2,000 kyat), as well soft drinks. Another bonus  – if you haven’t adapted to the sometimes 35°C+ temperature, upstairs has AC. All the dishes are authentic and made onsite by the friendly family that run it, who are incredibly proud of their Shan heritage.

“if you haven’t adapted to the sometimes 35°C+ temperature, upstairs has AC”

There’s a hugely diverse range of food on offer; spicy and mild, veggie and meat. It would be impossible to list them all, but expect to find a variation of the following:

Meat

  • Sweet pork (a favorite of mine)
  • Pig intestines (a little spicy for my taste)
  • Spicy pork
  • Pigs leg (excellent)
  • Sweet and sour chicken
  • Fish curry
  • Chicken curry with mustard seeds (delicious)
  • Chinese-style chicken
  • Fried pork or fish

Veggies

  • Bamboo curry
  • Egg curry
  • Bean sprouts and tofu
  • Fried, crispy mushrooms (really tasty)
  • Lotus
  • Aubergine
  • Fried Spinach and tomato
  • Okra
  • Chayote  fruit and shoots (a member of the gourd family)
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Because one curry is never enough…so 20 will do

The best thing about Golden Shan is actually not its diversity or authenticity; it’s that there’s always someone on hand to guide and explain. Perfect if you’re travelling through or have recently made Mandalay your home.

 

 

 

 

Myanmar Meals Basics

In which I try the fundamentals, mostly successfully

I thought it best to start with a basic overview of what a traditional Myanmar meal might entail – bearing in mind the cuisine here changes rapidly from province to province. That being said the dishes featured in this post are more on the universal side. I have attempted (I imagine rather poorly) to record how to say each one phonetically. The Burmese script is also included; though if you know that you’re probably spending your time reading the wrong blog, but thanks for the support!

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The view from the top of Mandalay Hill

After triumphantly managing to wrangle the help of one of my former students who a) speaks impeccable English and b) used to be a chef (win win) we sped through Mandalay town on his motorbike – me delicately riding side saddle, summoning my inner Victorian genteel woman. On his recommendation we were dining at an upmarket, well-known traditional Myanmar restaurant, Daung Lann Gyi (see address at  bottom of page).

I’ve visited this restaurant a number of times and apart from its impressive food, it also boasts translated menus, AC, WiFi and excellent service. Even though I’d prewarned him I wasn’t in possession of the largest appetite, it was decided we would sample the Royal Set Menu, priced at 12,000 kyat (around $9.80). And I have to say it ruled – bad pun I know.

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We were presented with a raised dais containing 7 different dishes, as well as a steaming bowl of soup, various dips and vegetables. Our rice was on a nearby table in an embellished silver container, served to us throughout the meal. Upon my friend’s instruction I tried each dish individually, putting a little on my plate eating it with rice, but he said to bang all the dishes on the plate at once would be totally acceptable too.

“The resulting dish (Sait-tha-hin) is reminiscent of an aromatic ragu, with deep, resplendent color and flavor”

The first dish, and an all-time favorite of mine, was the mutton (N.B mutton in Asia tends to indicate goat as opposed to lamb). Until living here, I hadn’t known the joys of this rich, stronger tasting meat – now I can’t get enough of it. After frying garlic, chili, ginger, onion and turmeric the meat is browned in the pan, then covered with water and diced tomatoes. The resulting dish (Sait-tha-hin, ဆိတ္သားပာင္း) is reminiscent of an aromatic ragu, with deep, resplendent color and flavor. We followed this with the chicken curry (Chet-tha-hin – hin means curry in Myanmar -ၾကက္သားပာင္း) which is made in much similar fashion, except the chicken is poached beforehand which allows it to fall apart in the sauce and stay deliciously juicy.

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The Royal Set Menu: (from above L to R) mutton curry, tofu salad, prawn, shrimps, Indian gooseberry, bean salad, chicken curry and tomato salad. Soup  centre.

We then moved onto the two salads on offer. Tomato (Kha-yan-chin-tee-tho, ခရမ္းခ်ဥ္သီးသုပ္) and tofo (Toe-who-tho,တိုပာူးသုပ္). Both are made by mixing coriander, sliced onion and cabbage, chickpea powder, chili, peanuts, peanut oil and lime by hand. The sliced tomato or tofu is then added, with crispy fried onion on top.

“the tofu is made from ground chickpeas, giving it a vibrant yellow color, smooth texture and subtle flavor”

I found the later dish especially enjoyable; the tofu is made from ground chickpeas, giving it a vibrant yellow color, smooth texture and subtle flavor – something I find un-fried tofu can lack. They both had a refreshing effect on the palate and contained a small kick of heat – though as mentioned in my last post I’m a wimp when it comes to spice, so you can request more to suit your taste.

 

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Vegetable side dish with bamboo, cucumber, chili and Ngapi sauce (shudders)

We continued our meal with fresh, fried prawns and bean salad (Pae-sayn-nat, ပဲစိမ္းနပ္ ). The later was a simple but tasty dish, made by boiling green beans in a frying pan with chicken powder, oyster sauce and turmeric.  There was also a dish of fried shrimp (Ba-la-chong-jor, ဗလာေခ်ာင္ေၾကာ္ ). For me this was a little too pungent containing a fair helping of the local fish sauce, otherwise known as Ngapi. Ngapi is a kind of fermented paste made from very small salted fish or prawn. It has a very distinctive, strong taste that I unfortunately haven’t gotten to grips with yet. It features heavily in Myanmar cooking, especially soups.

“Ngapi is a kind of fermented paste made from very small salted fish or prawn. It has a very distinctive, strong taste”

There was an additional sauce of Indian gooseberries, boiled and crushed with Ngapi – due to my strong fish avoidance, I only tried a little of this. We completed our meal with some small cups of tea and sugary palm sweets (Htan-nyat, ထန္းညက္) which no doubt rotted my teeth but were wonderful. Suffice to say, we didn’t finish it all, but the staff were happy to box it up for us to take home.

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Intensely sweet palm sugar sweets 

Next week, I’ll be heading to the market to give a low down on the local fruits available, as well as visiting a Shan (a region in Myanmar famous for its food) restaurant. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions please comment and I will happily answer/find someone who can.

“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity” – Louise Fresco

Daung Lann Gyi is located on 68 Street, between 33 & 34, Mandalay

 

Burmese Bites

Learning about Myanmar culture and cuisine, one meal at a time

I would recommend a visit to Myanmar to anyone. I first moved here last July and stayed for 6 months, and after a brief stint trying my luck in Thailand, I couldn’t have been happier to return. If Thailand is the land of smiles, then for me Myanmar is a beam of joy. Of course, there is a great deal still that need to happen to the country that finally achieved its first democratic election last year, but I am not here to discuss politics right now. I am here to discuss food.

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A Pagoda in the Monastic town of Sagain

During my last stay here I was less, how shall we say, less willing to try the local cuisine. I am not a fan of rice or spicy food (I know, I know, why did I move to Asia) and I found myself struggling to push myself out of my comfort zone when it came to dinner time. Fast forward a year and since my return I have made a conscious effort to stop eating overpriced, underwhelming Western meals and eat as much of the local food as often as possible.

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A street vendor selling Jaggery, a sweet treat made from Palm sap

And so began a learning process, still in practice. That’s not to say I enjoy all of what I eat, nor that I don’t occasionally binge on a burger to soak up the previous night’s beer (I can’t help it sometimes – I am weak and I just discovered Lotteria delivers). However I can say that I have found some really excellent local dishes that I have come to enjoy. This is mainly thanks to my school, which provides me with lunch daily, and local street food stops that have become my regular haunts.

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Looking over the Ayeyarwady river from Mingun

Bearing this in mind, I have begun this blog in order to discover a) what some of these dishes are called – preferably in both Myanmar and English b) what their ingredients and recipes are and c) to hopefully spread the word to others travelling here. Some of my local friends are providing me with some of the answers I seek, but until then I will post pictures and descriptions to the best of my ability.

Please feel free to comment with any suggestions of places to eat, dishes to try or any other information you want to know. I am localized to Mandalay, but there is a pretty varied amount of  cuisine on offer here.

The next post will detail a description of a variety of traditional Myanmar dishes myself and a good friend had at a famous local restaurant: Daung Lann Gyi. Till then, in the words of Paul Prudhomme:

“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food”