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.
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.
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.
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