Rangoon Tea House (or “RTH”) became one of those instantly classic restaurants in Yangon when it opened its doors in 2014 as a pioneer of the blossoming contemporary-take-on-Burmese-teashop-fare business. It’s famous for its biryani, salads and curries, but frequent changes to the menu ensure it remains at the top of its game. RTH is more than just a teashop, however; the move to a larger space in 2016 enabled it to open the Toddy Bar on a mezzanine floor above the restaurant. Featuring locally inspired cocktails designed by award-winning mixologist Hideyuki Saito, it’s a quiet, secluded space that contrasts with the vibrancy of the teashop-style floor below.
2. The Pansodan
The latest venture from Ivan Pun’s Pun + Projects, The Pansodan bills itself as a “Burmese brasserie” and doesn’t disappoint on the aesthetic front. If you can get past the chevron marble floors and gold leaf on the ceiling of the impressively renovated colonial-era building, you’ll find that the menu offers up a few pleasant surprises too. The tiffin sets are a great introduction to Burmese cuisine (and come with a delicious mango chutney), while the extensive noodle selection – that includes a moreish chicken and coconut noodle soup – is also worth exploring.
3. Burma Bistro
If it is really all in the execution, then Burma Bistro ticks plenty of boxes. Spread across the first and second floors of a grand 19th century building in the heart of downtown, this is one of those restaurants in Yangon has been lovingly renovated to highlight its high ceilings and graceful balconies and thoughtfully decorated with teak furniture and antiques. The menu is an eclectic mix of dishes from across Myanmar combined with a few Asian and Western staples. The food is touted as authentic home-style cooking, and while some might disagree, it’s definitely a tasty and accessible way to discover Myanmar’s diverse range of flavours.
The food of the Wa (an ethnic group with their own enclave along the border with China in northern Myanmar) is not likely to be on your culinary radar yet, but it should be – at least if this charming restaurant is anything to go by. Established by two sisters from the Wa region in 2016, the simply decorated yet homey space showcases the uncomplicated earthy and fresh flavours of Wa cuisine, and has quickly become a favourite on the Yangon dining scene. The basis of every Wa meal is moik, a wet mix of brown rice and meat or vegetables, and ROOT has at least eight different varieties to sample. From there, the charcoal grill options are must-tries, along with the smoked beef salad and Wa-style mashed potato with garlic, which comes with a spicy kick for good measure. Finally, wash it all down with some creatively named cocktails (such as the Wa Tang Clan) concocted with the mild, cloudy Wa liquor that’s made from fermented millet.
5. Shan Yoe Yar
Any visitor to Yangon will quickly notice the street stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants selling Shan noodles, the breakfast dish of choice of Myanmar’s second-largest ethnic group (after the Bamar), which has since been adopted by much of the country. But there’s much more to Shan food than rice noodles, and there are few better places to sample the variety and distinctive flavours than Shan Yoe Yar. Dried meats, spicy curries, delicious pounded salads – the problem is deciding what to order from the voluminous menu. While you’re pondering your options, though, you can admire this restaurant in Yangon’s setting. The century-old wooden mansion is a rare reminder of what Yangon was like before the concrete jungle took over.
Fancy something more authentic, but not sure your stomach will quite hold up to the real thing? Part of the budding RTH culinary empire, Buthee is styled on a traditional Burmese curry house and has more than a hint of nostalgia about it. Choosing what to have for your meal is simple: there are around 15 curries on offer, along with a handful of salads and appetisers (including fried bottle gourd or calabash, known as buthee, from which the restaurant takes its name). Finish it off with a fresh juice, soda or smoothie and marvel at the great value of it all when you get the bill.
Don’t have time to make it up to Mandalay? Then head to one of the two Mandalay Tea Room outlets in Yangon for a taste of Anyar (central Myanmar) cuisine. It’s an authentic taste too, as it’s designed for Mandalarians who have moved to Yangon – CEO Ma Kay Khaing Htun opened the Yankin branch in 2017 because of her husband’s complaints that he couldn’t find decent Mandalay food in Yangon. The menu, as you may expect, is essentially Mandalay comfort food. You’ll find plenty of noodles and salads, as well as Mandalay-style mohinga (a fish-based soup with rice noodles, fried onions and egg).
This article was originally published in the August 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine