20 Jan Top-end teashop fare

Written by Portia Larlee Published in Art & Culture Read 4101 times

A new take on some old Myanmar favourites

Photo: Rangoon Teahouse
Photo: H.M.A Photos/Rangoon Teahouse Facebook

It is worth visiting the newly-opened Rangoon Teahouse just to learn the name of your favourite type of Myanmar tea.

The menu lists 16 types of tea, each with slightly different amounts of condensed and evaporated milk, as well as kyat yay (black tea), and prices ranging from K1,500 to K2,000.

Co-owners U Htet Myet Oo and Ma Myat Mitzu aim to raise the standard of Myanmar food and eventually take the national cuisine to the international stage.

“We wanted to open a clean place, something to revolutionise Burmese food, but not in the way of making it modern or anything, more in the way of opening people’s eyes to what the food could and should be: cleaner, safer and made of better ingredients,” Yangon-born U Htet Myet Oo said in an interview.

Ma Myat Mitzu, an interior designer, has created an interesting space in the weathered colonial building on Pansodan Street in downtown Yangon.

The shop pays homage to the Mumbai-inspired teashops of Yangon’s past with bentwood chairs and high ceilings, but doesn’t harp on the throwback.

The restaurant’s ambience justified paying more for classic teashop snacks such as samosas (K2,500) and lahpet ‘thoke,or tea leaf salad (K2,000), a Yangon friend told me during a recent visit. Our party of Myanmar and expatriates also enjoyed such dishes as mohinga traditional fish stew (K5,000) and minced lamb kebab (7,500). Some members of the party raved about the ohn no kauk swe, or noodles in coconut milk broth served with ample condiments (K4,500), but others were not sure it surpassed the version served at their local teashop.

“Yes, we are more expensive than other places, but we are also cheaper than some places – people just aren’t used to this yet,” said U Htet Myet Oo. He says there is no reason why Myanmar and French restaurants should not charge similar prices “if the same standard of ingredients and detail are being put into the food”.

U Htet Myet Oo is among the scores of young Myanmar who came home after reforms began in 2011. He gained experience in the restaurant world by working in positions ranging from dishwasher to barista at a coffee shop chain in Sydney before returning to Yangon again in late 2013.

“It is important to work from the ground up; it’s very hard to imagine how someone at the bottom feels like if you haven’t been there yourself,” he said.

U Htet Myet Oo said the restaurant aims to meet international workplace standards, including paying overtime and housing and holiday allowances, all of which are rarities in Myanmar.

His management style is also progressive. Every week the kitchen and waiting staff, and “tea boys” meet to collectively decide the roster. Unlike some of the upscale restaurants and bars opening in Yangon, the Rangoon Teahouse decided against hiring those who have worked abroad.

“Why should you not get an opportunity to improve your life just because you lived here during your lifetime?” he said.

In common with many new and existing restaurants, Rangoon Teahouse has faced challenges retaining staff, but U Htet Myet Oo encourages his staff to take ownership of the business.

“This philosophy is similar to when I worked at the [Yangon Heritage Trust]. The easiest way to change Yangon – or Burma – is to make people proud of where they’re from.”

Rangoon Teahouse: 77 Pansodan Road (Lower Block), Kyauktada Township

This Article first appeared in the January 8, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.

Mizzima Weekly is available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at www.mzineplus.com