Monday, May 14, 2018

Eating in Bagan

Food was not the main reason I travelled to Bagan for but turned out I did have a couple lovely meals while I was there. Lunch was not included in my private tour package but the tour guide Mr B recommended this place called Starbeam Bistro to me, saying they served the best bread out of Bagan. Well, for a town traditionally more into rice and noodles than bread, that’s hardly something worth bragging about I thought, but I went along with it.

The place was close to Ananda Temple in Old Bagan, which was our next stop after lunch. The place was actually quite beautiful with an outdoor courtyard and the dining area under a nice shade. It was mid-day when I got there but it’s all cool and comfortable. The menu has an interesting mix of local and western food – from curry to noodles to pizza and pasta – which to be honest didn’t add to my level of confidence. I asked Mr B what’s their signature dishes other than their bread, and he recommended the Rakhine fish curry, which was what I ordered.

The “famous” bread came soon after I ordered my main course, in a shape of a baguette served in a fancy bread basket and with a slab of butter. I was impressed the moment I got my hand onto the oven-fresh bread with the crispy crust. It’s not those traditional French baguette with a hard crust, but one thin and crispy, and inside was soft and hot. Mr B was right – it was amazing. Turned out the chef worked on Oriental Express and some high-end hotel in Yangon before – no wonder, and that also explained why they managed to have pizzas on the menu. Bread was so good that I asked for a second before I go.

And my fish curry was delicious too. These days we probably heard of Rakhine region (in the southwest part of Myanmar) more often for the wrong reasons (because of the political turmoil and humanitarian crisis in the region), but my bowl of Rakhine curry was delicious, slightly spicy but with good acidity from the tomato in the masala sauce, and the fish, coming from the nearby river, was good with flaky, delicate meat. Just a comforting stew really but it was such a simple pleasure at this nice little restaurant in the tourist area.

When? March 1 2018
Where? Starbeam Bistro, Anawratha Road, North of Ananda Temple, Bagan, Myanmar
Menu Highlights? Rakhine Fish Curry and the best baguette out of Bagan!
Web: (Facebook)

Both nights when I was in Bagan I picked out random restaurants along the road not far away from my hotel. First night I went for a Thai-Burmese restaurant called Queen a bit further down because of its fancy décor that reminded me of Phuket – turned out it wasn’t bad actually with a curry platter served out of a lacquerware plate and the traditional pickled tea salad in a comfortable alfresco dining area with tasty tamarind candies as after dinner snacks, and second night I went for the one called Harmony Restaurant right next to my hotel, because on both evenings there were tons of people eating and drinking inside and that got me a bit curious.

Turned out the restaurant was a winner – I wish I was there on both nights. It’s literally right next door to my hotel so it was super convenient, and when I got there at 7, the place was packed full both front and back mostly with locals, which was a good sign. At the end they have to set up a new table near to the kitchen to accommodate, with more people coming in as the night progressed. They got a long menu of Burmese, Chinese and Thai dishes, but their specialty was barbecue, which was prepared in the grill near to the front of the restaurant facing the street. It worked similar to the barbecue place I went in Yangon, where you picked the food you want from the refrigerator, put them into a plastic basket and handed that to the waiter. They will then be cooked and delivered to your table once they were ready.

Some of the skewers I honestly didn’t know what they were but all of them were super tasty with good smoky flavor done fresh on the charcoal grill. I suspected one of the skewers I ordered was chicken butt, which I only realized when it’s delivered, and though I wasn’t a chicken butt person per se, I actually enjoyed sucking on them. The other ones were basted with different kind of marinate – some honey and some more like teriyaki sauce, and the one I loved included the chicken liver and the pork belly with the good charred bits and the fatty meat.

My favorite was the grilled whole river fish - other than the fact that the fish has a lot of tiny bones that need to be worked on, it was well cooked with charred and crispy skin, the delicate fish meat infused with a subtle chili flavor. It’s also served with garlic vinegar on the side for extra taste.

I did also ordered a couple other dishes from the kitchen, including the sautéed vegetables and the fried rice with fish paste, and I finished with watermelon on the house and a few bottles of Myanmar lager. I must have ordered enough food to feed four by myself, and it was satisfying.

When? March 1 2018
Where? Harmony Barbecue, Nyaung U, Bagan, Myanmar
Menu Highlights? Char-grilled River Fish

More pictures from my Myanmar journey:

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