Thursday, May 23, 2019

Burmese Pop Up

I was intrigued when I found out that The Pansodan from Yangon is opening a pop-up in Hong Kong for a 3-month stint. Food was one thing I found particularly memorable when I travelled to Myanmar for the first time last year, and I was curious how this pop-up will fare combining local and imported ingredients with local Burmese cooking, and given a further twist by this modern-style bistro originally located in one of the busiest streets in downtown Yangon and that happened to be the restaurant’s namesake too.

The pop-up took up the spot of the now-defunct Fish School with many elements of the original restaurant remains, including the hidden entrance in the side alley and the long open kitchen and bar. But the interior was given a slight facelift with traditional Burmese artefacts installed across the dining area including the vintage posters, bamboo lamp shades and other traditional crafts

Menu was compact but filled with many interesting dishes, especially for most people (me included) Burmese cuisine is somewhat of an unknown. We were told that the dishes were meant for sharing, so at the end, the three of us ordered a few from each of the sections (namely Bites, Salads, Noodles & Biryani, Mains and Sweets) and shared everything.

First to arrive were the three “Bites” dishes. The tomato bread is more like a bruschetta toast with tomato chutney served on top of a thick slice of honey toast. I love the strong umami flavor in the chutnet with good balance of fish sauce and sweet tastes and the hint of acidity from the tomatoes. The stuffed green chilies with turmeric spiced pork reminded me of those Thai sausages with a kick of the chili heat (from the meat, not the green chilies). Thin wrappers were used in the samosas (like one used in Cantonese spring rolls) and inside it’s filled with mashed sweet potatoes and green peas plus masala and served with a mint-yoghurt sauce on the side. Quite unlike the version we were more familiar with and they were tasty.

We ordered two salads. I was quite disappointed with the Tea Leaf Salad, or Lahpet Thoke. It’s perhaps one of the most distinct Burmese course with the use of tea leaves in savory dishes, but the version we had lacked the fermented tea leaves flavor (partly because it’s so hardly noticeable in the dish). The lotus root salad fared better, with slices of lotus roots done two ways (picked and deep-fried), and served with prawns, herbs, and a splash of lime and fish sauce.

Mohinga was another signature dish in local cuisine but the one served to us didn’t impress me much either. I expected a much stronger and thicker broth, one filled with herbs, fish and maybe beans and tomatoes and plenty of fish sauce, but here it’s much toned down, either they couldn’t get hold of the right ingredients or they tried to adjust for local palate. The halved egg didn’t have much taste either – it’s like they boiled it separately and put that in at the last minute. On the side there were scores of condiments that we could add in, but what’s the deal of missing peg gyaw (the crispy fritters that would have added to the flavor and texture to the bowl)

In comparison, the crab biryani was much much better, with rice mixed with raisins, fried shallots, cashews, turmeric and other spices and on top and hidden underneath the crab shell was the crab meat and the super rich crab butter, all served in a clay casserole. Mixing everything together every bite was loaded with this interesting umami taste mixed with an unique set of ingredients.

We had two more main courses – the sirloin steak with Burmese laphet-chimichurri sauce was served with thick egg noodles. Again, not very strong laphet flavor but the sauce was powerful, and it did look like those Cantonese lo mein (stirred noodles) and tender pieces of braised beef and the bouncy noodles. The Rakhine Fish Curry hailed from the seaside province on the west side of Myanmar, was unlike what people thought of curry. The version served here was like a poached fish dish, with pieces of sea bream served in a broth of coriander, chilies and lemongrass. I love the texture of the fish, but wish the overall flavor was more punchy.

We ordered both desserts on the menu. The coconut panna cotta was the soft version (in mozzarella consistency) with rich coconut flavor and mixed with fresh fruits and mango coulis on the side, and the five-spiced chocolate brownie was more like a chocolate cake instead, and I loved the taste with a hint of turmeric spice mixed into the cake base. Overall it’s a fun experience with nice atmosphere and interesting food. Definitely worth a try even simply for a taste of Burmese cuisine.

(Dinner was by invitation and based on a pop-up menu that will run for a limited time only)

When? May 9 2019
Where? The Pansodan x Hong Kong Pop Up, The Laneway, 100 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Crab Biryani

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