Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Mohinga and Noodles

Ask any local what’s the must-try dish in Myanmar and you would probably hear Mohinga mentioned more than once. Many considered this the national dish of the country and the breakfast of choice for most people. First time I tried Mohinga was at a restaurant called Feel near the embassy row where I went for breakfast on the second day. I made a leisurely scroll over after my morning visit of Shwedagon Pagoda on my way back to the hotel, and it’s almost impossible to miss the place once you reach the block where the restaurant was located. By 8am the place was packed with people with an interesting mix of locals and expats, some presumably working in the embassies next door on the same street.

Just outside the door was the alfresco dining area under the shade and also the open kitchen where many of the dishes were made, in a set up that looked more like a food hall rather than a proper sit-down restaurant, with each counter focusing on different dishes. On one end was the tandoori oven where dough was kneaded and bread was baked, then there’s the counter with the wok in front with deep-fried fritters orderly displayed. There’s also the bread and pastry counter, the bar where milk tea and coffee were dished out constantly to the morning crowd. I had enough of the outdoor heat from my morning at the pagoda so I found a seat in the indoor dining area and sat down. After looking at the long men filled with all kinds of food, from curry to salad to rice to a number of western dishes, I decided to go for a simple bowl of mohinga.

The bowl came in less than 5 minutes and it didn’t take long after for me to understand what the fuss is all about this seemingly straight forward bowl of noodles with the broth that looks like watered down curry. It’s hard to describe what went into this bowl of noodles – one sip of the broth you got this eloquent combination of herbs and aromatics (among those ginger, shallots and cilantro), umami, punchy fish and a hint of sweetness and acidity from the tomatoes, and that combined with the crunchy fritters, hard-boiled duck egg and more that went into the bowl along with the rice vermicelli soaking in all the good flavor. Ground chickpeas was added to thicken the soup and added to the nutty taste as well. On the side there’s additional cilantro and chili powder for extra garnishes if you so choose.

At Feel, the rice vermicelli was chopped almost to the length of a rice grain and cooked extra soft, so it has the texture of almost like a porridge, such that it did take in the flavor from the broth well. The portion looked light at first but it’s filling, especially with the whole duck egg added in. In a sense it reminded me of pho, the bowls of beef noodles which were often eaten as breakfast in Vietnam, but they were vastly different in preparation and flavor, yet as comforting. That and a cup of sweetened milk tea, another common breakfast item here, was all I needed to get the morning going.

Where? Feel Restaurant Myanmar, 124 Pyihtaungsu Avenue Street, Dagon Township, Yangon, Myanmar

On my last day in Yangon (before moving up north to Bagan), again, I had Mohinga for breakfast, this time at a local joint called Myaung Mya Daw Cho with a branch just a few blocks down the road from my hotel. The place only opened from 5-10am every day with only one item on the menu – Mohinga. Again, the place was easily spotted given it’s the most popular on the block, with both the indoor dining area and the counter for takeaway outside. Their bowl of mohinga was similar to what I had at Feel the previous days, except maybe with more variety of fritters, a slightly thicker broth (with more distinct taste of chickpeas and turmeric) and there’s more bite to their rice vermicelli noodles. Again, wedges of lime, chili powder and chopped cilantro were served on the side. It’s worth getting up early for.

Where? Myaung Mya Daw Cho Mohinga, 16 11th Street, Lanmataw Township, Yangon, Myanmar

There are more great noodle dishes in Myanmar other than Mohinga. At 999 Shan Noodle House, a quick walk from Sule Pagoda, they served the noodles and other specialty dishes from Shan region in the eastern part of the country neighboring Thailand and China. From the outside it looks just like any other casual restaurant on the streets of Yangon, but the place was packed came lunch hour, with office workers nearby and tourists swamped the place for a quick bite. Décor was simple but at least there’s good air conditioning, shielding me from the mid-day heat. There were so many types of noodles to choose from on their menu, each with a choice of either pork or chicken. (and luckily they got English menu – not surprising since the place is mentioned in many guidebooks) I picked the Shan Noodle Salad, which turned out to be warm and served in a deep dish, and I guess “salad” just meant it’s served without soup.

The style of Shan Noodles was notably different than Mohinga. A thicker, chewier rice noodles are used – similar to what we called Yunnan rice noodles – the sauce, slightly thicker than broth, has less of the fish flavor (though there’s still fish sauce in it) but more soy-based and definitely more spicy. On top it’s garnished with green onions, chopped peanuts, and fine pork dices. Both location-wise and taste-wise, this is certainly a great place to stop by, either for a quick lunch or snacks in between meals. I only wish I got room to check out more Shan dishes at this lovely little shop.

Where? 999 Shan Noodle House, 130B 34th Street, Yangon, Myanmar

More pictures from my Myanmar journey:

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