Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Something New from an Unknown Region

Question marks floated over my head when I reached the door of Root Restaurant, a long 15 minute walk to a quiet neighborhood in the eastern side of Yangon. I saw the online reviews of this relatively new restaurant (opened 6 months ago or so) which talked about its specialty of Wa cuisine from Wa ethnic group residing in the mountainous area in the northern side of the country neighboring China. Well I know absolutely nothing about Myanmar geography nor its ethnic composition nor culture, but I was eager to try something new, something that I have not heard of before, let alone trying, so I decided to take a shot. But then when I arrived and found the half-empty restaurant with only a handful customers, I started to wonder whether it’s a good idea.

Before dinner I made my way to Sarkies Bar at The Strand hotel for a quick drink to chill from the heat. Considered this the equivalent of The Peninsula in Hong Kong or The Raffles in Singapore, this legendary hotel featured the similar Victorian style décor with a recent facelift to the interior as well – only wish I could afford to stay here for a couple of nights some time. The bar – named after the founder of the hotel – was at the lobby level near the grand entrance of the hotel – with the classy wooden décor resembling those bar of London’s gentlemen’s clubs. They got a good selection of old-school cocktails, some using tropical drinks and made use of local liquors like the Mandalay rum, and they also have a wide selection of whiskies – single malt or blended – on display at the bar, some rare bottles not easy to find even elsewhere. And the prices were surprisingly reasonable, at least in western standard, so as you could imagine, I had my fair share of drinks just to wind down.

That doubtful mind of standing outside a half-empty restaurant only lasted a split second and I decided to go in anyway – I got nothing to lose. Turned out the place was not as deserted as I thought as more customers walked in after I did. The restaurant resembles more of a bar than a restaurant, with the bar counter featured prominently near the entrance with dining area at the back, with dim lighting and loud music. They got a pretty long menu filled with Wa cuisine specialty, with detailed description of what they are, a quick introduction of Wa cuisine and the philosophy of this restaurants founded by 2 sisters from the secluded, little known area of Wa State.

I picked out a few dishes that I thought would give me a good introduction of the food there. First to arrive was the smoked beef salad – what looked like shredded beef jerky with a bunch of herbs mixed in was rich in flavor, punchy with the hot chili taste which gave me a good sweat. Decent, but took me half a glass of beer to get the spicy salad down to my stomach. The smoked beef moik, which came next, was much milder in flavor, which I enjoyed more. Moik reminded me of Italian risotto, with the firm rice grain (using brown rice from Wa region) cooked slowly in beef broth to a little drier than porridge consistency, then it’s mixed with herbs and dried smoked beef dices. It’s delicious. The green bean salad turned out to be like in small side salad, and again, it’s on the spicy side but has very good flavor if you like it hot.

But if there’s one dish that made me think it’s worthwhile trekking to this side of town for, it’s their grilled dishes. The pork belly I had was memorable. Served in thick slices in a rattan basket, the pork belly was fat and infused with good smoked flavor, and the meat was well marinated and tender. Just a quick dip into the chili powder which was served on the side provided that extra kick that I loved. It's similar to the Thai-grilled pork neck I had before elsewhere but with better meat and better flavor, I reckon. I seriously thought about asking for a second portion.

I probably would have enjoyed my dinner more if I wasn’t dining solo – the vibe just wasn’t good for such situation, but I did enjoy the dishes, and glad I tried something new.

When? February 27 2018
Where? Root Restaurant, Bo Myat Htun Street, Bo Myat Htun Tower, Botahtaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar
Menu Highlights? Wa-style Grilled Pork Belly

More pictures from my Myanmar journey: https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/albums/72157694130625305

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