A new take on some old Myan­mar favourites

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

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 ohn­nokauk­swe, 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.” [Por­tia Lar­lee] Ran­goonTea­house:77Pan­so­danRoad (Low­erBlock),Kyauk­tadaTown­ship

Photo: Ran­goon Tea­house

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