Karaweik Hall

We attended an amazing night of never-ending food and a lovely three hour cultural dance show at the Karaweik Hall floating barge restaurant. It’s located in a park with perfect views of the Shwedagon pagoda across the Kandawgyi Royal Lake. So, if you don’t already have reservations at the restaurant, you have to pay an entrance fee just to get in the park.

It seemed like a beautiful place, and if we’d known about it in advance, we probably would have arrived a little earlier to take advantage of the serenely landscaped greenery. Not to mention the impressive views of the barge itself.

The show began at the entrance where we were greeted by people in traditional and ornate costume, demonstrating Myanmar traditions.

The cultural dance show was made up of many short and colorful scenes of traditional Myanmar dance. It reminded me of the Balinese dance show I saw, but it was less stylized.  The end dance was a showcase representation of all 8 ethnicities in the country, and their traditional clothes and work.

The international buffet was terrific, if light on Burmese dishes. We got to sample things like:  green fish ball curry, coconut rice, Singapore style chicken curry, spicy papaya salad, Century old egg salad, yankee potato salad, glass noodle wood ear mushroom broth, a seafood terrine, various breads, roast chicken, Congee, Thai noodles, Taiwanese tofu and mustard greens, Traditional Myanmar tasting plates (coconut rice, butter beans, roasted chilies, cucumber salad,), nasi goreng, garlic butter prawns, sauteed fish, fried hokkein noodles (big round deliciousness), pumpkin soup, mutton with apple gravy, and others I can’t even remember.

Desserts included a delicious sago pudding with coconut sauce, an assortment of fancy little cakes, a coconut pancake crepe to go with ice cream, watermelon and other fruits, and little glutinous rice desserts with a sweet maple sauce.

I also ordered a “spy wine”, which turned out to be a Thai wine cooler. Who knew?

I loved that we got to taste a little of everything, and then head back up again over the course of 3 hours to get seconds of our favorite dishes.

 

We shoveled in as much as we could, but ultimately were defeated by the awesome power of the buffet.  Perhaps even more filling was the realization that at 20,000 kyat, ($24 – ten times the cost of our meal the first night in Yangon) this was a night that most Myanmar people could not indulge in. I really felt like one of the “haves” that night (especially after a very enlightening train trip we had taken earlier in the day). This wasn’t as high-class as, say, the opera, but it was a big event nonetheless.  We were treated like important people of means, instead of backpackers, and all because of our Western levels of disposable income.

I think I got a flavor for what it used to be like for foreign journalists on expense accounts in SE Asia in the old days. It just didn’t feel like real life to be taking part in such a relatively elite event. On the other hand, we were seated next to an enormous group who were celebrating a 1-year-old child’s birthday party, which included little boys running around and jumping on the side of the stage.

And at one point, I spotted a 6-year-old girl taking photos of the show with a DSLR with a fancy zoom lens that I certainly couldn’t afford. I thought at first that her parents were very trusting to let her hold a camera that valuable… until I looked back and saw her father walking up to her with an even pricier camera and realized that the one she was holding must be hers. Wow.  Everything is relative, right?

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Eating Yangon

Deciding that we really wanted to sample true Burmese food, we consulted several sources to find the most authentic restaurants to visit on our trip. The first night, we put ourselves in the hands of the locals and ended up at a little neighborhood place down the street from our hotel, at the hotelier’s recommendation.  Thanks, Ocean Pearl!

We had an excellent introduction to the country through our fried noodles with chicken and vegetables- only about 2,000 kyat (“chat”). The exchange rate is $1 = 840 kyat.  And there was no menu- the host/owner just walked up and politely told us in English that we could get fried noodles with chicken, or chicken noodle soup, or vegetables.

Someone brought us a free little table starter of (wet or oily?) peanuts with a separate dish of salt. Tasty. And the table very much enjoyed their Myanmar beers. They went well with the chewy savoury noodles.

The people who worked at the restaurant were really friendly and helpful. I got the impression that they don’t see a lot of Westerners, though they were certainly able to handle us, and thankfully spoke far more English than we spoke Burmese.

 

 

The next night, we hunted around the city for the restaurant that Kim ably researched- a highly recommended local place- Danubyu Daw Saw Yee. It was a plain, cafeteria-like place on 29th street, where we also had no menu, but a helpful waiter walked us in and showed us over to the pans of delectable food sitting out at the edge of the kitchen.

He explained what each dish was, and tried to answer our questions about the level of spice in each option.

 

We ended up choosing a very tasty chicken curry which tasted 100% differently from the other curry we ordered- a langoustine-looking “lobster” curry. It was easily one of the top 15 things I’ve every tasted.  The meal came with bowls of a spicy soup (that tasted like collard greens to me), plates of rice, and a shared plate of assorted veggies, including something leafy, some cucumber, some variety of mango, and some things I couldn’t possibly identify.

What a unique meal!

 

My lemon juice was a little on the savoury side, but very refreshing.  We were the only Westerners in the place when we arrived, but word must have gotten out to others, because two girls showed up (one from Florida, and one from Columbia) later into our dining experience, and they got to enjoy the feast, as well. But they live in Bangkok, so I’d almost consider them insiders.

The next dinner was equally wonderful, and the atmosphere was even better.

 

Kim found a place called “Feel Myanmar Food” which was on a random road (Pyidaunysu Yeikth street) with nothing else around it but about six other restaurants (including Mexican!) that were all lined up together on the same side of the street, with seating spilling over between them like a gigantic outdoor food court.

We sat inside in the cozy, lodge-feeling wooden interior and enjoyed another visual tour by a helpful waiter who pointed out and explained each pre-made dish sitting out in pans on warmers.

 

We chose the chicken curry, a lamb curry, a sweet corn dish- almost a pudding, and when a girl walked past carrying a tray of toasted golden buns, we quickly asked what they contained and ordered them. They turned out to not be buns at all, but a sort of smooth mashed potato casing surrounding yummy chicken, with a sweet, slightly tomato-ish sauce on the side. And, again, we had a spicy soup, plenty of rice, and a plate of greens. And free tea.

 

The cucumbers were a nice counterpoint to and relief from the curry, while the colorful green almost-lettuce was very herbal in flavor. Kim said the mango-looking thing tasted like soap, and there were other vegetable-like things which baffled me, yet again.

Still, excellent food all around, and so much variety! It’s so nice to get to try so many authentic Myanmar dishes, (like Yangon tapas) though I couldn’t tell you the real names of any of them, since we only ordered by pointing.

Which left us with only 1 known dish for our food goal in Myanmar- the elusive ohn no khao swe.