When I started this trip I hoped to discover familiar fave dishes and new ones. The food in this local restaurant called Kayan Ala (meaning beautiful Kayan) serving local Kayan food truly blew me away and deserves a mention not only for the food but for the beautiful setting and the most engaging and passionate owner Mr Zay Yar Min.
This place was not on our radar of places to visit. Our excellent guide Ko Aung who is also passionate about food, recommended we visit and I’m so pleased we did.
Without fail our day starts again with a brief weather update from Ko Aung. Today is about 34-36 degrees and humidity about 85%. It’s the crippling humidity which gets me. I’m exhausted merely trying to breathe! There is no likelihood of rain where we are however, possible rain in other parts of Rangoon.
The restaurant is on the outskirts of Rangoon by the rivers edge, with the majority of seating on outside tables with bamboo awnings. There is a beautiful welcome breeze from the river. Everytime it wafts towards you a unison murmur and sigh of delight can be heard in the breeze.
Kayan people live across several areas, stretching from Shan State to Kayah State and across the Burmese-Thai borders.
Zay Yar tells me how he conceived the idea. The extent to which he researched recipes hands on by visiting villages in the state. Living with village communities and hiking with them in the hills, to be shown traditional dishes never recorded before. The project took several trips over several years. He then returned home to reinterpret them in his kitchen.
The list of dishes brought out were endless. We had chicken baked in mud. Yes, I know you heard me right.! Smoked frog salad. YES! you heard me right again! Makhan fried potatoes, Kayan sausage, pork and potatoes steamed in bamboo, pork rib and red silk cotton blossom stew, cucumber and carrot salad, pounded beef salad. EVERYTHING tasted delicious.
The food is truly unique with unusual ingredients some of which sourced all the way from Kayah State (even the mud at one point was shipped from there to make the chicken baked in mud!). This is one passionate man who believes in authenticity.
Some of the unique ingredients….
Matkhar pepper – this is similar to Szechuan peppercorns, it has a slight numbing effect. It is used in several dishes sometimes mixed with chillies to give a kick.
Juboo (Chinese chives) – basically the roots of chive. Often found as a side garnish
Red silk blossom (laphan) – from the Semel tree. Grows in Kayah State comes into flower in Spring.
Peh-boh – this is fermented dried soybean disks. Also found in Shan dishes.
The dishes we ate…..
Chicken baked in mud – this took several hours plus to cook. They knew we were coming and we wouldn’t have the time to wait so prepared one earlier in the day for our arrival. (Talk about hospitality!). The chicken is first stuffed with pounded herbs and spices (garlic, ginger, lemongrass, sawtooth herb, matkhar pepper, lime leaf and salt). This paste is mixed with the chicken’s entrails chopped up small, and stuffed into the cavity of the chicken, then wrapped in banana leaves and then quite literally, as the name suggests, covered in about 2-3″ of damp mud. It’s placed in the oven and left for 6-8 hours (or until you are ready to eat). Zay Yar tells me this is a traditional dish cooked on hunting trips. The chicken is prepared and placed in a fire pit and buried in the ground (hence the reason for using mud to seal it). It is left there until they return from hunting and voila dinner is ready. Truly delicious. Moist with all the herbs delicately perfuming the chicken.
Smoked frog salad – this was spicy and the first mouthful caught me unawares! The frogs believe it or not are gathered wild from the Kayah State! They are then smoked for a minimum one month. I was proudly shown how they are strung up for smoking. (See below photo). They do look pretty gruesome and off putting seeing them ‘crucified’ like this. I tried my best not to offend by not being too squeamish. Sadly I have quite an expressive face and it’s difficult for me to hide this…….By the way they are only 1″ – 2″ long.
Of course I had to try them! They were made into a salad with crispy fried onions, fried holy basil leaves and whole fried chillies. And what can I say absolutely delicious and moresish. They tasted of smoked eel with a similar chewy texture. Especially with a cold beer! A perfect accompaniment.
Matkhar potatoes – these were quite simply tiny baby potatoes fried and tossed in matkhar pepper and chilli. As you would imagine, spicy potatoes. Fab.
Kayan sausage – a unique sausage unlike others in Burma, I am told. They make it themselves with ground pork, garlic, matkhar, salt and pepper and chill. It’s sliced and fried. What can I say? without sounding repetitive, it’s delicious. Right amount of fat and chilli to make it super addictive….especially with beer! There seems to be a running theme here!
Pork ribs and red silk blossom stew – this is a seasonal special as the flowers only bloom in Spring. The ribs are cooked with the whole blossom, and fermented dried soy bean disks ((theirs is from the Bagan region)
Pork and potatoes steamed in bamboo – pork and potatoes diced into teeny small cubes, maybe 1cm. This sounds so simple and maybe somewhat boring compared to the dishes described above with its unusual ingredients. But far from it. The mix has been stuffed into the bamboo sticks and cooked over hot coals for 45 minutes. The fat from the pork has oozed into the potatoes whilst cooking. This is just delectable and comforting.
We had other dishes too, I know we did, such as the stir fried veg. I just can’t remember them all! The very hospitable Zay Yar kept bringing them out for us to try. And the fermented rice drink which accompanied the meal is served two ways. One is warm and served in a big wooden tube, covered in rice with a straw in the middle. As you suck up the liquor bits of rice pop up the straw. The other is served ice cool and very refreshing. Both are dangerously far too easy to gulp down, especially in this hot weather.
If you are in Rangoon I urge you to seek out this place. It’s worth the effort, not only for the food but for the welcome respite from the city heat and humidity. It is bizarrely also known by a spanish name – Vista do Rio (River View)
Address; no 251 Taung Htate Pan & Mya Lar Street, Thuwana, Nr Kamarkyi Bridge, Yangon. Myanmar. Phone: 09 975 546778
Let me know if you’ve been. I’d love to hear what you think of it!