Category Archives: Reviews

Food fiesta at TinTin

Published in Mizzima on 27 August 2015

TinTin's elotes
TinTin’s elotes

The newly opened TinTin is self styled as a home-made Mexican street food and tequila bar and there’s no doubt that it serves up great Mexican grub in hipster-happy surrounds.

As to be expected from a 57 Below venture – the investment company that brought Yangonites the delights of Union Bar, two Parami Pizza branches and Gekko (the latter of which TinTin is most similar to architecturally) – the décor is top notch. Industrial styled light bulbs suspended from colourful rods give off a warm glow, while the ‘pipeline’ lights keep it cozy upstairs. The view of the glass panelled kitchen below is softened by sheets of metal armoury and the rustic wooden tables and the cheerily coloured seats and cushions achieve a relaxed sense of style. Place mats are made of sheets of brown paper with the odd stamp sporting the restaurant’s name. Perhaps needless to say, the only music lyrics you’ll hear will be in Spanish and the tempo upbeat.

Street food in Mexico is called antojitos (literally “little cravings”) because it is comprised of foods that are typically not eaten during the main meal of the day – corn is one such example. Mexico is widely regarded as having the most extensive variety of street food in Latin America – if not the world. UNESCO respects the cuisine enough to have labelled it an intangible cultural heritage of mankind. Having sampled other Mexican offerings in Yangon – some of which are stranger than others – I’d say that TinTin most definitely takes the cake for authenticity. Full credit to TinTin’s Chef Jorge Bernal, who hails from Mexico City , along with what must surely be his tightly run ship.

I ordered the burrito compadre (US$9), which comprises chorizo chicken, rice, pico de gallo (better known as salsa) and comes with a spoonful of deliciously spicy chipotle mayo. It was filling enough in itself – particularly for lunch, though I didn’t see any reason to stop there. The elotes (a.k.a. corn on the cob) was served with sour cream, two chunks of lime and sprinkled with cilantro (a.k.a. coriander). The mess it leaves on fingers and between the teeth doesn’t make it an ideal date dish – though it’s nothing a quick trip to the bathroom can’t fix. I was seated upstairs and headed to what I thought was the toilet. I saw a ‘staff only’ sign and a set of stairs leading to what looked like a back room, so I backed off and headed down the other set of stairs leading to the entrance. I felt a bit silly when I was then told by one of the smartly dressed staff that the first stairs I’d seen do in fact lead to the toilet (this is a rather long way of saying that a toilet sign would be useful). The stairs to the toilets are steep and the lighting dim – I wouldn’t recommend taking them on after a few tequilas.

TinTin's downstairs dining area
TinTin’s downstairs dining area

And speaking of tequilas – there’s no shortage of ‘em at TinTin. There’s even a coffee flavoured variety for $8, while the costliest (and no doubt loveliest) is the seven-year-old Fuentesca at a whopping $19 a shot. There’s also a host of mezcals on offer, which a Google search defined as a spirit made from the heart of the cactus-like agave plant (and is not be confused with the psychoactive, mescaline producing peyote). Cocktails range from $5 to $8 and include an intriguing ‘beer on the rocks’ with a michelada mix, lime juice, chili and salt.

The use of Spanish throughout TinTin’s menu is a little intimidating if you don’t speak an iota of the language. Substituting a bit more English would better whet a less cultured appetite such as my own, as my ignorance meant I had to automatically exclude ordering several items.

Top marks for presentation - the burrito compadre
Top marks for presentation – the burrito compadre

Friends had warned me that TinTin is pricey. Even the guacamole costs US$5 – and on top of everything ordered is a 10 percent service charge and a 5 percent government charge. Lord knows how expensive it is to run a restaurant in Yangon, but being charged US$7 for a bottle of water and US$4 for a cob of corn that costs K250 (for two!) at the supermarket – even with the delicious condiments on top – didn’t feel like the best value in town. And that says something, as this town isn’t known for being good value.

A word of warning: TinTin is small and popular. Do not, as I did, turn up on a Saturday night without a booking, as you’ll likely be turned away or asked to return for the second sitting at 8pm. I’m certainly glad I didn’t give up after my first attempt to have a bite of Mexican in Yangon a la TinTin style.

Tin Tin Bogalazay is located on 116-188 Bogalazay Street (middle block) in Bohtataung Township, Yangon

Phone: (01) 245 904

Visit Tin Tin’s Facebook page for more information

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Kitsch kitchen serves up Indonesian treats

Published in Mizzima Weekly on 9 June 2015

Toba's extra colourful interior
Toba’s extra colourful interior

Toba Restaurant and Café in Yangon’s trendy Yaw Min Gyi area is celebrating its first anniversary this month, which is no small feat considering how fickle and fraught the city’s bar and restaurant scene has become of late. Toba remains one of just two Indonesian restaurants in town and one of the very few 24 hour establishments – at least on weekends. Since June 1, its opening hours from Sunday to Thursday have been cut back to 7am until 1am, which is still by no means a short shift. Unfortunately, there still seems to be a few bumps in the road in terms of Toba’s service standards, but the food and value for money compensate well enough.

For those uninitiated with Indonesian cuisine (and I must confess I am no expert), Toba’s almost implausibly extensive menu includes helpful descriptions and a photo of every dish. Do note that whilst beer doesn’t appear on the menu, it’s available all the same (staff will collect it from the shop next door without any additional charge). There’s a bit of poetic licence going on in terms of describing many dishes as ‘Indonesian-Western style’ when they’re clearly anything but. The ‘chicken macaroni soup’ comes to mind – but I won’t go on because it’s a bit of a quibble.

The shortcomings of the nasi goreng were less easy to gloss over. As one of Indonesia’s national dishes, I was surprised to learn that the mutton variety (K3,400) was unavailable. So I opted for the sapi (beef) instead, which I took home as a parcel for my husband. My sampling of it later that day proved disappointing – it looked and tasted a lot more like a bland and greasy Chinese fried rice, without any kick whatsoever.

Delectable oxtail soup
Delectable oxtail soup

I started off my meal with the sop buntut, which is a “submerged oxtail in a traditional recipe soup, covered in pot and boiled with slow fire for three hours.” It came with a wedge of lime and a fiery green chilli paste and cost K4,100. It was a heartily flavoured soup and the delectably tender chunks of meat slid off the bone. The soup was accompanied by gado gado, which is a much loved mix of crunchy greens and peanut sauce and decorated with deep fried krupuk (a close equivalent of prawn crackers), which at Toba, sports neon trimmings.

Whilst Toba has an attractive upstairs seating area featuring traditional wooden seating and a laid back Balinese décor, the downstairs section is less inspiring. The walls are adorned with gaudy murals of volcanoes and other Indonesian landscapes and the seating is a little cramped and cafeteria-like, though there’s a booth at the back that’s more spacious and suitable for groups of up to a dozen.

The staff were friendly and attentive and the dishes appeared with impressive speed – nothing took longer than 15 minutes. However things went downhill when I went upstairs and stumbled upon a waiter relieving himself in Toba’s sole lavatory with the door wide open. After finishing off he simply waved me in with a grin, which I guess was preferable to a flurry of awkward apologies.

Prices are another of Toba’s strengths. They’re very reasonable, especially considering that the portions are generous. Three mains and a jasmine tea came to just K10,017 and this included a five percent government tax of K400. I assumed the 17 kyat would be written off so I was startled when the waitress asked me to cough up the exact amount. Whilst 20 kyat notes still exist as a denomination, I only encounter them once in a blue moon: in fact I keep one at home as a souvenir.

Hearty Indonesian fare
Hearty Indonesian fare

When I said I was befuddled as to how I could pay such an impractical sum, the waitress launched into an explanation about the government’s new tax schemes. Midway, she caught sight of the 50 kyat note peeking out of my wallet and asked me to give it to her. I was perturbed on principle and began to protest. At that moment, a waiter sprang up from behind and whacked a 50 kyat tax sticker onto my bill. When they understood that I remained unconvinced and opposed, the waitress agreed to give me a “discount” on my bill – a term she repeated with grating effect. It wasn’t until much later that I realised I’d been too flustered to ask for my anniversary promo discount of 10 percent and the free dessert the male waiter had promised me when I first sat down to dine.


TOBA Restaurant-Café is located on 15 Nawaday Street, Dagon Township
For more information, visit Toba’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tobarestaurantcafe?fref=ts

The Taj is no masterpiece, but still worth a try

Published in Mizzima Weekly on 18 June 2015

The Taj in Yangon
The Taj in Yangon

Once upon a time not so long ago, Yangonites looking to satisfy a craving for authentic Indian cuisine in pleasant surrounds had but one option. And while the Coriander Leaf certainly remains a very good option, the recent opening of four new fine dining Indian restaurants – The Taj, Tadka, Bawarchi and India Kitchen, gives reason to rejoice. As they say, variety is the spice of life.

Like two of the other new Indian kids on the block, The Taj sports a cute Hindi-styled font signboard above its entrance. It caught my eye as I whizzed past Aung San Stadium one afternoon, and has no doubt succeeded in catching the attention of others who are always on the lookout for a great Indian eatery.

Based on the rave reviews we’d heard from friends – among them a Bangladeshi who swore that The Taj’s biryani is the best in town – and the fact that it was a Saturday evening, we made sure to book a table to avoid either being turned away or shunted into a pokey corner.

Although our table was presented no less beautifully than any other, it was nonetheless a back corner in which we were seated, in what was clearly the section designated for couples located towards the rear of the ground floor. Of course there’s nothing at all wrong with such an arrangement, but the gap between the row of four tables was awkwardly negligible. The couple to our right must have shared some of our shyness at being so close because within five minutes they’d switched from speaking in heavily American accented English to Burmese. Things were so tight, in fact, that when the gentleman next to me later got up from his seat to leave the premises with his date, his bottom inadvertently brushed our plate of naan as he strode past. Another downside was that the tables were unusually long (though not wide) so I had to strain my ears to hear my husband over music that echoed from above.

Seating arrangements are a little tight at The Taj, though the presentation overall was lovely.
Seating arrangements are a little tight at The Taj, though the presentation overall was lovely.

I was much more enamoured by the design and layout of the more brightly lit upstairs area (which I discovered during a trip to the lavatory) but was informed that it is reserved for parties of five or more.

The Taj’s staff were attentive, equipped with touch-pads and kitted out in red tunics with a black sash around their waists – they reminded me a little of Santa’s elves as they scampered from diner to diner.

The food arrived promptly and the pakoras (K3,500) and accompanying sauces were an absolute delight, with top marks for presentation. However the palak paneer was simply too rich to finish and the butter chicken (K5,500) was confusing because it deviated so far from the classic dish that I know and love. It contained not chunks but threads of chicken so thin that it took on the texture of grated carrot. The murgh vindaloo (K5,500) was surprisingly devoid of spice, which meant that the tastiest dish of the night was the oh-so-tender mutton rogan josh (K6,500). We took home the mutton biryani (K7,000) as a parcel and whilst my palate isn’t discerning enough to separate the good biryanis from the great, my husband’s certainly can: he ranked it somewhere in between.

The Taj offers regular lunchtime promos such as complimentary Lavazza coffee, while its dine-in weekday vegetarian thalis are reasonably priced at K4,500 and K7,000 for non-vegetarian. Naturally, it’s cheaper to have the food delivered or collected (prices are K3,000 and K5,000 respectively), although a minimum order of 10 boxes is necessary. The Taj also offers an express menu for those who are strapped for time.

Our bill came to almost K50,000 – which seemed a little pricey considering we’d not ordered any alcoholic beverages (the reason being that none are served). Overall however, it was a pleasant dining experience, with the only caveat being the need to ease up on the ghee and consider tweaking parts of the floor plan.

The Taj is open from 11.30am until 10.30pm and is located on B-9, Aung San Stadium, North Stand, Upper Pansodan Road, Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township.

Phone 09972662518 or 09252451353 or email the.taj@miffmyanmar.com

For more information, visit The Taj’s Facebook page 

Footnote: My favourite of the five Indian restaurants is India Kitchen, which I also think is the best value for money (and pssst – beer is available if you sit upstairs, though sometimes you’ll be told that it’s full, which may or may not be true!).

Do you have a different fave Indian restaurant? Please go ahead and leave a comment below 🙂