Tag Archives: dining yangon

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 🙂

Northern Thai Style in Yangon

Published in The Irrawaddy on 15 September 2014

Nacha's Northern Thai set menu is its most popular
Nacha’s Northern Thai set menu is its most popular

“As the youngest of six children, the kitchen was my playground,” said the owner of Rangoon’s Nacha Thai Restaurant, Panida Ponlabute, who goes by the nickname “Air” (which incidentally means “littlest one” in Thai).

For 30 years, Air’s mother ran an ever expanding restaurant in Chiang Mai: “She’s the best cook in the province,” Air said proudly.

Air asserts that Nacha’s dishes are as authentic as any to be found in the northern provinces of Thailand because her mother trained the restaurant’s three Thai chefs (who also hail from Chiang Mai and are culinary school graduates) as well as passing on her recipes to them. Nacha has also trained up two Burmese chefs.

Many of the spices used to create the curry pastes are sourced from local markets in Chiang Mai, despite the fact that most are available in Rangoon.

“The spices I’ve bought in Yangon taste different from home. I don’t know why – perhaps it’s the soil or the climate,” Air said.

Nacha Restaurant
Nacha Restaurant

Nacha opened almost exactly three years ago and initially served up European fare in addition to Thai and Burmese classics.

However eight months later, Air decided that Nacha should change course and it began specialising in Thai food (as well as retaining some Burmese dishes) because the cost of ingredients for Western food was high and often difficult to source. Furthermore, Air said that the number of high quality European restaurants in Rangoon made competition intense – whereas Nacha remains only one of two restaurants offering northern Thai cuisine (with Sabai Sabai being the other) in the former capital. This may in part be the reason why Nacha’s northern Thai set menu is more popular than the central Thai set menu (both are priced at K29,000 and easily feed two people). For those who prefer to sample all three cuisines, it’s possible to order individual dishes from Nacha’s extensive menu, which also contains a wide variety of options for vegetarians.

For historical and geographical reasons, Burma has had a distinctive influence on northern Thai cuisine. The most notable example is the hang-le curry, which itself resembles an Indian-style curry.

Air explained that prior to British colonisation, Burma’s last royal families often fled to Chiang Mai from Mandalay Palace during political crises. Unsurprisingly, King Mindon and King Thibaw were accompanied by a sizeable entourage of servants and cooks. The creations made by the latter eventually became longstanding favourites in Chiang Mai, albeit with local variations made on the originals, such as using less oil and sweetening curries with palm sugar.

Nacha's elegant interior
Nacha’s elegant interior

Air asserts that northern Thai cuisine is healthier than central or southern Thai food because coconut milk is never used and fresh vegetables are a more plentiful component in every meal. Moreover, as many as 12 spices are included in a single curry to create a naturally full flavour. Northern Thai cuisine is spicier than that of the central provinces (where the likes of well known dishes such as pad thai originate) and milder than the south.

Whilst Air says that cooking is “in her blood,” she is also a trained beauty therapist and has 20 years’ experience in the industry. Thus she opened Nacha Spa within three months of the restaurant’s opening in 2011. The spa is just a few steps away from Nacha’s outdoor eating area and both are immaculately maintained.

“My idea was to create a perfect weekend experience,” she said.

“Sleep in late, come to Nacha for enjoy a delicious lunch and then get pampered at our spa,” she explained with a grin.

Treatments are very reasonably priced: a 60-minute foot spa costs K15,000 while a 90-minute hand and foot spa is K20,000. For those who opt to experience both Nacha’s food and Thai-styled spa treatments, it’s likely you’ll come out feeling so relaxed that Rangoon’s manic traffic during your journey home will simply blur into the background.

Nacha Thai Restaurant is located on 86/A Shin Saw Pu Street, Sanchuang Township, Rangoon and is open for lunch from 11am to 2pm, and dinner starts from 6pm until 11pm.

For bookings, including private parties in the upstairs VIP rooms, call 09450013761.