Tag Archives: yangon dining

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

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

Cakes on Bikes: A review of BB Cake and Coffee in Yangon’s trendy Parami

Top marks for presentation
Top marks for presentation

The opening of BB Cake and Coffee in Parami, a chic and spacious cake, coffee and pastry shop, is yet another indication that Myanmar’s commercial capital is creeping northwards. When BB Cakes opened on the corner or Parami Road and Myint Zu Street about four months ago, its elegant exterior instantly made it a landmark in the local area. This place is practically impossible to miss – especially at night, when it’s lit up by a warm lighting scheme that softens the edges of the white building, which is complemented by a fringe of tall palm trees and shrubbery. The gala opening even made it onto MRTV4.  It’s opposite the high end salon, Stag, on Myint Zu Street, where Yangon’s male celebrities reportedly go for hair-cuts.

Step inside BB Cakes and it feels as though you’ve walked into the spread of an interior design magazine. Within three steps you’ll be greeted by one of the many female waitresses who are dressed so smartly that they resemble air hostesses. The service is prompt and efficient without being overbearing.

Sit back and relax...
Sit back and relax…

Cool temperatures and generously proportioned white couches paired with plump cushions make it easy to spend an entire morning or afternoon here (and there’s wifi too, though these days that almost goes without saying). There’s a lot of natural sunlight due to the expansive use of glass panels, but virtually no glare thanks to the surrounding vegetation and silky white drapes. Smokers can sit on the patio outside in cane chairs that are of course, white. Miniature “trees” in pot plants and watering cans sit atop the white tables and the stacks of books against the walls give it a homely feel, though sadly the books are actually just hollow cardboard boxes with about 12 repeated titles. Admittedly this is a very small point to pick on though.

Iced coffees are served in boot-shaped glass mugs (K3,200) and the strawberry smoothie, while pricey at K3,200, had real pieces of strawberry at the bottom. It also offers Myanmar’s famous avocado smoothie, plus papaya yoghurt and blueberry smoothies, to name but a few.

Luscious looking cakes
Luscious looking cakes

BB Cake and Coffee has eye-boggling window displays of cakes, which are available for home delivery and cost around K28,000 (excluding delivery charges). As implausible as it sounds, there are even cakes displayed on iron framed bicycles. Each bicycle has three oversized cream cakes perched on the place where a seat would go, plus one above that and below.

But while a decadent birthday treat is one thing, BB Cakes is not for health conscious consumers. And brown bread lovers beware: there is nothing for you here but a pack of four brown bread slices that will set you back a surprising K1,800. Plain white bread is sold in slices of 10, for the over-the-top sum of K2,200. Although there are bakers on the premises, there are no baguettes or the like in sight and almost everything is sweet rather than savoury. Granted, it’s acake and coffee shop, but when items such as Fruit Pizza (K1,500) or Flower Sausage (K1,500) make an attempt to fill that gap, it seems that something less ambitious and more comforting and nutritious may have been a better way to go. The bacon croissant was served cold and contained a confusing spread of sliced cucumber and chopped cabbage in a mayonnaise dressing, which gave me a sense that a lot less thought is going into the food than the beautiful interior design. The chicken and bacon sandwiches on display had been deep fried and it was hard to tell if they were made of bread or the ubiquitous puff pastry, with a thin strip of bacon slathered across the top of the latter. Sadly the results were ultimately unappealing.

Outdoor seating is also available
Outdoor seating is also available

As the chef of one Yangon’s best known restaurants once told me, “There’s enough room in the market for all the new cafes and restaurants popping up in Yangon. The problem is that most places get the concept and service right, but fall flat on the food. Or it’s the other way round…”

For the time being at least, BB Cake and Coffee falls into that category.

BB Cake and Coffee is located on No. 48 Parami Road (on the corner of Myint Zu Street) Parami.

Phone: 09 4211 806 70

Please note: This review was published by Mizzima way back in December 2013 – so perhaps take it with a grain of salt (pardon the pun).