The final capital of the Burmese Kingdom in the late 19th century, today Mandalay is a bustling, modern city ringed with ancient monuments. The ‘spicy garlic smells’ of Kipling’s famous poem are never far away. While the city’s culinary focus is very much centred on street food and old-fashioned teahouses, the emergence of tourism in the past few years has significantly diversified the gastronomy. Here are 10 great restaurants to kick off your culinary journey across Burma.
Green Elephant is the most luxurious place in Mandalay for a traditional culinary experience. Part of a small chain with three branches throughout the country, it began in a disused Yangon garage with the aim of fusing Burmese food with Western standards of service and cleanliness. Set within an early 20th century colonial villa with a bucolic garden, it’s something of an oasis removed from the dust of the surrounding streets. Authentic Burmese dishes include tealeaf salads, fine curries accompanied by soy paste, and moet-hin-kar fish soup. Thai and Chinese menus are also available, and all the food uses vegetables from the restaurant’s own local garden.
Green Elephant, No. 3 (H), Block 801, 27thSt. between 64th and 65th St., Mandalay, Burma, +95 1 537 706
Although Mandalay’s Burmese population is largely made up of Bamar people, the city’s proximity to the rural Shan State has contributed immensely to the local cuisine. One of the most popular restaurants in the city, Lashio Lay is also the best place for authentic Shan fare. Freshly cooked dishes are displayed at the till, from which you can select the dishes you wish to try. Delicacies include shan tohu (chickpea-flour tofu fritters), wet tha chin (minced pork in rice) and papaya salad, with an emphasis throughout on sesame, peanut and garlic flavours.
Lashio Lay, No. 65, 23rd St., Mandalay, Burma
Aye Myit Tar
Close to the Mahumuni Temple’s golden Buddha and spectacular pagoda, Aye Myit Tar is a favorite among locals. Set in an unpretentious room covered with photographs of Myanmar, the staff are extraordinarily friendly. The most popular choice here is the Burmese curry, which combines Indian and Chinese flavours in a delicate balance and comes with a smattering of complimentary vegetables, salad and broth. More adventurous diners should try the meeshay, rice noodles cooked in a clay pot with a thick, oily meat sauce.
Aye Myit Tar, No. 530, 81st St., Mandalay, Burma
With southern Chinese immigrants accounting for over a third of the city’s population, it’s no surprise that many of Mandalay’s best eateries specialise in Cantonese and Yunnan food. Super 81 stands out in a crowded field, serving up a huge variety of dishes; there are a dozen variations of steamed duck alone, along with excellent squid and sea bass, all served in generous portions. Its labyrinthine layout only adds to the charm, with a sprawling network of rooms, terraces and roof gardens hidden behind an unassuming shop front.
Super 81, No. 582, 81st St., between 38th and 39th St., Mandalay, Burma
For much of their history, the countries now known as Myanmar and Thailand were composed of small warring states with constantly shifting boundaries. Lanna, the northern Thai kingdom centered on culinary haven Chiang Mai, was under Burmese control until 1775. There remains a significant Thai minority in Mandalay, and Ko’s Kitchen serves the most elegant Thai food in town. Located just west of the incredible reconstructed Mandalay Palace, it’s housed in a pleasant art deco building and features a glass-walled kitchen that you can watch as you wait. Alongside fine-tuned green and red curries, specialties include fish skewers, yam pla duk foo (catfish salad with mango and cashews) and a larb Llana, an elaborately spiced minced pork salad.
Ko’s Kitchen, Corner of 19th and 80th St., Mandalay, Burma, +95 69576 31265