Friday, August 18, 2017

A taste of Kayah State at a Yangon price


Dinner by the river in Vista Do Rio. Nyein Ei Ei Htwe/ The Myanmar TimesDinner by the river in Vista Do Rio. Nyein Ei Ei Htwe/ The Myanmar Times

FOR those of you craving for some Eastern Myanmar cuisine, you’re in luck. Vista Do Rio surely knew how to make an entrance in Yangon’s restaurant scene. For weeks, social media were abuzz with talks of the first-ever Kayan restaurant to be opened in town. So, unpack your bags if you were planning to travel there. Even though the official opening is foreseen in September, Yangon’s food-lovers were given a chance to try Kayan delicacies ahead of time.

The preview only lasted for two weeks and all tables were booked long in advance. Weekend was among the lucky ones.

Located in Thingangyun Township, across the Nga Moe Yeik Bridge, Vista Do Rio is unmissable with its ethnic lady wearing traditional dress, bronze rings and typical brass neck coil. Pass her little hut at the entrance, say hello, and she will lead you inside.

Your Kayan hostess is here for you not to get lost, and so are the waiters. If you never had Kayan food before, let them guide you through the menu, which is rich and diversified.

I had the chance to try Kayan cuisine before when I went to Loikaw in Kayah State in early January. Never missing an occasion to show off my knowledge, I confidently ordered the Ar Lu Mat Khar (potatoes mixed with spicy dried fruits) and the Dee Mot Soe (a dish made of fried corns and vegetables) for starter.

My partner and I opted for a pork curry with ginger and tea leaves called Wat Gin Laphet, together with pounded raw meat and Taung Yar Hin Cho, an authentic Kayan farmer’s soup.

We also ordered Kayan traditional millet-based juice and Khaung Yay, a liqueur served by the cup.

As we took our eyes off the menu, we began to check out the restaurant’s design. Each table was separated by a little hut, creating a cozy atmosphere. However, waiters apologized for the patchy mix of wooden and plastic chairs. They were quick to stress that everything will be ready for the grand opening and pointed to a couple of carpenters working hard to get all chairs matching by then.

Vista Do Rio (literally, “view on the river” in Portuguese) is ran by a group of native Kayans from Si Bu town. The chefs and waiters are from near-by Loikaw.

The staff definitely brought in some of their village’s warmth. “The chef works his magic in a few minutes, sister,” says our waiter, “and if it is not cooked to your taste, he will give it another go”. Chatty and witty, the restaurant’s team made us feel at home.

20 minutes later, our traditional Kayan dishes arrived and were placed in front of us. What I had in front of my eyes reminded me of my Kayan experience back in January. It was plain and simple, not overdone or unnecessarily decorated.

First, we dug into the Dee Mot Soe. The fried mix of colourful corn seeds with carrots and chilies was a pleasure for the eyes, but the whole dish could have been cooked a little longer for the vegetable to be slightly tenderer.

My Ar Lu Mat Khar lived up to expectations. These mini potatoes from Rakhine State are fried together with dried fruits. Not too oily, not too heavy, they make for a great side dish.

Pork curry with tea leaves is definitely one of my favourite dishes. Unfortunately, the ginger had a rather overwhelming taste and the sweetness of the tea leaves got completely lost. My partner loved this one, I passed. I was perhaps a bit prejudiced; as I have my own idea of what that dish should taste like.

As for the pounded raw meat, it’s rather peculiar. It is gamey and fleshy but a slice of lime always eases you into it.

The climax of the evening was the famers’ soup. The Taung Yar Hin Cho is nothing like your usual broth. Nothing is added to the boiled vegetables. It is earthy, fresh and genuine. Each vegetable plays its part. It is an enchantment, and makes you feel like you’re one with nature.

The rice we were served was very different from the one you usually have in your local restaurant. Grains are a little longer and have a brownish colour. Here again, it feet like the rice I enjoyed back in a small rural village in Kayah State.

The traditional liqueur, however, was very different from the one I experienced in Kayah State. The chef obviously had adapted it to urban taste. It was sweeter and colder, and a squirt of disappointment.

The finale started pretty well. We had ordered a small platter of sliced watermelons and apples, but our dessert was abruptly interrupted by the rain, so we took shelter inside the restaurant’s hall. (Much of Vista Do Rio is out in the open; I honestly wonder how management will handle rainy season.)

Overall, we had a very pleasant evening. The service was great and even though not all dishes passed with flying colors, major mistakes were avoided. However, if the food was Kayan-style, the price definitely was not. We spend a total of K-28600 for two guests.

As I left, I could hear my wallet weeping, and also my heart. The Longed-Neck Kayan lady lI saw at the entrance looked very lonely in her small hut. “Visitors don’t buy my clothes,” she said. (“This is not the reason why I go to the restaurant,” I thought to myself). “I miss my home and my village,” she added with a hurt smile while she looked at the crowd of Yangonites enjoying their meals.