Monday, July 24, 2017

A Bagan bargain

It's almost impossible to say just how many temples there are in Bagan.

The sizzling pork curry. Nandar Aung / The Myanmar TimesThe sizzling pork curry. Nandar Aung / The Myanmar Times

And it’s becoming equally hard to count the number of restaurants springing up around the historic site. Once the realm of kings and courts, Bagan has also become the realm of pizzerias and vegan bistros.

I’m a regular visitor to Bagan and each time the food is a highlight. So much so, that I’m always afraid of making a bad dinner choice.

So on a recent pre-Thingyan trip, my husband and I went with a safe bet: Novel Restaurant. We’d been before and left happy.

Novel Restaurant is located on the bustling Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4th Street. It sits among several other restaurants, bars, hotels and souvenir shops. Most nights, the area is buzzing with international and local visitors.

We were initially drawn to Novel Restaurant because of the prices. Yes, other nearby restaurants have a far more romantic atmosphere, but there’s nothing romantic about being broke after one dinner!

Also, several of these wallet-hitting restaurants mainly offer seafood – a curious choice in one of the country’s hottest, driest areas.

Novel Restaurant serves up a variety of Chinese, Thai and Myanmar food options and has a sizable beverage menu with seasonal juices, smoothies and various cocktails at reasonable prices.

We started with a refreshing mango juice (K 1,000) before moving on to the draught beer (a steal for the area at K 750).

Our first course was a spicy fried chicken (K 5,000) accompanied by a variety of skewered meats and vegetables (ranging from K 300 to K 1,000). There was nothing particularly “novel” about any of these (similar fare to a beer station in Yangon) but it was still a good beginning to the meal.

Next up came a giant, sizzling pork curry (K 7,000). It took about 20 minutes to prepare but we weren’t in a rush. The smell was delicious and the taste matched. The pork was mixed with different vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, beans, cauliflower and carrots. It was continuously heated thanks to a small charcoal stove.

I’m a fan of spicy food and this dish had just the right level of spice.

These charcoal curries – which come with rice and bread – seemed to be a popular choice for locals in the restaurant, with chicken, fish, prawn and vegetable varieties all on offer (prices range from K 7,000 to a more expensive K 15,000).

All the while, the staff offered excellent service. They were attentive and friendly.

Even though my husband and I only ordered two mains, we were very full by the end of dinner, especially thanks to the curry.

My advice to Bagan visitors looking for a satisfying meal? Go cheap and go local.  Novel Restaurant is a good spot to try this.