Thursday, July 27, 2017

Yangon’s best Kachin food demands overindulgence

There are a couple of inexpensive restaurants in Yangon where the food is so good that, despite constant cravings, I can only bring myself to visit once a month. This is because every time I go to these places, I tend to lose all sense of self-control and end up eating way more than I should.

One of Jing Hpaw Myay’s beef treats. Photos: Douglas LongOne of Jing Hpaw Myay’s beef treats. Photos: Douglas Long

One of these gluttony-inducing establishments is Jing Hpaw Myay, which is easily the best Kachin restaurant in the city. Located on a side street just off Bargayar Road in Sanchaung township, the venue is small and no-frills – just a dining room with a few tables, plus photographs of Kachin State hanging on the walls – but the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming.

However, it’s the food that is the big draw. The foundation of every meal I eat at Jing Hpaw Myay is shat jam (K1600), a type of Kachin steamed rice deliciously flavoured with chicken, vegetables and special herbs imported from Myanmar’s far north. An order of shat jam could constitute a meal in and of itself, but that wouldn’t be conducive to massive overindulgence, would it?

Inevitably, I also order the steamed fish with banana leaves (K1500), typically made using carp that has been marinated in a pesto-like mixture of acacia leaves, coriander, basil, chilli, ginger, garlic, peanut oil and soy bean paste. The fish is then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for about 20 minutes, resulting in an irresistibly spicy treat.

Beef, in one form or another, also usually figures into my personal Jing Hpaw Myay equation, either dried pounded beef with garlic and ginger (K1500) or shredded beef with raw garlic slices and green chillies (K1500). The latter dish has a much stronger flavour, but the chillies can be left out if you don’t like spicy foods.

Vegetables? The Kachin-style mashed potatoes (K2500) are excellent, but don’t expect fluffy, creamy Western-style potatoes; these are dense, gluey and very filling.

For something a bit different, try the tomato and rock ginger salad (K2000), which is extremely tangy, even pleasantly medicinal.

The ginger grows wild on dripping-wet rocks in the forests of Kachin State and is brought down to Yangon specially for the salad. The rock water is said by locals to harbour the perfect pH balance for promoting good health, immunity and longevity – according to Kachin folklore, Queen Victoria, upon hearing about these properties, had the water bottled and sent to her in England.

The drink selection at Jing Hpaw Myay is fairly typical of Yangon restaurants, including soft drinks and beer. But one special treat is Kachin rice wine (K1200), which is pinkish in colour and served in bamboo cups. This is not the painfully strong rice wine found in Chinese restaurants or in Shan State; it actually boasts a discernibly pleasing taste, and makes a fine accompaniment to any Kachin meal.

Jing Hpaw Myay

2B Kyun Taw Street, Sanchaung township, Yangon

Tel 01-524-525, 09-420247034

Food: 10

Drink: 8

Service: 8

Atmosphere: 8

X-factor: 8

Value for money: 10

Total Score: 8.7/10