My favourite part of travelling is exploring regional food in different areas. Myanmar is very diverse and colourful yet each province has one or two unique dishes influenced by its native herbs, meat and climate.
Sampan Travel is one of the leading travel agencies in Yangon. They have upped their game for the upcoming peak season with the latest initiative “Sampan’s Supper Club”. The purpose is to let the club members taste the regional cuisine, learn its origins and of course make new friends.
The first event was arranged at Pansodan Scene, an old and artsy café, in the afternoon of 20 Oct. Both fresh and established F&B brands bring their best products to the table with the attendance of about 30 people including media representatives.
The first course is Aloo Katileik (potato cutlets) and served by Saba Street Food Tours. The cutlets are stuffed with minced mutton and spices. Potato cutlet is a very simple and low-key snack you can find at almost every tea shop. But the trick here is the lemon juice mixed with ground seasoning herbs sprinkled on the cutlets. The juice makes it less cloying and brings out the savoury taste of the mutton inside. A really appetising appetiser, I’d say.
TT’s Kitchen, the Kayah restaurant, shines with its traditional pork sausages. The bite-size cuts are to pair with Makah powder and cucumber salad. Kayah State is one of the coldest regions in Myanmar so hot Makah powder is omnipresent in the traditional dishes. It gives tingling sensation and is not as hot as conventional pepper. With strong and sour Kayah whiskey (or Khaung Ye), the room becomes steamier and livelier.
The main dishes, prepared by the host Pansodan Scene itself, came on the tables. The owner of the restaurant is from Anyer, or upper Myanmar. This dry zone is characterised by its abundant peas, beans and pulses, earning the title “cooking oil barrel of the country”. Beans serve as either a main dish or side in these towns besides being milled for edible oils. Pansodan Scene reflects this gastronomic identity in its fermented black bean salad and steamed rice served with vermicelli soup and fermented sesame pulp salad.
You might have known dark pasty black bean salad as Pone ye gyi. Myanmar people love to eat this as a side or main by mixing it with fresh onion rings. It is often cooked with pork belly since its tartness and pork fat match very well. But the story worth telling here is sesame pulp salad which is called Nan bat chin. People in dry zone often struggle with droughts and food scarcity. So, they try to make the most of every food source at their disposal. After grinding sesame seeds for oil, the resulting pulp is fermented for later consumption. Instead of throwing the pulp away as trash, they create food out of it!
The second is cooked by Jana Mon, a restaurant already well known for its authentic Mon cuisine. The owner Ma Shan Mu herself prepares the steamed sea bass with vegetables packed in a banana leaf and long bean salad. The standout feature of Mon dishes is minimal to no use of cooking oil. The rich taste of boneless fish is complemented by half a dozen fresh vegetables including bamboo shoots, banana blossoms and carrot. As Makah powder is ubiquitous to Kayah food, so is lemongrass to Mon cuisine. The long bean salad is assorted with dried plums to ease the rich taste of steamed fish. As a dessert, they serve coconut milk with sago seeds.
After the meals, the diners socialise with the tea introduced by Maw Shan. It is a generations-old tea leaf and pickled tea business based in Pindaya, Shan State. They serve a less-caffeinated variation of traditional black tea which is a result of rolling the tea leaves for hours. Tree Food, a brainchild of Myanmar entrepreneur Cho Lei Aung, provides jaggery to pair with the tea.
In all, Sampan Supper Club is an event where you can expand your horizons. The representatives of each participating restaurant explain about the origins of the food they serve – so both culturally and gastronomically enriching occasion. My only suggestion, here, is to make options for vegetarians and pescetarians at future events if they are considering to plan further occasion. I overheard some attendees, saying they cannot taste all the dishes because of their special diets. Inclusiveness is always welcome!
Level 4, 99 Condo A-B
Dhamazedi Road, Kamayut Township, Yangon
+95 (0) 1 503504