When U Pho Lone arrived in Hamburg, Germany in 1983 as a young merchant seaman, he noticed a peculiar kind of restaurant that he had never seen before in his native Myanmar — a hamburger stand.
As Pho Lone travelled the world working on ships, the memory of his first hamburger stuck in his mind, and when he returned to Myanmar in 1986, he opened the country’s first burger stand on Inya Road.
He called the shop Maggi and used the character Snoopy from the Peanuts comic book franchise as his logo. Pho Lone says that opening the shop was really an attempt to keep himself and five other university friends out of trouble.
News of the small stand spread, and Maggie was reviewed by Barbara Crosette, an American journalist, author and former New York Times correspondent, as one of the only places to get a decent hamburger in Yangon.
The spirit of that original shop — little more than a bamboo hut by the roadside — lives on in the menu of the new family business, 3.14 Cafe on Insein Road, albeit with a number of twists.
Now Pho Lone’s son C Latt is the manager, and this Australia-educated re-pat has a slightly different vision for what he wants to see in the Yangon restaurant scene.
“When I came back to Yangon in 2016, I just couldn’t find what I wanted to eat,” the beanie-wearing young entrepreneur told me.
C Latt was used to a life on-the-go in Australia working for a busy energy trading company, and he looked for somewhere in Yangon where he could get a range of Western-style dishes.
In Australia, cafés offered brunch and meals, not just coffee, so C Latt hit upon the idea of opening a restaurant that would serve hamburgers, pies, and french fries, in addition to Myanmar’s famous Shan coffee.
“From the beginning I didn’t want to open a run-of-the-mill coffee shop,” he said.
And 3.14 Cafe is anything but “run-of-the-mill”.
The walls of the small storefront are completely covered in Pho Lone’s original artwork and signs, including license plates he collected during his travels, and a number of flags, many of which are the older versions of their nation’s emblem. At the back is a wall-sized portrait of Vladimir Lenin.
In contrast to the eccentricity of the decor, wife and mother Daw Noan is a beacon of seriousness and calm. Descendant from a judge to the Sawbwas of Kengtung, and having studied law herself, Noan keeps a watchful eye on the café, making sure everything runs smoothly and is up-to-snuff.
3.14’s menu features innovative attempts to fuse Western and Burmese food, while still staying true to the menu of the original burger stand that many older Yangonites remember.
There is the Burmese Boy (5,000 Ks), a cheeseburger featuring Australian beef, pickled tea leaves, and chickpea fritters, and there is also the “Burmese Girl”, the same, but spicier.
For Chinese New Year, C Latt is developing a new Malar curry burger that will incorporate the best elements of that much beloved Chinese dish.
But, for the less adventurous eater, there is always the delicious American cheese burger with a thin California-style griddled beef patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, homemade ketchup and mustard, all squeezed together in a soft, sesame-seed bun.
My mouth begins to water just thinking about it.
Address: Building 02, Room 004, Hlaing Thiri Housing Complex, Insein Road, Hlaing Township, Yangon
Tel: 09 952538715, 09 774852288, 09 252404517
Hours: 8am – 10pm
Facebook: 3.14 Cafe