Tea Shops of Yangon
In our part one of this series we told you about our favorite evening options for local Burmese food. But why should you wait for dinner to enjoy some Burmese delicacies?! From breakfast to afternoon snack, tea shops are the place to sit if you need a break in a busy sightseeing day or if you just want to sit and have a relaxing afternoon.
Whether tucked in to a neighborhood ally, on a busy street in Yangon, a long line of tables on the sidewalk or a spacious open space on the riverside, tea shops all have the same recognizable features: small tables crowded next to each other, colorful plastic stools, background noise of a bustling kitchen and an ongoing ballet of waiters carrying trays full of steaming cups and mouth-watering snacks.
Every Burmese – old and young, man and woman, from all religions and social categories – meets in tea shops for a quick breakfast before work or an afternoon break to discuss the latest news and gossip. Of course, what makes the tea shops so special is the Burmese tea or lahpet-yeh. This delicious, traditional beverage consists of black tea mixed with condensed milk and evaporated milk. As simple as it sounds, the preparation is actually an art and is quite entertaining to watch! The “tea master” grabs a big pot of boiling dark tea on the stove and pours the hot beverage in a smaller pot adding condensed milk and evaporated milk for the sweetness. With dexterity, he then transfers the mix to another receptacle, then back into the first pot and repeats several times to make sure it is perfectly blended. He then fills a bunch of small cups and starts again with another batch as the first cups are already taken away by the waiters. The result is an extra sweet, caramel-colored beverage that will let you want more! Be sure to specify- if your language skills allow- the level of sweetness you desire! Coffee lovers, for their part, may be frustrated as their only choice is often instant coffee.
The food menu, on the other hand, should please everyone as it offers an array of delicious snacks from salty dishes to sweet treats: sticky rice with toasted sesame seeds, fried pancakes, varieties of fried rice and fried noodles, dumplings, mohingya – the Burmese national breakfast dish, samosas, ei char kway (long stick of fried dough), among others. Some tea shops even have their own specialties according to the neighborhood or the city they are settled in. Depending on your geographic location in Myanmar you may find Shan noodles, Chinese-style dumplings or traditional Muslim sweets.
Even though satisfying your hunger is what will bring you to a tea shop; it is not only about the food. It is often the atmosphere that foreigners often remember the most: local and friendly. On your small table, next to a roll of toilet paper in a plastic box, you will always find a tray of small cups and free green tea in big thermos. You can buy cigarettes by the unit and shared lighters are attached to the table with cables or are embedded in concrete in a cut aluminum can. We have sat in more than our share of tea shops around Myanmar and can testify: the setting may not be fancy, but the experience is always enjoyable.
A good meal, a local experience and a cheap bill! We can guarantee that after one adventurous tea shop visit you will be on the look-out for the next!
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