|Written by Stephanie Mee|
|Wednesday, 25 March 2009|
Phnom Penh restaurants Irrawaddi and Win Myanmar offer a taste of Myanmar hospitality and cuisine with signature dishes that are bound to make your mouth water
The culinary tradition in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been influenced over the centuries by its bigger neighbours, and more recently, England and Bangladesh, and this has resulted in a medley of diverse dishes, all with a distinct twist.
Typical dishes in Myanmar range from many types of noodle and rice dishes, stir-fried vegetables and meats, curries, fresh and spicy salads, crispy fried fish, sweet sticky rice with shredded coconut, and all manners of soup.
"Most Burmese food is fresh, such as the salads, soups and fish dishes, although some fried dishes can be a bit spicy, oily and salty at times," said Cho Cho, former Yangon resident, and owner of Irrawaddi restaurant in Phnom Penh. "That's why we try to attune our dishes to the customer's tastes. We try to change them just a bit so that they suit everyone's palate."
Cho Cho estimates that there are about 200 Myanmar nationals residing in Phnom Penh, and her restaurant appears to be a home away from home for many, as well as an assortment of Western and Asian clientele.
With some 72 dishes on offer, the menu at Irrawaddi reads like a crash course in the flavours of the diverse regions of Myanmar, with such options as fried bamboo shoots with garden peas and a crispy onion topping, ginger salad, fried bitter gourd and tea leaf salad.
"Tea leaf salad is very special in Myanmar," said Cho Cho. "Whenever you go to someone's house to visit, the host will often serve tea leaf salad to the guests, along with hot tea."
The tea leaf salad, or le ptet thow, at Irrawaddi is a combination of mild, moist green tea leaves; crunchy white beans; tiny, salty, dried shrimp; fresh tomatoes; fragrant garlic; toasted sesame seeds and a few roasted peanuts for good measure, all tossed in a light oil dressing.
Another popular signature dish at Irrawadi is Hilsa fish. Hilsa is an oily fish rich in omega-three fatty acids that is found only in the Bay of Bengal, and a few rivers in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Cho Cho and her team at Irrawaddi import the fish from Myanmar and serve it piping hot and tender, in a rich stew of onions, lemongrass and gravy.
I want people to experience the authentic burmese style of hospitality.
"Most of the staff here is from Myanmar, and we have become like family," said Cho Cho. "At first they were nervous to serve people because they had no international serving experience, but I said to them: ‘Please maintain your own culture. Do what you did in your family, in your community,' I want people to experience the authentic style of hospitality."
Coming from a country that is renowned for its generous and welcoming treatment of guests, it is not surprising that the style of service at Irrawaddi is first rate, with no water glass falling below the halfway point nor a complimentary peanut dish remaining empty for long.
Win Myanmar is another restaurant in Phnom Penh that specialises in Myanmar cuisine, and although the atmosphere is not quite as cosy or visually stimulating as Irrawadi's, what they lack in decorative elements, they make up for in impeccable service and tasty Myanmar and Khmer cuisine.
Dishes at Win Myanmar include pork and chicken salads, catfish curry, Myanmar-style Biryani rice, and a special dish available every Sunday called mohinga.
Often called the national dish of Myanmar, mohinga varies from the north to the south of Myanmar, but a standard mohinga consists of rice vermicelli noodles in a thick fish soup, and contains garlic, onions, lemongrass, ginger, slices of banana tree stem, fish paste, chickpea powder and roasted catfish.
"Mohinga is typically a breakfast food, but can be eaten any time of day," said Soueng Vorn, a waiter at Win Myanmar. "We get many customers from Myanmar who come here for our mohinga special, and to sit and chat and enjoy their Sunday afternoon."
To enjoy the unique flavours of Myanmar in Phnom Penh head to Irrawaddi Myanmar restaurant, 24 Street 334 or Win Myanmar restaurant, 23 Street 110.