What better way to get to know a new country than by exploring its cuisine, followed by its streets.
We emerge from the calm bubble of our hotel roomd into the hazy evening street life of Yangon, in search of the Danuphyu Daw Saw Yi restaurant pictured above, and our first real taste of Burmese food.
We navigate the dusty streets that are crowded but not chaotic. We pass the gossiping customers of many a local tea house, crouched on filthy childlike plastic chairs, catching up on the day’s happenings. We pass choruses of children playing ball in narrow lanes, while their mothers watch on from their apartment stoops. We shuffle past stall after stall, peddling all manner of wares from calls on a phone attached to a desk, to unidentifiable foods that people clamour for. It’s clear that life in Yangon is an outdoor affair.
We’re concentrating so intently on not tripping on unfinished pavement – commonly found around Yangon – that we barely notice we’ve arrived at the restaurant until we are herded in by a line up of eager young waiters. They pull us in the direction of the hot counter, rattling off a series of dishes and patiently waiting while we make our selection.
And what a selection it is. The dishes arrive on our table one after the other. A vegetable broth, the hearty, nourishing stuff your body cries out for when you’re ill. A silky Thai-like fish curry. A rich beef curry. An aromatic chicken curry. A spicy, flaky fish mixture. Fudge style sweets unceremoniously boxed up in a Tupperware container which we help ourselves from. Washed down with Myanmar beer, it all comes to less than $8 US a head.
We step back onto the street, where life outside picks up where we left it. A group of teenagers has commandeered an entire lane of a busy road and transformed it into an outdoor rollerskating rink, complete with tinny pop tunes blaring from their phones. They expertly manoeuvre up and down a line of upturned paper cups, backwards, forwards, sideways, their feet making swift ribbon like figure eights.
The street food stalls show no signs of slowing down, with grilled meat, soups,curries, rice and Burmese pancakes still for sale. We attract the attention of an irresistible trio of street urchins, and like suckers, we buy no less than 10 postcards from them. They are just as eager to practice their English as they are for a quick sale. “Where you from?” they chorus with big grins.
The younger two are sporting yellow face paint, the kind we then notice on many local people from that moment on – some with full faces, some just on both cheeks. We’re not sure what it’s for, but we smile at each one we see.