Thursday, September 21, 2017

In Yangon, the greatest roast duck ever

Palai Kywe Restaurant in Yangon. Ma Thanegi / The Myanmar TimesPalai Kywe Restaurant in Yangon. Ma Thanegi / The Myanmar Times

Cool breezes are beginning to float here and there in the mornings, a sure sign that travellers both native born and foreign are going to drift this way soon, if they are not here already.

Knowing my friends and family, they’ll be demanding to know where to get the best mohinga, coconut noodles or athoke salads, as well as the copper-pot Chinese noodles that can only be found in Myanmar.

There are plenty of shops offering excellent versions of these dishes, and with each person having their own favourites, I know it would be wise to avoid getting into the middle of a mohinga or copper-pot war, as I naively did several years ago.

However, duck is another thing; roast duck, that is. And the best that I, my friends and regular visitors-from-afar have ever eaten — anywhere — can be found at Palai Kywe Restaurant, a small, friendly place on the lower block of Bo Aung Kyaw Street in Yangon.

Their roast duck is seventh-heaven good. You know you are in for a treat from the moment it appears at the table on a large, oval platter, the meat cut into pieces and wafting a warm, mouth-watering aroma. Diners usually fall silent, munching reverently into the crisp and aromatic skin, and inwards to the sweet and succulent flesh.

The name Palai Kywe means “Bountiful Pearl” but it is not easy for non-Burmese speakers to pronounce, so for easier understanding the restaurant is often referred to as PK.

Or, as our group of fans calls it, Our Duck Place. This “our” is a fast-growing club of dedicated eaters: Members from Munich to Hong Kong to London to Los Angeles to New York to Sydney insist on “our roast duck”.

When our group of diners consists of only two or three people, we usually settle for plain rice, half a roast duck (the minimum order) and a small serving of grilled ribs that fall off the bone in their tenderness. With ice-cold beer or lime juice, of course.

Vegetables we postpone for meals on the following days in favour of relishing the unhealthy but oh-so-delicious fare. If we feel too guilty regarding the fat and meat we are about to wolf down, we might order fried rice with seafood and pineapple, for surely pineapple is tart and juicy, and must be good for us.

If our group is big, we go whole-hog and order two or three ducks  (for six people, two ducks is necessary) and the ribs plus fried noodles, crispy fried sea bass, and sweet-fleshed steamed lemon fish or succulent chicken with lemon honey sauce.

Another option is a huge piece of a stewed pork arm, tender and sweet. For fancy fare there is fish fried so that the skin rises separate and crisp, as well as yadana (treasure) steamed duck, which is stuffed with four kinds of seafood: lobster, crabmeat, featherfish (nga hpei) cakes and squid.

To give a nod to health we also include a variety of great vegetable dishes, including stir fried or steamed kailan or bok choi greens. They are so exquisitely and perfectly prepared that the stalks look like they are made of the best translucent jade. Works of art, I swear, but pitted against roast duck, they have no chance to shine.

The fried rice at Palai Kywe has a slight smoky flavour reminiscent of 1960s Chinatown, which for me is the final authentic touch that makes it the best in town. Their fried noodles are served with a perfect blend of gravy, vegetables and tender meat tucked between thick, round strands of firm egg noodles.

For dinner or late lunch it’s best to order ahead or else risk being disappointed. When this happened once to my friend Gabriele and me, we had a fit of hysterics right then and there. Not a pretty sight, I can tell you, two mature ladies dressed to the nines and shrieking for duck.

Fortunately, our group of dedicated duck lovers has so far never had to fight over the last roast duck of the day with other customers, but be warned: If it happens, we won’t easily surrender and we will take no prisoners. Not when it’s about the greatest little roast duck, ever.

Prices are reasonable at Palai Kywe Restaurant, the friendly waiters offer excellent service and are understandably proud of their offerings, the drinks are ice-cold, and the air-conditioning more than adequate.

Palai Kywe Restaurant is located on the lower block of Bo Aung Kyaw Street, across the street from the General Post Office and near the junction with Strand Road.

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