Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tried and tasted: Jana Mon Ethnic Cuisine

A quick note of admission: I almost didn’t write this review because, selfishly, I wanted to keep Jana Mona secret from the hordes that are sure to show up when it’s discovered. Consider this my good deed for the week.

Photos: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar TimesPhotos: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

My friends and I stumbled across this Mon ethnic restaurant when returning from Shwedagon Pagoda one day. The unique shop sign stood out against the usual beer-sponsored shop fronts just serving the regular dishes we know – oily noodles and greasy fried rice. I convinced my companions to give the restaurant a go and happily it panned out, saving me an evening of unrelenting ridicule and moaning from my friends.

Walking in, we were immediately greeted by an incredibly sweet waitress – who also happens to be the owner and chef –who was grinning from ear to ear. At Jana Mon you feel more like a dinner guest than a customer.

Turning our attention to the menu, we realised that none of us knew the first thing about Mon cuisine. Embarrassed by our ignorance, we asked the manager for recommendations. Asking us what kind of flavours we liked, he made some suggestions – even for our vegetarian friend.

Our group ordered eight dishes to share: lemongrass chicken patties, Mon spicy chicken, Mon beef, minced pork, banana leaf salad, papaya seaweed salad, “country styled” duck and vegetarian curry. My favourite was the duck and the banana leaf salad, which popped with flavours of lime, marian plum and chillies in a refreshing combination of spicy and sour. The salads make for perfectly sized starter dishes, preparing the taste buds for the upcoming entrees. The country-style duck also had a unique flavour that went beyond the traditional sour and spicy of Mon cuisine. Seasoned with what can best be described as a kind of Mon barbeque sauce, it was sweet, spicy and earthy-tasting. If only they would bottle the sauce, I’d flavour everything in my fridge with it.

As a fan of spicy food I enjoyed the Mon beef, though one of my friends found it to be a bit too firey. If you need to bring down the heat, I recommend the coconut rice.

The lemongrass patties came filled with fresh herbs, accompanied by a dipping sauce that had a refreshing kick. I rarely see eye-to-eye with my vegetarian friends when it comes to food but, if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to convert, at least I know I could happily resort to the vegetarian curry and banana leaf salad at Jana Mon.

Thankfully, I’m yet to find myself in such a position, so I wasn’t prevented from enjoying the minced pork, which was so good I could have eaten three more servings. Best of all, the dishes weren’t drenched in oil or MSG. They don’t serve alcohol, but there are plenty of fresh juices available – our favourite was the mango juice.

Service was a bit slow, but the food is well worth the wait and, besides, it somehow adds to the homey feel of the place – like you’re eating at a mate’s place rather than a restaurant. And at K25,000 all in for five, it feels like you’re getting the “mate’s rates” as well.

Jana Mon Ethnic Cuisine
114 Nandawon Street (off Yar Tar Shay Street), Bahan

Restaurant Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Food: 10
Service: 8
Drinks: 6
Value: 10
X Factor: 8

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