Sunday, August 20, 2017

Yangon’s best curry?

At least once a week I find myself wanting a taste of home.

The unassuming entrance to 203. Photo - The Myanmar Times The unassuming entrance to 203. Photo - The Myanmar Times

The spices, smells and flavours of Yangon are very different to my home, which is approximately 13,000km across the Pacific Ocean. But I’m able to find a familiar, comforting feeling in the offering of 203 curry shop on 37th street.

In an unassuming restaurant wedged between two apartment buildings, a family team is serving up a variety of Myanmar traditional curries and salads. Everyone from businessmen to teenagers sporting mohawks to young couples come to this lunchtime favourite.

Throughout my many lunches at 203, a few dishes in particular have stood out.

Before trying the potato curry, I foolishly did not think much of the starchy vegetable, but that mindset was philistinic.

Curries glorious curries. Photo - The Myanmar TimesCurries glorious curries. Photo - The Myanmar Times

Here, the potato curry – borrowing flavour notes from the Indian subcontinent – is a stand-alone dish with its slightly spicy twang and coating in a thick, oily broth.

The other vegetables at 203 are also quite refreshing and a blessing for some like me, bordering on a folate deficiency.

For a lighter option, the steamed watercress with fragrant mushrooms offers an iron-filled respite from what could very well be an extremely oily meal. The green fried cauliflower and smashed lentils are both protein-packed with a slightly salty aftertaste.

But what truly sets 203 apart from the litany of roadside curry shops in Yangon, is its selection of meat curries.

The master of curries. Photo - The Myanmar TimesThe master of curries. Photo - The Myanmar Times

As soon as you enter the narrow shop, the curry display on the right shows an abundance of stewed and well-sauced meats including potato and mutton curry, egg curry, fish and fishcake curry, chicken curry, and an assortment of pork curries.

Most recently, I’ve been drawn to the pork curry with braised onions. Though the portions are small – typical of most teashop joints in Myanmar – the stewed pork with caramelised onions is a dish not to be missed.

The first bite of tender cooked meat and sweet oniony sauce remind me not only of brisket stews during Passover Seders (and yes, this Jew is knowingly breaking sacred law), but also of the iconic moment in Disney’s Ratatouille.

Towards the end of the film, the villainous food critic tastes the French vegetable stew cooked by the precocious rat protagonist and is so moved by the dish that he is instantly transported back to his provincial village, to his mother’s house, to his childhood.

Though I would not be as dramatic to say that I’ve had that same experience at 203, I would say I’m somewhere right on the edge of time travel.

In this casual restaurant, with its rotating circulation of fans, a delightful mum and dad team, and trays upon trays of delicious curries and salads still yet to be tried, I feel surprisingly and happily at home.

Though it is sometimes tough to secure a table during peak lunchtime hours (12pm - 1pm), I often find myself sitting knee to knee with other hungry and delighted strangers sharing the proverbial plate of raw, sliced cucumbers.

Comforts aside, 203 is also an extremely affordable lunch option. The other day my companion and I ordered seven dishes including one meat, five vegetables and a made-to-order bitter melon salad all for a whopping K4,000.

So, if you’re looking for a little comfort food that will neither break your wallet nor your belly, then 203 curry shop is the place to go.

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