The downtown district of Yangon is an architectural history lesson of Myanmar’s past: aging fin de siècle buildings seem to transport one back to the 19th century, when the country was a British colony named Burma and its capital was Rangoon.
Modern-day Yangon is a bustling combination of street merchants, bicycles, and scooters; sidewalks are jammed with vendors offering a jumble of options from exotic fruit and deep-fried snacks to mobile phone accessories and men’s shoes. Vibrant as it all is, a dose of noisy street life and Yangon’s unrelenting heat and humidity leaves one feeling a laid-back escape (and some rehydration) is in order.
Walking up the slightly crooked, winding wood stairs, the bold black logo of Rangoon Tea House is an early indication that a thoroughly contemporary restaurant exists in the heart of the city’s historic business district. Spacious and cool, this second-floor restaurant is a streamlined mix of décor styles: a palette of black and white, with wood tables and a cream tufted banquette separating trendy 20-something couples and lively, business-clad expats from the open kitchen and bar, with vintage black and white Burmese films screening on the wall above it.
Opened by Htet Myet Oo in November 2014, Rangoon Tea House channels current trends, locally sourcing all ingredients and making all menu items from scratch. “We’re trying to refine Burmese cuisine, and raise the bar on tea shop dining,” says Myet Oo, who lived in England between the ages of four and 22, moving back to Myanmar in 2012. Having briefly worked with Yangon Heritage Trust preserving local architecture, when he changed paths and opened his restaurant, the choice to do so in a colonial-period building was only natural. The café’s atmosphere, however, is decidedly modern. Unlike the traditional tea houses, which are often dominated by male clientele, Myet Oo has created a space welcoming to women and travellers.
Take a seat in Rangoon Tea House and friendly servers swiftly provide chilled water and a lengthy menu of drink options and edibles; there are sixteen tea blends on offer, and illustrations show the ratio of condensed or steamed milk to tea. Taking the tradition of meeting for tea into the 21st century, this tea house offers breakfast, lunch, happy hour, and dinner, mixing traditional Burmese cuisine with tasty snack options such as aloo samosas, triple-cooked tofu chips, or bel thar mont, a duck-filled empanada.
Indulge in traditional mohinga, a slow-cooked spicy fish soup served with numerous tasty additions, such as rice noodles, hard boiled eggs, cilantro, pea fritters, fried onion, and deep-fried gourd. Other local must-haves are lahpet thoke (tea leaf salad) or nan gyi thoke (tossed noodle salad), while adventurous palates will delight in unconventional tastes, including chef Kyaw Thet’s ohn no kauk swe (spicy coconut milk noodles) or steamed buns stuffed with butterfish.
A small boutique at the entrance tempts those waiting for a table with stylish Rangoon Tea House kitchen accessories, house-made food products, and cookbooks. Feel free to linger; like all Yangon tea shops, there’s no need to rush through dining, and there’s always time for another cuppa.