While travelling around northern Burma in Pyin Oo Lwin, the city of flowers, we discovered an after-dark delicious secret
After a few days in the heady streets of Yangon I was literally choking for some fresh and clean air. And so, a short flight and one of the most perilous car journeys of my life later we arrived in Pyin Oo Lwin and breathed huge lungfuls of the cool air. Pyin Oo Lwin, once called Maymyo, was a hillstation built by the British for its rarefied air as a retreat from Mandalay. Now it’s known as the city of flowers for its manicured lawns and impeccable rose gardens that are interspersed among the huge colonial buildings.
Exploring the markets, lakes and farmlands by bicycle is serene and laid-back with much of the traffic slowing for the pony and traps that still operate in the area. Although the city has many merits, its cuisine is mainly focused on big restaurants serving a wide range of South East Asian, European and Chinese foods for the tourist market, which is always disappointing for the intrepid of palate. But it is just off the main road leading down to the market that, once a week, the most intriguing street-food market can be found. The market operates as a kind of al fresco restaurant strip, with tables and chairs underneath blue tarpaulins. The smell of charcoal fuses with the frying samosas and spices and it hums with activity. Families are here and there
squashed onto the ubiquitous child’s stools that you find all over Burma. People drive up on scooters to grab a plastic bag of noodles or dal and wheel away just as quick – in a country McDonalds has yet to infiltrate this is drive-through Burmese-style.The choice of food is overwhelming and so we flit like bees from flower to flower gathering puris at one stall samosas at another, silky smooth and turmeric yellow dal further down and dipping skewers of okra in a vat of hot oil placed in the middle of the table as a kind of Chinese-style fondue covered with Chinese sauce. My favourite discovery of the night, however, were small pancake-like disks of batter cooked in a special pan containing many holes like a small cupcake pan. These were fried over a charcoal burner and then topped with a quail’s egg or a delicious mix of chickpeas, chopped onion, coriander and lime juice. These were like moreish little canapés and I couldn’t get enough of them.
The night market’s biggest draw is that it is not a market for tourists, it’s where you’ll find many Burmese people kicking back with a beer, or some whiskey, and eating rice and noodles with family and friends – a wonderfully everyday food market to be a part of. We left on our bicycles with full bellies, excited by the many new foods we had discovered and wishing that this exciting Smorgasbord of a market occurred more than once a week.