Global Bites without the Flights | Burmese Food at Cafe Mingala

Before I left New York last month, it was important to me to have one final Global Bites without the Flights (for the time being). I’ve somehow been lucky and loved all my Global Bites so far, but this one was extra special. On my first adventure of this whole “quitting my job to travel” thing I’ve gotten myself into, I’ll be spending the most time in Myanmar. Many people asked, “where?!” when I told them about my plans. It’s a country I admittedly didn’t know much about until recently, in Southeast Asia, bordered by India, Thailand, China, Bangladesh, and Laos. Right now, I’m only an hour away from there in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and heading there tomorrow afternoon.

For my last meetup with my NYC travel gals, Karissa and Katie and I went to Cafe Mingala on the Upper East Side to try out Burmese food. I’m using the adjective “Burmese” because Burma is the old name for Myanmar. The name was changed in 1989, though even the NBC correspondants said “We call it Burma” during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics earlier this month. Myanmar was also the original name from way back in the day before it was called Burma. As far as I know, there’s no adjective derived from “Myanmar” that fits. I’ll let you know if I hear otherwise.
Cafe Mingala is the ONLY Burmese restaurant in New York City and I was so excited to try it out that I wasn’t even annoyed when it was pouring straight-up buckets on the date and time we planned to meet up. I suppose it may have been a sign of things to come as I decided to visit during monsoon season. I later learned that Mingala means “hello” in Myanmar. Cafe Mingala is decorated with murals of the pictures I’ve seen in my guidebook and when I walked in I somehow felt at home already.
When I was looking up what we should order, as I always do, by reading the Wikipedia page for whatever cuisine I’m eating, I found a few fun tidbits. In Myanmar, the oldest generation is served first but if none are around, a scoop of rice is set aside in tribute to one’s parents. Some believe if you are pregnant, you should not eat chili as it could reduce the amount of scalp hairs on your child’s head. I also learned that the way to get a server’s attention in Myanmar is to make kissy sounds. This will take some getting used to for sure, as I normally associate kissy sounds with men trying to get women’s attention on the street or people being annoyingly in love on the subway.
We did not make kissy sounds to our waiter, although he *was* adorable. He asked if we were all sisters even though we look not a thing alike. We ordered Myanmar beer which I later saw Anthony Bordain drinking on Parts Unknown, so it was a decent choice.
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After discussing how none of us like vegetables or salad enough (I personally think my body doesn’t require vegetables, but that’s a tale for another time), we forwent the Pickled Green Tea Leaf Salad {marinated green tea leaves mixed with sesame seeds, toasted garlic, tomato, lettuce, cabbage, peanuts, and lemon twist}, even though it was highly recommended on Yelp.
Instead, we decided to share Myanmar’s signature dish, Mohinga {thin rice noodles with minced fish, lemon grass, boiled eggs, lemon, and coriander, in a delicious fish sauce}, an order of Rangoon Night Noodles {fresh egg noodles with tender boiled duck in light garlic sauce topped with scallion and crispy sweet onions}, and sides of Thousand Layer Bread, Thin Naan Bread, and Coconut Rice.
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As soon as I took the first bite of the Rangoon Night Noodles, I knew I’d be just fine dining in Myanmar for a few weeks. I should have known by the description on the menu – I mean, egg noodles are my favorite, garlic is my favorite, duck is one of my favorites – we can’t go wrong here. This is what you could find at the famous Rangoon (the old name for Yangon) Night Market, for probably around $1-3 US. I will probably eat them 25 out of my 27 nights.
The Thousand Layer Bread did not have exactly 1,000 layers but was incredible. It tasted like a pancake but like the best, fluffiest, thickest pancake in town. It needed no syrup. The Thin Naan Bread and the Coconut Rice were delicious, as expected, as I’ve had plenty of both before.
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I wasn’t sure about the Mohinga because of the fish aspect. I live for shellfish but *fish* fish I’m usually fine with just a bite or two, unless it’s raw tuna in poké or sushi or canned tuna with mayo and saltines. The noodles and the fish sauce were separate from the fixings and we were supposed to mix it up ourselves, which was fun to try different combinations. The dish was definitely was not as fishy as I was expecting, but I’m still not sure it will be my go-to. Mohinga is also a traditional breakfast dish. We’re so used to cereal and pastries in America as our first meals of the day, but there are fewer rules elsewhere as to when you can eat what.
At this point in my trip, my next dinner will be in Myanmar – which seems crazy to be saying after all this time of thinking about it, especially after my meal at Cafe Mingala. I cannot wait.
xx
{Descriptions in brackets are from Cafe Mingala’s menu.}

7 Responses

  1. As you probably learned in Myanmar, the food is much different than what is prepared at Cafe Mingala. If you miss it and return to NYC, try to time your visit with one of many Myanma events that take place for festivals and/or fundraising. There is always lots of food, and it is the best chance to eat the most delicious home-cooked Myanma food. There are about six from May to October, by my quick count. (And “Myanma” is the demonym of Myanmar by the way 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. grjared27

    As you probably learned in Myanmar, the food is much different than what is prepared at Cafe Mingala. If you miss it and return to NYC, try to time your visit with one of many Myanma events that take place for festivals and/or fundraising. There is always lots of food, and it is the best chance to eat the most delicious home-cooked Myanma food. There are about six from May to October, by my quick count. (And “Myanma” is the demonym of Myanmar by the way 🙂 )

    Like

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