Ok so it’s about time that we wrote about Rangoon Tea House.
We’ve held off for so many reasons. Part of the impetuous for writing this blog was to celebrate some of the lesser known but delicious eateries Yangon had to offer.
And let’s be honest if you live, visiting or just travelling through Yangon, you should know about RTH.
But after many, many visits sampling the many things they have to offer, it’s become undeniable that Rangoon Tea House is one of our favourite all round restaurant in Yangon.
Of course we’ve got our go to places for comforting bowls of noodles, fresh and nutty salads, fiery Kachin dishes, fragrant Mon curries etc. etc. But in terms of overall experience, menu choice, quality of ingredients and cooking, it’s at the top of our list.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s the easiest way to acclimatise newcomers to Burmese food, becoming our go to spot to introduce visitors to some of the culinary gems Myanmar has to offer.
Tea Shop Culture
But before we dive into our menu recommendations, a word (or many) about tea shops in Myanmar.
Typically open-air joints, featuring small plastic stools and rickety wooden tables, tea shops have historically served as much more than just a place to get a cuppa. They’re an institution.
For years it was the place to discuss current affairs, albeit in quiet tones for fear of having controversial intellectual and political discussions overheard by unsavoury types. But not all tea shop discussions are serious – gossip and football chat are also mainstays.
With the advent of a democratic transition and opening up of internet access to the wider public, tea shop visitors have other sources of news, and discussions can be held much more widely and publicly. Still, tea shops remain at the centre of social interaction for many. So it’s only fair that the food offered up is up to scratch.
Reflecting Myanmar’s geographical and cultural history, tea shops feature a distinct medley of Burmese, Indian and Chinese dishes. You can legitimately munch on roti and daal, while lapping up mohinga noodles in between mouthfuls of Chinese buns.
This hit home the moment we saw chaw gway (deep fried dough sticks) in our local teashop. Growing up, we’d only known them as ‘yow chap gwei’ in Hong Kong, which are typically served alongside bowls of rice congee. Here in Myanmar the habit is more to dip the sticks into cups of sweet tea, soaking up the sugary condensed milk, offering up a perfectly savoury and sweet mouthful.
Which brings us to the tea. With dozens of different variations (featuring different ratios and strengths of tea, condensed milk and evaporated milk), knowing your preference is just as important as knowing how you like your eggs done. Ours are pawt saint (creamy and less sweet) and pawt kya (strong and less sweet).
It’s clear that Rangoon Tea House offers a different experience from a road side tea shop (like Min Myanmar, and other reviews to come!). But the dishes and drinks are firmly rooted in the same food tradition. And while tea shop dishes can veer on the oily side, RTH offers slightly lighter fare.
With that out of the way….
Our top five dishes
1) Laphet Thoke – Pickled Tea Leaf Salad
Hands down, the best tea leaf salad we’ve had in Myanmar. It’s also the prettiest.
But it’s not the aesthetics that swings it for us. RTH’s laphet thoke boasts the most perfectly fried mixture of nuts, broad beans and garlic, offering a satisfying crunch with every bite. With expertly judged balance of ingredients and flavours, it’s the mainstay of our order during every visit.
Top tip: if you like a bit of spice – but not too much – we recommend ordering one of the spicy version, and one of the non-spicy, and mix the whole lot together. Yes, it may seem excessive to order two plates, but you’ll probably finish it, and you’ll definitely enjoy it.
2) Samosas (and samosa salad)
Straight up, these samosas are the crispiest, most delectable samosas we’ve tried. In line with RTH’s desire to serve up healthier versions of Myanmar tea shop staples, they impart almost no lingering greasiness, almost letting you forget its deep fried origins. The mutton’s our personal fav, but the potato versions are almost just as good.
And then of course the samosa salad is correspondingly delicious. Featuring smaller chunks of samosas, doused in a lentil broth and accompanied by a nominal amount of cabbage, it’s a hearty delight. Our preference still leans a bit towards to plain samosas as they can lose a bit of their crunch in the soup, but it’s always nice to have some variation.
3) Grilled butterfish
Surrounded by such bold classic Myanmar teashop staples, this humble butterfish can almost get lost in the crowd.
But marinated in some of our favourite ingredients (lemongrass, chilli and lime) and perfectly grilled, it’s deliciously tender and flavourful.
4) Nan gyi thoke
In a country of an abundance of delicious noodle dishes, nan gyi thoke is still one of the standouts. While our favourite rendition to date is all the way in Bagan, Rangoon Tea House serves up a pretty top-notch version.
Tender earthy morsels of liver paired beautifully with the thick bouncy noodles coated in gravy. Topped with crunchy quaver-like crisps and fresh herbs, it’s a deeply satisfying bowl.
Amongst our friends this is a controversial choice. Possibly because everyone has their preferred type of mohinga – thick or watery; heavy in fish flavour or less fishy, etc. More probably is because of the price difference compared to any other tea shop or street side rendition.
But plenty of other more upmarket restaurants serve marked up versions of humble food (Pandomar, Pansuriya, House of Memories.. shall we go on?). But RTH gets the most flack for it, and mostly for their mohinga.
Controversy aside, this mohinga is excellent. Slightly on the thicker side, it isn’t overly ‘fishy’ in flavour, but features succulent morsels of sweet fish flesh. And ordered the form of a full set, the array of tempura-like fried treats elevate this humble dish.
But there’s much more to the menu than noodles, tea leaf salad and grilled fish. In regular rotation are a number of equally innovative and traditional dishes:
- Chocolate samosas with ice cream. Soooo indulgent. The main challenge is remembering to leave room for dessert in the first place.
- Spiced pepper squid. Crispy and well spiced, it puts most calamari to shame.
- Soft shall crab. When is soft shell crab not delicious? Extra points though to the delicately balanced salad version.
- Biryani. Deepy fragrant, flavourful and satisfying. Served with a naan covering, slowly unveiled to unleash a wave of fragrant steam.
- Duck empanadas. Crisp pastry with tender duck filling. A worthy substitute if you ever grow tired of the samosas.
What to skip
We’ve sung their praises, but for us, not everything at Rangoon Tea House is universally tasty. We’ve never encountered anything bad. But some just can’t compare to the other delicious offerings. And then there are others that are made better in other restaurants and – let’s be honest – at a cheaper price.
On the list include:
- Wheat noodles with pork ribs – disappointingly bland
- Grilled eggplant salad – we’ve seen much better in other tea shops and restaurants, particularly at Jing Hpaw Myay Kachin Restaurant.
- Grilled pork neck – slightly dry and tough
- Tofu salad – let’s be honest, does anything compare to the tofu salad at 999 Shan Noodles?
Drinks – 16 types of tea??
And of course, being a Tea House, we would be remiss to ignore the tea, and wider drink selection.
Rangoon Tea House offers a wide range of tea combinations (alluded to above). Luckily for a tea novice, they’re depicted in handy infographic form, so you can select one you deem most appropriate to your taste buds. In our experience they’re all excellent, both in hot or iced form.
If you’re looking for something a little less caffeinated, the coconut water drinks are possibly the most refreshing liquid we’ve ever consumed. We recommend the pineapple or watermelon versions – they have the potential to make you feel instantly healthier after just a few sips.
and the space?
Atmosphere wise, we have a preference for the previous location, just next door – the high ceilings with swirling fans just had such a nice atmosphere. We’ve heard that soaring rental prices prompted the move. Suffice to say the new location is fine, with the more accessible ground floor entrance to boot.
Rangoon Tea House
Price: Around 4,000 – 10,000 MMK per person depending on what and how much you consume
Must orders: anything in the top 5 list, and most of the honorable mentions!
Good for: New visitors to Yangon, but also pretty much everyone else
Address: Ground Floor, 77-79 Pansodan Rd (Lower Middle Block), Yangon