By Stuart Alan Becker
For a delicate western palate in Mandalay at breakfast, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than Unique Mandalay which is rapidly becoming Mandalay’s morning social venue to see and be seen.For 700 kyats you can have the egg and banana paratha, served on a white platter — dipping the rectangular pieces in the granular sugar provided.Washed down with a hot latte, the Mandalay breakfast is satisfying and will ease the foreigner gently and comfortably into the world of Myanmar breakfast and lunch.When owners Zayar Aung and his father first discussed how they could create a new restaurant in Mandalay that would work — they surveyed the many hundreds of tea shops that serve the traditional mohinga Myanmar breakfast soup with fish and noodles.
By the time they opened nine months ago in January, they had decided to make it impeccably clean and were really fussy about the big white rectangular platters they used and how they presented the food.
“At a lot of the tea shops around Mandalay, people can smoke and they’re not so good for families and children,” Zayar Aung said. “Here, we have an emphasis on making the atmosphere comfortable for families and girls. There’s no smoking inside, but people can smoke outside.
”The Unique Mandalay tea room is open every day from 6 am to 6 pm — specializing in breakfast and lunch.“A lot of times when girls go to the tea shop, all the eyes look at them. Here we make an emphasis on having a comfortable area for girls — and we focus on hygienic food.”A glance around the main dining room reveals groups of ladies, families and children — including Chinese families.The uniqueness of their mohinga — the breakfast soup with fish and banana plant cuttings — is that the rice noodles, fried gourd, fish cake and deep fried onions are served on the platter as part of the presentation, enabling customers to place the ingredients in the soup themselves.“We focus on the presentation. We have to compete with other tea shops so we have to be different. Hygiene and the quality of our ingredients are both very important.With 60 employees and a busy kitchen, Zayar Aung is proud to see foreigners coming in to try Burmese food.He studied computer engineering in Singapore — but is happy to be back with his father taking care of a busy new venture.“When we thought about what we should have, we knew a restaurant was a pretty good business and we analysed so many coffee shops and thought — what about a tea shop?”“We knew that if we opened a regular tea shop, we would not be successful, so we upgraded from a local tea shop into a modern tea shop. Everything we use — the plates, spoons and bowls are expensive like the type used in fine hotels. People love it,” Zayar Aung said.The origin of the food is both Burmese and Indian.“My favorite is the Moe Shay, which consists of rice noodles which are a bit thick — with chicken and beans inside.”
Because of their success, which is evident in the faces of the customers that crowd the place in the busy morning time from 8 to 10 am — plans are already in the works to open another shop of the same type in Mandalay — on Mandalay’s fast-growing south side.“At first we didn’t expect so many people because we were a bit pricey — but our expectation was wrong — we had so many people.”Another offering is Pwin Oo Lwin brewed coffee for 2,000 kyats.Zayar Aung’s other passion is introducing Burmese food to foreigners.“Foreigners are afraid to try Burmese food. When I met my foreigner friends and they said they are afraid to have a stomach ache later. Everything here is very fresh and good. After they try it they love it. If you want to have a lunch you can choose tea salad, chicken curry, mutton curry, fried chicken, chocolate cake, and we have durian cake as well as chocolate cupcakes.”There are traditional Myanmar puppets hanging on the wall and a special shelf with items including a football sent over from Birmingham, England, by his brother Chris who his studying business management there.“We’re not afraid and we just focus on the customer and the service. It is like a community here and people come to sit and have tea every morning.”Unique Mandalay Tea Room is located on Street 70 in Mandalay, just next to the well known Koffee Korner.