A Burmese restaurant that serves ah nyar-style food, a simple cuisine from the ah nyar region in Upper Myanmar, has gone viral among Yangon foodies because of its environmentally friendly takeaway food policy and ah nyar-style fried chicken.
Tha Gyi Thamee, meaning “daughter of the village leader,” has a limited set menu with just a few choices, including ah nyar-style fried chicken, fried mutton, Pathein homemade fried sausage, baked dried fish, nan gyi thoke rice noodle salad, laphet thoke tea leaf salad and similar fried and homemade items.
The restaurant opened in the middle of 2019 with the idea to be a little more health conscious.
“I have a kid and his favorite dish is fried chicken—he always asks for fried chicken. If we have free time, we can cook for him at home. But if not, we have to buy from a fast food store or other restaurants,” said Ma Kay Thi Myint, owner of Tha Gyi Thamee. “As you know, when eating out the food isn’t always good. They use monosodium glutamate [MSG] and we all know that fried items aren’t healthy. But if we use good oil and don’t use MSG, we can eat fried items safely.”
“There might be other people like us who would like to eat fried food with pure peanut oil, like homemade meals,” she added. “So we started the Tha Gyi Thamee project with the concept of simple fried chicken but made to be premium quality.”
Their target customers are mostly children, families and people who don’t like to eat rice with oily curry.
“Before the restaurant opened, we took one year to practice techniques, like how to fry meat using a less oily method, how many times we can reuse the oil and the most important thing: how to pack the takeaway items,” said Ma Kay Thi Myint.
She wants to bring back the old-school takeaway system where the customers bring their own boxes, or use recycled and upcycled materials.
“The main motivation was that I want to reduce plastic use. Then I got an idea from my cousin to use htan gau hpa, a four-cornered basket with a removable cover, woven with strips from the stalks of palmyra palm fronds,” she said.
So Ma Kay Thi Myint traveled to Upper Myanmar and went from village to village to find htan gau hpa.
“Luckily I found a supplier but they can easily get moldy, so I needed to find a way to preserve them safely. One of my friends has a bamboo chopstick warehouse and I found a way to steam htan gau hpa but it still failed,” Ma Kay Thi Myint explained.
Finally, she found the solution: to seal the htan gau pha using biodegradable plastic to protect them from moisture.
“Then, we can keep all the htan gau pha boxes for a long time,” she said.Guests can buy recycled takeaway boxes and peanut oil used at Tha Gyi Thamee at the shop. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy
On the day my friend and I visited Tha Gyi Thamee, we arrived around 2 p.m. without having eaten lunch. The smell from the kitchen made us hungrier as we ordered ah nyar fried chicken, fried mutton, Pathein chicken sausages, tea leaf salad and two peanut oil rice dishes with yellow peas.
As the food was cooked to order and arrived from the kitchen, the smell of peanut oil mixed into the rice was very good—guests can buy the oil at the restaurant too.
All the fried items are not too oily and the meats are crispy but not too hard. Their Pathein chicken sausages are flavorful too, different from chicken sausage bought at the local market.
“Since childhood, we have ordered chicken sausages from that supplier. They’re homemade and we want to serve our customers good quality food,” Ma Kay Thi Myint said.
Their tea leaf is also homemade, and it’s tasty. Guests can buy boxes of the tea leaves at Tha Gyi Thamee as well.
Ah nyar-style fried chicken with rice costs 3,500 kyats (US$2.42), a fried mutton set is 4,800 kyats, Pathein chicken sausage is 3,000 kyats and tea leaf salad is 3,000 kyats.The prices are average and worth it, considering the value of the food.
In the morning, Tha Gyi Thamee served mohinga and coconut noodle soup. For dessert, the restaurant has different kinds of local sweets, including Mandalay cream malai porridge, ah nyar barley porridge with jiggery and others.
“Currently, we serve one curry daily as a special dish for those people who want to eat home-cooked curry. We announce all the dishes for the week in advance on our Facebook page, ‘Tha Gyi Thamee’ so customers can come to the restaurant when their favorite dish is served,” explained Ma Kay Thi Myint.
At Tha Gyi Thamee, customers can also get a 5 percent discount if they bring their own box for takeaway. If not, the restaurant packs the food with a htan gau pha and charges an extra 400 kyats.
“Actually, the process of making htan gau pha costs more than 400 kyats but I wanted to make a no-plastic policy at the restaurant,” she said. “Some are happy to pay but some still don’t want to. Regardless, I will never change the restaurant’s policy.”
Tha Gyi Thamee is located at 57(B) Tharyar Shwe Pyi Aye Street in Yankin Township, open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.