There are 14 of us for dinner tonight. Fifteen minutes on the train from Central Station takes us westward to Strathfield, where Sydney’s only Burmese restaurant Bagan is located. It is a short stroll to the restaurant along The Boulevard, the main vein of this suburb, brimming with numerous restaurants and shops.
The neon light blazing ‘Bagan’ outside draws us into the restaurant. The walls are chocolate with tapestry and images of scenes from Mandalay and Bagan. Burmese-style wood carvings contrast with the modern bar area tiled in sleek black. The dark wood tables and chairs give the restaurant a relaxed café-style atmosphere.
Except Christopher, all are new to Burmese food. I take the responsibility of ordering, selecting what I consider typically Burmese. We forgo the starter as it is mainly fritters and fish cakes which are all too familiar. I choose a selection of thote/salads: tea leaf salad (lahpet thote), pennywort salad (myin-kwa-ywet thote), samosa salad and spring roll salad. These are suitable for vegetarian, dressed with aromatic garlic oil and roasted chickpea powder though I do like my thote with fish sauce and plenty of kick.
Goat curry (hseik thar sipyan) with Indian-inspired spices and pork curry (wet thar sipyan) with the distinct flavour of Burmese-style pickled mango are robust, comforting fare. I am pleased to see a suitable amount of sauce in the curries – the best bit of any sipyan is undoubtedly the wonderful intense flavourful sauce though some may find a little oily. I have no qualms about eating good oil and use only peanut oil in my cooking.
Sour roselle leaves with bamboo shoots (chin baung kyaw) cuts the richness of the meat curries as does the thote. In Burma, we generally have a fish dish and I choose hisla with tomato and onions (nga thalout), which are cut into bite-sized pieces, meltingly delicious and light. It lacks the bones which can be eaten, perhaps catering to fussier palates. I do love hisla which is a freshwater fish that has similar flavour to sardines.
A condiment of crispy dried shrimp (ngapi kyaw) completes this meal though a soup would not go amiss. Plenty of rice is served in silver metal containers, topped up promptly. The service is attentive without being intrusive and the inexpensive menu and portion size works as tapas-style eating.
Dessert is left to the individual. Most go for ice cream with Asian flavours such as black sesames, green tea and taro. A few who are more inquisitive order durian shake, avocado shake and faluda.
I hope I have chosen well to introduce Burmese food to everyone. Christopher points out quite rightly that we are enthusiastic eaters and have forgotten to photograph the food. I would like to come back, not only to photograph but also to delve further into the menu. Fish noodle soup (mohingar) and coconut noodles soup (ohn nyot khaut swe) beckons me to return. I shall promise to photograph the food next time.
Shop 4/41 The Boulevard
Sydney NSW 2135
Tel: +61 (0)2 8746 0666