This restaurant should be on your list
What does it mean to be an expat restaurant owner? On one hand, it's just an honest way to make a living by sharing the food culture that one knows and loves. But there's also necessarily a component of memory and nostalgia that drives someone to recreate the foods of their homeland.
Such is the case for Kyaw Kyaw U, political asylum seeker and proprietor of Korea's only Myanmarese restaurant. After having come to Korea as a laborer in 1999, Kyaw Kyaw U protested in front of the Myanmar embassy and fell afoul of his country's then-ruling military junta. Although the political climate in his home country is brightening, he still considers it too dangerous to return home, joking that now there are only two countries in the world he cannot visit: Myanmar and North Korea.
In place of returning home, Kyaw Kyaw U, with the help of his wife, Oh Ma Kyaw, opened Amieran near Myeongji University a few years ago. Earlier this year, he was approached by the owner of Gyeongnidan's design-centric cafe, Take Out Drawing, who, after a few visits to Amieran, was hooked on Myanmarese cooking and offered Kyaw Kyaw U a pop-up space in the cafe's courtyard.
It's here, amongst trendier, more recognizable Western food options and seemingly irresistible craft beer spots, that one can find Kyaw Kyaw U slinging the most beloved dishes of his homeland, many of which he learned to cook as a teenager from his mother.
Leading off the menu is arguably the national breakfast dish, mohinga, which is like a twangier cousin of Southern American catfish stew. Silky rice vermicelli lurks under a slightly murky golden-bronze fish paste-based broth that is speckled with shreds of Spanish mackerel. The mohinga is topped off with patches of fried chickpeas, chili powder, and cilantro for a powerfully varied taste.
Lephet is a salad of fermented tea leaves and another uniquely Myanmarese dish. The leaves form an earthy confetti highlighted by feisty red chilis and various fried legumes. The salad is light yet packs a decidedly garlicky punch.
Other small plates can be thought of as Myanmarese anju, one of which features three kinds of fried crackers whose saltiness screams to be paired with a can of the Myanmar beer on offer. Also, the spicy root vegetable salad is revelatory. Made of knobby, almost insectile-looking roots which burst with a decided nuttiness, it's a refreshing spicy-sour accompaniment to the heavier soups and stews.
Additional mains on offer are fine but fail to stand out. There is ametahing, a chunky beef stew that demonstrates the Indian influence in Myanmar's cuisine with its spicy-sweet garam marsala notes. It comes with a piece of rosemary ciabatta for sopping. In addition, there are a couple of noodle dishes: one a spicy stir fry with seafood and another in a coconut broth that are both a bit reminiscent of Thai food and represent a safe if uninspired bet for more finicky diners.
Rather than diving into yet another slice of pizza predictability when at Gyeongnidan, diners who dare to drop into Amieran will be rewarded with a small but intriguing menu of very affordable Myanmar home-style cooking, and most importantly, a bit of irreplaceable food nostalgia for themselves.
Main dishes: 8,000 won, Side dishes: 5,500 for the Gyeongnidan location.
Amieran @ Myeongji University
324-44 Namgajwa-dong, Seodaemun-gu
Amieran @ Take-out Drawing
637-5 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu
02 790 2637
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