A Passage to India

By Simon Roughneen 30 December 2013

YANGON — As a city with a sizeable number of citizens whose ancestors hail from India, Yangon does not want for restaurants serving up the tastes of South Asia. Few, however, can deliver the goods with the same attention to authenticity as The Corriander Leaf, which offers searingly spicy food in a setting that’s a welcome retreat from the steamy streets of Myanmar’s largest metropolis.

Located between the Summit Parkview and Yangon International Hotel on Ahlone Road, The Corriander Leaf is just 10 or 15 minutes away by taxi from the madding crowds of the downtown Sule Pagoda area, depending on the traffic.

Once there, you’ll find yourself entering a decidedly different culinary landscape. According to Sanjeev Gupta, the CEO of The Corriander Leaf, the three chefs in his kitchen come from different parts of India, ensuring that the regional diversity of what we call “Indian cuisine” is well covered.

As a native of Hyderabad, Mr. Gupta is keen to recommend his hometown specialty, biryani—the fragrant and brightly colored rice-based dish beloved of many in Myanmar. What separates his biryani from that on offer in other restaurants in Yangon is the ingredients. Mr. Gupta says that he imports his rice and much else that goes into his food directly from India. Biryani, like other Indian dishes, is a particular thing from a particular place, and the ingredients have to be right.

Another must-try is the mutton rogan josh, a Kashmiri specialty best eaten with steaming and scented naan bread. This aromatic dish of Persian origin was introduced to what is now northern India by the Mughals, and later became a staple of curry houses in the West courtesy of the British. The version served here, with its distinctive rich red hue, remains true to its roots.

The litmus test of any Indian restaurant, says Mr. Gupta, is what comes out of the tandoor, the clay oven. The Corriander Leaf passes that test with flying colors, with delicately flavored slices of butterfish, spicy chunks of minced lamb, and spicier morsels of chicken and prawn.

With dishes coming in at around the US $8-10 mark, The Corriander Leaf is more expensive than some of the lunchtime Indian diners downtown, but it also has Wi-Fi and air conditioning—amenities that are still surprisingly hard to find in this city.

This is also the place to come if you’re after some midday peace and quiet. Evenings from Thursday to Sunday are, however, a different story. On those nights it’s best to book a table, as The Corriander Leaf is much in demand among Yangon’s growing foreign business community. “It’s a 25-75 split between Burmese and foreigners,” says Mr. Gupta of the clientele frequenting his establishment.

The upstairs part of the restaurant features two anterooms suitable for business or lunch meetings or private parties, while Mr. Gupta also runs a 150-seat function room, catering for seminars and workshops and other daytime gatherings. As well as Indian, The Corriander Leaf serves Indo-Chinese fusion, while the Banquet Hall serves European and other Asian food.

For the thirsty—and thirsty you will be after a meal of some of the extra-spicy curries on the menu—the in-house bar has cocktails, mocktails, wines and liquors.