Mu Ai’s New Set Menus Let Diners Sample a Range of Authentic Kachin Flavors
By Lwin Mar Htun 28 June 2019
Mu Ai, a Kachin eatery serving authentic ethnic fare, this month launched two new set menus in response to customers’ requests that the chef create some combination meals offering a sampling of Kachin dishes.
In March, three-year-old Mu Ai (the name means ‘delicious’ in the Kachin language), was named “Best Local Cuisine Restaurant” at the 2019 Myanmore Awards. The special thing about this restaurant is that it serves authentic Kachin food in fine-dining style.
“That was an unexpected prize and we’re so happy about it. The prize gave us a huge boost and more people, both local and foreigners, know about our restaurant now. [Our success] is all because of our loyal customers. Without their support, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Ko Padang Laroi, 34, the apron-clad chef and co-founder of Mu Ai. He creates the restaurant’s menus and designs the presentation of the food.
“Now, we’ve added two more set menus in response to customers’ requests.”
The first is a combo set for one person. It includes three meat dishes, vegetables, soup, rice and Kachin-style pounded chili, all for just 6,000 kyats (about US$4).
“Sometimes, customers come alone and want to taste different dishes but can’t eat them all. So, they suggested I offer this kind of combo set. I took their advice—and I like the idea of letting them try more dishes in one set,” Ko Padang Laroi said.
Though it’s offered as a combo set for one, the portions are large and could suffice for two. You can choose which combination of meat dishes you want, and also select your vegetables.
The combo set is served in a small sa kaw (a round bamboo tray). I chose a combo with a spicy beef curry, kyat Kachin chet (Kachin-style chicken curry), pork belly skewers, vegetable salad and spicy taro soup.
Living up to the restaurant’s name, all of the items were delicious—truly an amazing combo. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the vegetables were fresh.
“Some of the ingredients are ordered from my hometown, Bhamo [in Kachin State], and we use only fresh meat sourced from the market daily,” the chef said.
The other mouthwatering new set is called Sa Phye. This one, also served in a sa kaw bamboo tray, features a generous serving of beef and innards. The meat is served with rice noodles, carrot sticks and leaves, and comes in its own spicy-sour sauce. It costs 9,500 kyats.
“It’s like a starter. Kachin people eat this dish with family or friends. It’s our most-requested dish and I’ve finally made it happen,” Ko Padang Laroi said.
As a fan of beef, I particularly enjoyed this dish. The meat is more on the chewy side than tender, but made for a perfect combination with the sauce, leaves and rice noodles.
Both of these new sets are available now at Mu Ai.
For the first year after it opened in North Okkala, the restaurant went largely overlooked by diners in its original, tiny location.
“Some days we ended with zero customers; the first year was difficult,” Ko Padang Laroi recalled.
Then they moved to the current location on Hledan Street after customers urged them to move closer to the downtown area.
Since then, Mu Ai has become popular among locals and foreigners alike, even picking up an award along the way.
“In Myanmar, there’re many ethnic groups and peoples. Among them, traditional Shan cuisine is the most popular. But now, people are getting interesting in Kachin cuisine as well. As a Kachin—and the chef of Mu Ai—I’m thrilled about that and will keep moving forward,” he said.
“The award is the just first step—we have more plans for the future,” he added.
Ko Padang Laroi said he is always happy to hear customers’ feedback and suggestions for Mu Ai, and is always trying to learn in order to improve his cooking skill and find creative new ideas.
“I’m always looking out for what’s trending locally and abroad. Sometimes I visit other ethnic restaurants to taste their food and learn about their culture,” he said.
He added, “I want to see more ethnic cuisine restaurants in Yangon. Everyone likes to eat. If we can make really good food, many other countries will take an interest in our ethnic cuisines. I believe food can be a good way to attract tourists.”
Mu Ai has a wide-ranging menu with plenty of dishes to choose from. Various courses are served including appetizers, mains, soups, noodles and rice sets—all at very reasonable prices.
So on your next visit to Mu Ai, you’ll be able to opt for something new, or you can stick with your old favorites.
Mu Ai is located on Hledan 1st Street in Kamayut Township.