Eat, Drink, Explore at Off the Beaten Track in Yangon

By Grace Harrison 11 October 2014

Bringing together adventure and creativity, with a good dash of experience, Off the Beaten Track (OTBT) travel café on the strip inside Kandawgyi Nature Park is filling a need for more than just good food. Guests can chill over a wide selection of drinks and tasty snacks for reasonable prices while learning about Myanmar.

Experienced tour guide Ko Nay Lin Htike and his partner Bryan Berenguer describe OTBT as a “not-only-for-profit business.” After 5 pm they’re around to welcome and share their knowledge of this country, down to detailed itinerary planning, free of charge. There’s a tiny kiosk inside with maps, some loud yellow and black OTBT T-shirts, and a secondhand book exchange.

We asked for the house special and were steered toward the rural Myanmar selection. Our choices of country-style chicken curry and dried snakehead fish with peanut oil (3,500 kyats each, or about US$3.50) were both fantastically strong flavored, but too salty for my palate and a little overdone.

Still, the local fare on offer looks appetizing. Try the Kachin-style watercress (2,000 kyats) or spicy green mango salad (1,500 kyats), ginger or green tea leaf salad (1,000 kyats), chicken or prawn salad (3,500 kyat), or the seaweed or baked eggplant salad (2,000 kyats) for classic joy.

There are also Chinese dishes of pork and chicken with paprika, capsicum or cashew nut (3,500 kyats) and fish specials include ginger-flavored fish in lemon sauce, British-style fish and chips, or fish fingers (3,500 kyats).

Of course, chicken or pork fried rice or noodles (2,000 kyats) find their way onto the menu. Our exploration of the European cuisine found a truly disappointing salade Niçoise (4,000 kyats).

Perhaps for Western fare we should have tried one of the sandwich selections, all served with French fries, including tuna (3,000 kyats), club (4,000 kyats) and cheese (6,000 kyats), as well as beef burgers for 4,000 kyats.

Clearly plenty of thought went into the planning of this unusual alfresco dining place with atmospheric romantic lighting and cute gazebos with draped gauze curtains (no, not mosquito nets) dotted around.

Another tiny gripe is the uncomfortably hard, narrow bench seating. Maybe it’s to encourage diner turnover? Though that’s hardly necessary, with monsoon-shy diners opting for indoor options until November, when this place should really take off in the dry, cool evenings.

OTBT signature dishes include The Deltan, which is fried rice with dry fish and a gin and tonic (4,800 kyats); The Upper Burman, consisting of assorted dried beans and one Mandalay Rum and coke (2,500 kyats); The Yangonite, a tea leaf salad and small bottle of Myanmar Whisky (2,800 kyats); and The NGO Worker, a plate of French fries and a shot of vodka (3,000 kyats).

Along the same vein, there are the OTBT owners’ special sets. These are The Lin Htike (pickled tea leaf rice and one Johnny Walker neat for 3,900 kyats), The Bryan (garlic chili French fries and one Jack Daniels on the rocks for 4,400 kyats) and The Zin Zin (banana-flower salad and one bottle of Spy Wine for 3,900 kyats). Yes, a bit of fun.

It’s a fine spot to pull into after a park saunter, take some rest and enjoy refreshments—at anytime, as OTBT is open 11 am to 11 pm daily. The menu touts tempting caffeine-enhanced delights, juices, smoothies and cocktails.

Special frappes or vanilla, blueberry, raspberry, hazelnut cappuccinos (2,200 kyats) invite the curious. The mango, pineapple, apple or strawberry smoothies just may be your pick-me-up. Or perhaps a chocolate, papaya or avocado milkshake would be more to your liking? For the tamer park stroller, there’s a range of teas, from iced lemon or raspberry tea to good old English breakfast. Squeezed carrot, honey lime, mango or tomato juice (1,600 kyats) might get you back on your feet.

But if you need something stronger, OTBT serves Myanmar or Tiger beer (2,200 kyats) and a-little-bit fancy cocktails for very reasonable prices. The whisky sours (2,500 kyats) and the Bloody Mary (3,800 kyats) are recommended. Once you’re inside the park, you’re there until they roll you out!

This story first appeared in the October 2014 issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.