Bodhi Nava: Paradise in Yangon


Sunlight pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows, bathing a cool, concrete sanctuary at the base of Shwedagon Pagoda in a heavenly glow. But despite its hallowed location and inspired name, the worshippers who come to Bodhi Nava in their Sunday best are not here for Lord Buddha. They are members of the Cult of Brunch, and for them, muffins are the body and smoothie bowls are the blood of a hangover-curing god.

The priests administering these refreshing sacraments are Ben and Bo, whose minds previously gave us the Rough Cut and Green Gallery, respectively. References to their previous work can be seen throughout Bodhi Nava’s menu. For instance, the home-baked English muffin sandwiches that were a favorite at the Rough Cut before it closed and became a Dungeons & Dragons lair have been reincarnated in the form of the Shredded Chicken Muffin.

The muffin, fluffy despite its structural integrity, holds together a lattice of shredded chicken topped with a sauce made from tamarind and sesame and lime, perfectly balancing sweet and tangy. The chicken, coupled with fresh tomato slices, are a palatable melding of life and death. For those who disagree, there’s also a meatless, mushroom version.

Shredded Chicken Muffin
Shredded Chicken Muffin | K5,000

Drawing on the unwavering popularity of Green Gallery are Bodhi Nava’s salads, which are at once sweet, spicy, and citrusy, especially the Pineapple Som Tam (K4,000). Some of the soul-warming curries that are a staple of the beloved downtown hole-in-the-wall are also on the menu here. These are welcome redundancies because they do not come at the expense of innovation.

One original dish, for example, is the Mon Khao Soi – Bo’s take on the coconut noodle dish that appears in Myanmar cuisine as ohn no kao swe and in northern Thai cuisine as the shockingly tasty khao soi. These national versions differ only slightly, but Bodhi Nava’s version, based on a recipe created by Bo’s grandfather that includes crunchy egg noodles, chicken chunks, fresh onions, and creamy broth, still manages to offer hints of both. As you digest, thoughts about the life-altering arbitrariness of borders will cross your mind.

Mon Khao Soi
Mon Khao Soi | K5,800

Inspired by another part of the world but no less welcome at a healthy Sunday brunch or weekday lunch or any meal, really, is the Pita Set. The falafel balls are spicy, fragrant, and crispy on the outside while moist on the inside. The tea leaf pesto makes the mound of hummus beneath it notably more interesting and shows how just a pinch of Myanmar tea leaf can transform a dish completely.

Pita Set
Pita Set | K5,500

Then, there are the smoothie bowls (K5,500), which may be Bodhi Nava’s crowning achievement. All three varieties are beautifully presented and include nuts, seeds, granola, dried fruit, and fresh banana slices sprinkled over a semi-frozen bath of blended fruit with either coconut milk, soy milk, or fresh juice.

Brunch cult novices tend to gravitate toward the yellow smoothie bowl – a safe and always-yummy option made from mangoes and bananas. But Bodhi Nava’s owners insist that the green smoothie bowl, made with spinach and melon, is usually declared the favorite by those willing to take a tiny step out of their comfort zones and order it. And while the green bowl might score points for being the underdog, the white bowl, made from dragon fruit and Chinese pear, with its light fruitiness and creamy coconut flavor is arguably even better.

Ben and his Bunny
Ben and his Bunny | Priceless

If these bowls don’t make you feel like you’re in paradise, they’ll at least make you feel like you’re in Bali. And if we all eat enough of them to secure Bodhi Nava’s permanence in our city, maybe one day the availability of fresh, healthy, insta-worthy food will no longer warrant a comparison to another place, fictional or otherwise. Simple, tasteful, and affordable, Bodhi Nava, like its predecessors, has pinpointed exactly what we need.

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