If you’ve been watching Yangon’s rapidly evolving food scene, you’ve probably heard of Rasa Lasa.
Even before the doors opened last week, thousands of people were following the restaurant’s Facebook page, on which was posted a stream of tantalizing photos: creamy kaya jam, Singaporean hokkein mee, crunchy prawn fritters… It was a real tongue-tease.
We caught up with Malaysian owner Muzhaffar Petra to find out more.
Can you tell us a bit about the concept behind Rasa Lasa and how you came up with it?
The concept of our restaurant is a mix of the ‘kopitiams’ and hawker stalls in Malaysia. Kopitiams are literally coffee shops, equivalent of teahouses here in Myanmar. It’s where you would have your breakfast before work or where friends and family meet for a bite and have something to drink. There is always a variety of foods, teas and coffees. The best ones are always run by several generations of a family. So a lot of items on our menu are my family’s original recipes especially from my grandmother. I also flew over my cooks from home to teach our chefs the recipes that they make.
We also wanted to incorporate the feel and taste of Malaysia’s famous hawker/street food. So we have the hanging poultry at the front for the roast duck and steamed chicken dishes. A lot of our Burmese kitchen staff have spent many years in Malaysia working in hawker stalls so they know the food like the back of their hands.
Keeping this in mind we did want to do a funky twist to the place to attract the younger crowd too. So our decor would be considered boutique ‘kopitiam!’ We have a huge 25 by 25 foot art piece done by Delphine de Lorme (artist for Mojo, Le Planteur and Yangoods.) We also have a massive chalkboard wall from ceiling to floor and framed vintage pictures of colonial Malaya and propaganda posters for independence.
What are your favorite Malaysian dishes to eat at home?
It’s always the most difficult question for us because food is at the centre of our world and we have so many different influences and cuisines. It depends on whether it is Chinese Malaysian, Indian Malaysian or ethnic Malay food. Added to that each state in Malaysia has their own take on every dish. For the stuff on our menu I would say my favorite Chinese Malaysian dish would be the Penang Char Kway Teow, Indian would be the Roti Canai (flatbreads) and for the Malay dish I would choose the classic Nasi Lemak, the traditional breakfast dish found all over.
What do you love about Malaysian cuisine?
Quite simply, to me it’s the best in the world because it is the perfect blend of cultural influences. I have taken my Indian friends who say Indian food is better in Malaysia. My Chinese friends who say that Chinese food is better in Malaysia. We started Rasa Lasa after I took my Burmese partner to Malaysia for what was supposed to be a three-day eating holiday and ended up staying six because she didn’t want to stop trying more food. When we got back, the first day she said: “Okay, we have to open up a Malaysian restaurant.”
Myanmar food is similar in influences but because the country still borders China, India, Thailand, the differences are a lot more stark in the reflection of its food.
In Malaysia we have the same ethnic diversity but the races and cultures have been forced to amalgamate a lot more since they are so far removed from their source. You’ll go have some of the best noodles at an Indian restaurant. You’ll have some of the best curries at Chinese restaurants. Food is always a political, scientific and historical representation of a race, culture and religion. It is the most creative and intelligent way that a collection of people reflect themselves. We Malaysian’s love our food because it is as we are: the pinnacle of an ever evolving historical process. A petri dish of globalisation.
I better stop as I will keep banging on.
You can find Rasa Lasa at #462 Thein Phyu Road. Or on Facebook here. In the meantime, check these out…
Photos courtesy of Rasa Lasa