Yangon’s best Sichuan restaurant has no name

Hong Shao Pai Gu (Braised Pork Riblets)
Hong Shao Pai Gu (Braised Pork Riblets)

The restaurant at the top of downtown Yangon’s Regency Hotel is no secret, but it’s also not a place you stumble upon. If no one ever tells you that this unremarkable hotel serves the best Sichuan food in the city, you may go your whole life without getting to appreciate the casual vibes, low prices, and pleasantly face-numbing flavors that this vibrant corner of Chinatown has to offer.

When you walk into the nameless restaurant, ducking your head to avoid the low ceiling and shimmying to avoid the scrum of stainless steel tables and plastic stools, you might catch yourself realizing that this is not the cavernous banquet hall with shimmering tablecloths you were expecting when you heard you were being brought to a really good Chinese restaurant. In fact, it’s surprisingly similar to a Burmese beer station, except everyone speaks Mandarin, and the Lunar New Year decorations never come down.

The interior of the nameless restaurant. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

Ideally, it won’t be raining, and you’ll be led with your group (it’s best to come with three or more friends) to a table on the veranda, which overlooks a gritty swathe of downtown leading up to sparkling Junction City. When it’s time to order, the English-only-speakers will be useless. If you have a Mandarin-speaking friend with fond memories of home-cooked Sichuan food, you’ll be set. If not, a Burmese speaker could probably figure out what’s what, or you can try referring to the photos below.

During our recent visit, we started off with a couple of stir-fried vegetable dishes – one snow pea and one bok choy. These were pretty standard, but in a good way. They were stir-fried just enough to absorb some saltiness but not enough to lose their natural crunch. And most importantly, they were not served in a puddle of oil.

Along with the starters came a big bowl of mala tofu. Though it seemed to be a meatless version of the Chinese classic, it was still bursting with flavor. The blocks of tofu were silky soft, like weightless, savory clouds, and the peppercorn sauce left us with the buzzing sensation that makes Sichuan cuisine so addictive. Heaping the sauce onto a mound of rice extended the experience after the tofu clouds were gone.

Bok choy, mala tofu, and snow peas. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

Next came the pork dishes. The first was Hong Shao Pai Gu (Braised Pork Riblets), a dish that apparently rarely appears on menus outside Chinese communities. The ribs may look bland and boney, but they reward your gnawing efforts with an unexpected punch, filling your face with notes of garlic, soy sauce, and rice wine.

Even more beloved than the ribs, though, was the Hui Guo Rou (Twice Cooked Pork), a platter of fried pork slices and green peppers sprinkled with chili flakes. It’s like a feast of sizzling, spicy bacon.

Hui Guo Rou (Twice Cooked Pork). Photo: Jacob Goldberg

Another favorite was Shui Zhu Yu (Sichuan Boiled Fish), which, we’ve heard, is one of the most popular dishes in Sichuan, if not all of China. Like the tofu, this deep red soup is heavy on the Sichuan peppercorns and also includes ginger, garlic, bean sprouts, and other vegetables. We’re not sure if the fish was snakehead or catfish, but it was incredibly juicy and tender. With a side of rice, this could be a meal for two on its own.

(L) Hong Shao Pai Gu (Braised Pork Riblets), and (R) Shui Zhu Yu (Sichuan Boiled Fish). Photo: Jacob Goldberg

All of this, plus a few other dishes and a bunch of beer for six people, came out to around K65,000 (US$48). For the closest thing to a home-cooked Sichuan meal our city has to offer, this seems pretty unbeatable. Then again, we only knew about this place once we were told.

Who knows what other gems are out there?

The Regency Hotel is located at No. 127, Middle Block, Sint Oh Dan Street, Latha Township. Call them at 09 42115 8555. The restaurant is on the 7th floor.

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