Inle Lake Restaurants
While we had enjoyed some good meals in Myanmar during our first 10-days in the country, it is fair to say that prior to our arrival in the Inle Lake area, the quality of the food we had eaten up to that point had been inconsistent. That all changed when we arrived in Nyaungshwe.
Perhaps it was that Shan State style of cooking is more to our taste than the food in other Myanmar states we had visited. That might have had something to do with our impression of “quality” but in actuality, a very big part of the change came from the hotel where we stayed: ViewPoint Lodge & Fine Cuisines. As the hotel name suggests, a great deal of attention is given to The Shan Restaurant at the Viewpoint.
The restaurant is one floor up over the lobby and bar in a beautiful open air room with great views in every direction. The east side looks out over a canal that leads directly to Inle Lake and behind that is a beautiful pagoda that appears to be constructed of glazed ceramic tiles. Tables along this wall were the preferred seating for breakfast.
The view on the west side is of verdant green farm land backed by the Shan Mountains. It is a great spot to have a cocktail and watch the sun set in the evening and was the first choice of diners for the evening meal.
The service was very attentive and responsive. Over our stay there we were there we had several interesting conversations with different members of the wait staff including the head waiter who offered to take us to a festival in his home village. Unfortunately, the festival was scheduled for the day we were leaving so we couldn’t take advantage of the offer.
The presentation of the food was imaginative and unique to anything we had ever seen. The wait person brings out a long board full of the different orders and slides the entire board down the middle of the table.
In addition to the beautiful room, great service and mood setting music; there is the food and in just about every way, this kitchen is a winner. Prices are a bit more expensive than most restaurants we ate at in Myanmar but a bargain compared to similar restaurant quality back home. Both or our dinners for 3 ran in the low $30’s range total (not including wine.)
Of all the places we have ever been, I can’t recall ever enjoying a breakfast as much as we enjoyed our 4 breakfasts at the ViewPoint. Guests are asked for a preference for coffee or tea and also of eggs; scrambled, fried or omelet.
The hot drink selection is served quickly and that is soon followed by a basket of fresh baked breads and sweet breads and a fresh juice; rotating watermelon, lime, passion fruit or mango.
Then comes the long board tray slid down the middle of the table loaded with fruit soup, small glasses of homemade yogurt with kiwi (or other fruit) and another small glass with banana or mango puree with a little chili, noodle soup, ham, cheese and fried pastry dumplings filled with spring onion or potato; a traditional Shan treat we also saw in the local markets. Although hardly needed, at some point the egg selection is delivered. Sausage and bacon comes with omelet and fried egg but not with the scrambled.
The lunch and dinner menu at the Shan were the same and featured local products and many dishes based on local recipes but in some cases prepared with Western techniques. We enjoyed dinner there on 2 nights and lunch once and while not everything was perfect, some things were out of the park hits.
Our selections and some notes on our first dinner:
Rice crackers with tomato salsa puree. The rice crackers are a local specialty that we loved and ordered at every lunch or dinner at The Shan. We saw them in every market we visited.
The banana blossom dumpling (was 1 of 3 dim sum listed on menu and) was terrific.
The slow cooked pork with bean and peanut vermicelli was good but not the best dish we ordered. I think we may be a little overly critical of slow cooked pork dishes having been spoiled on the pork Bar B Que we get at home in North Carolina and the Cochinita pibil we get in Mexico.
Chicken with basil and chili was our favorite entrée at dinner and we ordered it again at later meals.
Steamed fish fillet – very fresh and well cooked.
Coconut rice and Shan rice – We preferred the coconut. Shan rice as listed on the menu is really just plain white rice.
We enjoyed a very drinkable shiraz/temperillo blend from the nearby Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery with our meal.
For dessert, we shared one order of the Steamed banana cake and one Crème caramel. Both were very good. The after dinner coffee is also served with a small cake.
At our lunch at The Shan, we ordered mostly starters and side dishes. The Green Tomato salad turned out to be one of our favorite dishes served at the Shan. Tomatoes are one of the main crops of the Inle Lake area and we happened to be visiting during the height of tomato season. We enjoyed this one so much that we ordered it again at our 2nd dinner there.
Surprisingly good (and definitely not Italian) Shan spaghetti. Another repeat order at our 2nd dinner.
Chicken fried rice was pretty main stream. Nothing world shattering but what we expected.
The Stuffed chicken wings were very reminiscent of our favorite dish at Krua Apsorn, our favorite Bangkok restaurant. Coming from this writer; that is high praise.
The Chicken Satay and dipping sauce was also very good.
Room service has a separate menu of items not available in the restaurant including several dishes like Panini and club sandwiches.
Even if you don’t stay at the ViewPoint Lodge, you owe it to yourself to eat at least one meal at The Shan.
We booked our transportation from the train station in Kalaw to Nyaung Shwe & to the Heho Airport on our way out and also 2-days of tours on Inle Lake with Ma Su, the owner of Century Travel agency and the Queen Inn Hotel. Ma Su is a charming and impressive lady and we were very fortunate to have her as our guide on those 2-days.
On our first day of touring on the lake, Ma Su took us to the Ngwe Zin Yaw Restaurant for lunch. Our long boat landed at a typical wooden platform beneath a modern wooden building set high overhead on stilts. From our table, we had great view of the back side of the nearby Phaungdaw Oo Paya Temple.
The room itself was open air and featured woven bamboo mats covering all surfaces and the iconic local umbrellas suspended upside down from the ceiling.
As you might expect, most of the diners were tourists from all over the world but the food was actually very good and came with a particularly good version of complimentary lima bean soup. Pictured above is a very empty bowl that previously had contained the soup, a seafood omelet with rice crackers and garnished with a simple salad of mostly a slightly bitter root of some unknown vegetable plus a very welcomed Chang Beer.
As we exited the restaurant, we noticed the boat captains for all the tourist dining upstairs were hanging out playing board games in the shade under the building as they waited for their passengers.
Maxim is a relatively new Chinese restaurant that we found to be clean and very friendly. It’s located on the main road in town about a 5-minute walk down from the canal bridge where we had a late lunch one day. We ordered beer and one of the sons of the owner ran down the street to find us a cold one as the ones they had on hand were not so cold. We enjoyed all three entrées we ordered; pork fried rice, sweet sour chicken and Thai style chicken with vegetables.
We enjoyed our lunch so much that a couple days later, we decided to return to Maxim for dinner. Unfortunately, our 2nd meal there was not so successful. The Thai Chicken was a completely different dish. The chicken in the Chicken Salad was undercooked. The Fried rice that we ordered never showed up. If that had been our first meal at Maxim, I doubt I would ever go back but given how much we enjoyed our first meal there, I would probably give Maxim another try.
We stopped by Min Min Restaurant for a cold drink (and to get out of a short rain shower) on our way back to the hotel from the Nyaung Shwe market and had terrific lassies. We liked them so much that we came back a few hours later for lunch. We were looking forward to a wood fired pizza but they were not available when we visited. Our Chicken curry came with rice and free soup…really a very clean taste and enjoyable. We got probably the coldest Mandalay beer of our entire stay in Myanmar and the prices were extremely reasonable. The owner is a very friendly fellow who also offers private tours by car to anything in the area including the Pindaya Caves
On our 2nd day of lake touring with Ma Su, we visited a local market and in the course of discussions and our sampling of market treats, she invited us to have a traditional Myanmar dinner at The Queen Inn on our last night in town.
It is a short walk to the Queen Inn from the ViewPoint Lodge and as we arrived, we were seated at a large table with white tablecloth under a small shelter by the edge of the canal. We recognized many of the ingredients in the dishes served as things we had seen at the market the day before. Ma Su told us that some other items, like the red tomatoes were grown in her family garden, where they are experimenting with organic farming techniques.
As the evening progressed, a gaggle of Ma Su’s lovely daughters and nieces kept emerging from the kitchen with plate after plate of beautiful food. Each dish seemed better than the last and at the end of the evening; despite our best efforts, she would not let us pay for the meal. We were glad we had brought flowers ($0.50 per bunch so we went large and brought 6 bunches) and also a good bottle of red wine from the local Red Mountain Estate that we left with her and joked that maybe she could sell to French tourists to help pay for our meal.
After eating everything in sight we were talking to Ma Su and she suddenly looked up realizing that she had not served us her Red Tomato Salad. “Everyone loves my tomato salad. You must try it.” We told her we were full and it really wasn’t necessary but she was off to the kitchen. About 10 minutes later she returned with the salad. We really were full but out of politeness, we each took a small portion. I don’t know if she planned it this way but it may have been the best dish served all night and despite being full, we didn’t stop eating until we had finished it.
Here is a list of what we were served: Papa don, Rice crackers, Fish curry, Chicken curry, Chickpea tofu curry, Lentil soup, sautéed Rigid gourd, Asparagus, Red tomato salad with mint and Mango lassie for desert
The food, the setting and the conversation were all absolutely great and was just a terrific way to end our visit to Inle Lake.