MYITKYINA, Kachin State — The Orient restaurant in Myitkyina has become a favorite with the local INGO crowd among others, and it is not hard to see why.
The restaurant opened in 2007 offering pan-Asian cuisine with a Kachin flavor after proprietor Labya Tu Ring returned to the state capital following a long period living in Tokyo.
We decided to try it out recently when famished at the end of a busy day visiting the beautiful Myitsone area. To begin, we ordered the onigiri as an appetizer.
Placed on small nori (edible seaweed) squares, the two apple-sized rice balls were devoured at real speed. Lightly seasoned with bits of fried chicken, carrot and egg, they were a solid foundation for the meal to come.
Courteous staff cleared the plates and brought out the main dishes: tonkatsu, miso soup and sweet and sour pork.
The tonkatsu was a tasty, if a tad oily, exercise in Japanese-Shan fusion. The Orient’s version of the traditional breaded pork cutlet uses a patty of minced pork and spices reminiscent of the Shan dish nueloong (deep-fried spiced meatballs).
Along with the accompanying coleslaw, the dish served well as a shared plate from which to grab an occasional crispy nibble throughout the meal.
The miso had the proper consistency, was large enough to share and came packed with mushrooms and napa cabbage.
While serving the sweet and sour pork, Tu Ring chuckled as he recounted how German and French tourists always order the dish because it is the recommended pick in a popular European guidebook.
Tangy and not too sweet, the sauce is based on the traditional Chinese dish but is given an East-meets-West twist by the use of orange juice and a dash of ketchup alongside light soya sauce and Japanese vinegar. The dish will undoubtedly continue to be a staple for hungry European tourists.
We were keen to try The Orient’s take on jajangmyeon, a Korean wheat-noodle dish with a thick sauce made from roasted soya bean paste and caramel, so we returned the following day for lunch.
Tu Ring offers a local twist by substituting roasted lentil paste, the key ingredient in the popular Shan dish tofunway/tofupyaw (warm and soft tofu). The result was delightful and we ordered a second bowl.
Origins in Japan
Tu Ring’s interest in Japanese food was sparked in the early 1980s when he began to work with a Yangon-based Japanese firm after graduating from university as a Japanese language major. After the 1988 uprising and subsequent coup, the firm moved back to Japan and requested that Tu Ring join them.
“In Tokyo I often ate at yataimurar restaurants which serve a range of cuisines, including Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Western. When I returned to Myitkyina I decided to base The Orient on this model,” he said.
Tu Ring strives to make The Orient stand out by using only the freshest ingredients and top-quality oil.
“Our fish is grilled to order, all the vegetables for our bibimbap [Korean mixed rice] are prepared fresh for each bowl, and our kimchi is made in-house using Myanmar-produced nganpya ye [fish sauce],” said the proprietor.
Moving and expanding
In October, The Orient will move to a larger space with an outdoor garden and private meeting room in Myitkyina’sTatkone quarter.
The move may be in response to the recent opening of higher-end establishments in Myitkyina—Pizza Korner and Cafe 101, to name just two—catering to INGO staffers, gem-traders and a local business class with a taste for foreign fare.
Despite the new competition, The Orient’s delicious, reasonably-priced fare seems set to make it a continued top choice for many discerning visitors.
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.