After an eventful bus trip from Nyaungshwe (outdoor toilet break, cloth for door, massive hole in cloth, enough said) that involved many hours literally (hey look, this is how you use that word) sitting in the middle of the road while a broken down lorry was fixed, I arrived in Bagan. Starving.
Consider yourself lucky if you are a vegan in Old Bagan, which has two dedicated vegetarian restaurants. Eating vegan food in this Burmese hoteaspoonot is even less an issue than in the rest of the already vegan friendly country.
There were several eateries just a few doors down from my guest house, but instead I opted to walk half an hour in the pitch black down a road I did not know in the hopes of finding Be Kind to Animals The Moon, a vegetarian restaurant that actually has that name. Part of my walk turned into a very uncomfortable bicycle ride when a police officer insisted I climb on board that weird platform on the back of some bicycles. I decided to take my chances again walking after he nearly ran off the road 400 times because hello I have no balance.
I spent the next day touring the temples with a stranger who I sort of miss because she could handle me emoting all over the place, and when I melted into a sack of vertigo from climbing temples, she became like a mom and guided me through my tears back to the solid ground that I very nearly made out with for not being up high.
We visited a lot of temples, a lot of workshops, and talked to a lot of children who were mostly not pushy but still begged us to consider buying stuff from them. One entrepreneurial little chap who collected foreign currency (nice one, kid) even tried selling his own drawings and seemed really put out that we bought professional paintings but not his wares. Sorry, buddy.
Bagan and Angkor are often compared and I can see similarities, except from a tourist point of view Bagan is tolerable and Angkor sadly no longer fits that description (for me). Bagan can feel quite personal, and often there is nobody but you and a person who wants money to unlock a door to climb to the top of a temple.
For lunch we returned to the restaurant of my dark journey from the night before.
Be Kind to Animals the Moon Vegetarian Restaurant
One aspect of this vegetarian restaurant (aside from its unusual name) that sets it apart is their inclusion of ingredients on otherwise questionable menu items (like dishes including egg, or salads that might utilise fish sauce in non veg restaurants). Not that it's difficult to inquire about ingredients, but it shows they've put thought into what their customers are likely to query.
I've struggled with communicating heat levels in food and was delighted when the tea leaf salad arrived with the right level of spiciness. Tea leaves, crunchy fried beans, tomato, cabbage, lime, sesame, and green chilli. The funky fermented flavour was spot on in their version of this popular Burmese dish (almost as good as at Nang Htike), with a flavour reminiscent of olives.
A peanut-y tomato curry rich enough to use sparingly, but in reality too tasty to do that, the Bagan tamarind leaf curry on the menu is a must order. Not at all spicy, the curry comes with lightly pickled vegetables that complement the fatty peanut extraordinarily well both in terms of texture and flavour. I rarely order the same dish twice at a restaurant when I'm travelling, but I went back the next day for the same again.
The deep fried tofu is, as expected, Shan tofu. Battered lightly and fried, it comes served with three sauces: coconut, sweet chilli, and tamarind ginger.
Smoky and rich with fried garlic, fresh coriander, tomatoes, and peanuts, the aubergine (eggplant) salad is also a menu item that is not to be missed.
The Shan tofu curry is a salty dish that does well with the aubergine in terms of flavour contrast. The curry is salty and chocka slivers of smooth Shan tofu, also great with simple steamed rice.
Deep red toasted chilli powder hits the table with your meal, along with chilli garlic soy sauce, so heat lovers will be happy.
Go to Be Kind to Animals The Moon if:
- You're gagging for proper vegan or vegetarian food without having to ask questions.
- You want to support a dedicated vegetarian restaurant.
- Just go regardless to try that tamarind leaf curry.
Yar Pyi Vegetarian Restaurant
Yar Pyi is located in Old Bagan and is desperate to draw in the audience of the more well known The Moon restaurant. The inclusion of the latter in the Lonely Planet guide means fewer tourists make their way across the road to Yar Pyi, which is a shame.
The lovely family who run Yar Pyi spend a lot of energy shouting hello to people who are clearly intending to visit the vegetarian restaurant across the street. I think my appetite was affected by the father's constant regard for everybody outside of his own eatery (what about meeeeeeee).
When I cycled away and back past the restaurant not 30 seconds after I left in order to take a photo of their (probably) unintentionally passive aggressive sign, I received the same calls to come in for a meal. Um, give me at least fifteen minutes between meals, gosh.
The menu is fairly similar in content to that of its competitor across the way, with perhaps slightly less inflated prices. As usual I ordered enough food for three people. A motherly figure cautioned me to eat slowly several times, which was sweet. I followed her advice and managed to pack it all away.
The pumpkin curry was typical of Burmese curries (lightly fried ingredients then cooked until tender in a small amount of liquid), but the saltiness didn't carry through the pumpkin very well and so it was bland for my liking. The ginger rich broth on its own was wonderful, however.
Still unsure exactly what it comprised, the citron salad I ordered was salty sour with a slightly bitter after taste. Peanuts featured, as per Burmese salad standards, as well as the usual (although in this case sharper), oily lime dressing.
I haven't come to terms with the fact that my eyes are almost always bigger than my appetite, and so a portion of deep fried Shan tofu was also part of the spread. Delicious, as it is everywhere.
An unexpected and pleasant surprise came in the form of a complementary fried banana in sugar for afters.
Go to Yar Pyi if:
- You want to give some love to the underdog that the guidebook didn't highlight.
- Related: a meal with fewer tourists surrounding your table appeals.
- A little less salt in your food sounds good (Burmese food can be incredibly salty).