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Burma Calling: London's Lahpet

Burma Calling: London's Lahpet

Burmese food is the most underrated cuisine in Asia. Just like the country, it’s incredibly varied and colourful, rammed with textures and flavours, and has a sweet, salty, sour spiciness that will knock your flip flops off.

In the UK, we’re obsessed with Asian food. But I bet you’ve never wondered where all the Burmese restaurants are. It’s just not a thing in London. Or wasn’t, until Zaw Mahesh and Dan Anton opened Lahpet, a stall at Maltby Street Market that grew into a sell-out Hackney pop-up and is now a huge flagship restaurant in Shoreditch.

Zaw is Burmese and moved to London in 2006, and Dan’s grandmother was Burmese. Both grew up eating Burmese food and have triumphantly brought it to London.

Ideally, come to Burma as soon as you can and get your mouth around the food. But if you can’t, at least head to Shoreditch. We caught up with Dan and Zaw last time we were in London.

Lahpet's Dan Anton and Zaw Mahesh

Which dishes at Lahpet are the most popular, and why do you think that is? 

DA: Tea leaf salad. People love its complexity in both texture and flavour. Most people outside of Myanmar have never eaten tea, so it’s something a bit different. It's also the namesake of the restaurant.

Some flavours in Burmese food are really different for a British palate; are there any dishes that people struggle with/find too “Burmese”?

DA: Pon Yay Gyi (fermented bean paste) and Balachaung (spicy shrimp relish). Both are very new and pungent for the western palate. Some people find the Lahpet too odd to stomach too, but not many. 

Lahpet Tea Leaf Salad

What are the most common comments from customers after trying the food? 

DA: Yum! They say that the flavours and textures are unlike anything they’ve had before.

The restaurant is beautiful. It feels Burmese, but really contemporary. Which elements of Burma did you choose to incorporate in the interior design?

DA: We chose copper and bronze tones and dark wood to bring in some of the richness of Burma. Then bamboo window frames and lots of plants to make it feel really verdant. We also used Kachin fabrics from the north of Burma to upholster the bench seating.

And what about ingredients. Are there things that you have to import from Burma?

ZM: Yes. We can’t get tea leaves, mixed fried beans, pickled ginger, jaggery or dried shrimp in London. We can’t even get the right raw ingredients to make them from scratch, so import these indigenous ingredients. It’s important that we stay as close as possible to the authentic flavours.  

Lahpet Shan Noodles

Do you have any strong food-related childhood memories?

DA: Yes - Ohn-no Kauk Swe (chicken coconut noodle soup), Mohinga (catfish noodle soup), Thamin Lethok (rice salad, mixed and eaten with your hands), Sipyanstyle pork curry with lots of balachaung and rice. All cooked by my aunty or grandma.
ZM: I used to eat out a lot with my friends in Mogok as a teenager. So my memories are mostly of street food: Tofu Nway (warm tofu) and Meeshay (rice noodles) with pork brain are old favourites. My mum’s regular chicken curry is my absolute to die for dish, but she only cooks it on special occasions.

And what’s the first thing you eat when you go back to Burma?

DA:  Whatever takes my fancy as soon as I hit the streets. Probably a salad - love Samosa Thohk (samosa salad)!

ZM: Home cooking. My wife’s mum is always busy cooking something delicious. 

Are there foodie things that you can’t get in London that you really miss from Yangon? 

ZM: Fried crickets (very popular in Burma! and tasty too). Oh and A Kyaw Sone (crispy fritters).

What do you love most about Burma, or miss about it when you’re here?

DA: I actually love the contrast between the Yangon and London. I love the rawness of Yangon.

ZM: I miss the Kalaw, the small town where I was born, and Mogok where I grew up. They’re both in the hills. I way prefer them to Yangon. 

Are there elements of Burmese culture that you think the Brits could benefit from? 

DA: Yup…friendliness and approachability… (laughs)

What’s your favourite restaurant in London? 

DA: Very tricky. Yauatcha Soho has to be one. At the moment I can’t get enough Peruvian food. Pachamama is also a favourite.

ZM: I don’t really have one… actually I love Beam in Crouch End.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Yangon/Burma?

DA: Street food on the road at the back of Thiri Minglar market where all the traders eat.

ZM: Father’s Office on Bo Aung Kyaw Street – great food and awesome ambiance.

Do you think Lahpet customers are inspired to visit Burma by eating your food? 

DA: Yes, or if not the experience at least raises awareness and intrigue for the country. It happens the other way around too – people go to Burma, then come to us for Burmese food when they get back.

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