High Tea at the Strand Hotel

The Strand is a dang-fancy hotel in Yangon, Myanmar that first opened in 1901.  If you're me, you definitely can't afford to stay there but for a sweet USD$20, you can have a luxurious high tea and some air conditioning.

Also, if you'd like to feel vaguely uncomfortable because you feel vaguely British colonizer-ish, this hotel can offer that to you (and it doesn't even cost extra!!).

 Sipping tea like a good British lady.

Sipping tea like a good British lady.

The history of the Strand Hotel is also fascinating because, in some way, it tells the story of the country.  The hotel was built by a British guy who later sold it to these Armenian hotel dudes who made it one of the most luxurious hotels in the British Empire (dang!!).  They only let white people in, so, ya know.  That's gross.  But also demonstrative of the overall climate in the nation at the time - Burmese people basically existed to make British people comfortable. 

In 1925, the brothers sold the hotel to a restauranteur in the city who renovated it in 1937, just before it was taken over to house Japanese troops.  After the war it was purchased by a Japanese hotel group, who opened the hotel to the people of Myanmar.  When the country became independent in 1948, the hotel came under the ownership of the government who basically ignored it, letting it fall into disrepair until 1989 (right after the coup d'etat where the military junta took over) when it was sold to a Burmese business man and reopened in 1993 as a FANCY-ASS HOTEL. Scene.

The high tea was truly wonderful.  One of the things I always seek out when I'm traveling is a taste of luxury mixed with something that feels like an experience of some real piece of the culture of the place where I'm visiting.  This was exactly that.  It was luxurious (though affordable) and we got to try some typical Myanmar dishes, while also seeing this hotel, which is a fascinating (if complicated) piece of Yangon's history.

At The Strand, you can choose between a classic British high tea and their special Myanmar high tea.  Obviously we picked the Myanmar high tea.

We sipped Earl Grey tea and then the food came in these gorgeous lacquerware stacked boxes.  We drank several gallons of tea (bad plan if you have to get up at 5am the next morning), sat by the window and hung out for several hours.

We were instructed that we should unstack the boxes and eat the courses in the order in which they were stacked.

The first dish was a traditional pickled tea leaf salad with tiny but powerful chili peppers.  Almost every restaurant we visited had its own version of this salad, so it was fun to compare this fancier version to others we ate later in the trip.  We also had fried items which are known as "Myanmar tempura."  These were wontons, onion and shrimp, but we found that pretty much anything fried can be categorized as Myanmar tempura (corn, individual spinach leaves, and carrot sticks are just a few examples.)  

The desserts included rice pudding, a scone-like item, fried bananas, a fried sticky rice sesame ball, and a sweet semolina cake.  I LOVE fried bananas, so that was arguably my favorite thing, but they were all delicious.   The rice pudding was flavored with coconut milk and palm sugar and none of these were overly sweet.

Yangon, while fascinating, is generally a smelly, hot city so an afternoon spent in the comfort of air conditioning, watching the traffic out the window was a welcome escape. We asked the waiter what we ought to do after our tea and he advised us to cross the road and watch the sunset over the river, which we did.  And it was lovely.

 sunset over Yangon.

sunset over Yangon.