Nowadays, whenever Myanmar appears in the news, it’s always about the 2021 coup when the democratically elected government was deposed by the country’s military. It’s of course of vital importance for the world to stay informed about the situation developing there. But, at the same time, it’s unfortunate that we’re only being exposed to the country’s darker moments. So little is known about Myanmar that many still sometimes refer to it by its old name of “Burma” (although the “Burmese” adjective is fine.) Is there a way to stay focused on the plight of the Burmese people while also celebrating the best parts of Myanmar’s culture? Fortunately, there is and it’s a Burmese restaurant right here in Tokyo.
Located just outside Ikebukuro Station, the Burmese restaurant Spring Revolution was named after this year’s protests in Myanmar in opposition to the February coup d’état. “As of May 28, 2021, at least 850 protesters and bystanders, of which at least 50 were children, have been killed by military or police forces and at least 4,350 people have been detained,” the restaurant proprietor says. And the number of civil war victims and those who are in vulnerable situations due to the military coup continues to increase. To support these needy people, Myanmar nationals in Japan decided to open the Spring Revolution restaurant as a fundraising movement. “All the profit from this restaurant will be used to support the democratization process of Myanmar,” the Spring Revolution Burmese restaurant’s website states.
The Spring Revolution restaurant is just one of many forms of non-violent protests used by the people of Myanmar. They’re also employing strikes, civil disobedience, pot-banging campaigns and more. But political activism is far from the only reason to visit this Burmese eatery. There’s also, obviously, the food.
Recommended Myanmar Dishes to Try
Speaking on behalf of the restaurant, Lae Lae Lwin told us about some of her favorite Burmese dishes. “People think that Myanmar food is oily and spicy. But when you actually eat it, it’s very delicious, refreshing and healthy. Because I like so many Myanmar dishes, I can’t pick a favorite. But if you insist, I would go for Myanmar tea leaf salad,” she says.
Japanese people may be especially interested in this dish since they already interact with the tea plant in almost all forms. Known as Lahpet (or Lahpet Thoke), the dish is made from fermented tea leaves, crunchy fried beans, peanuts and garlic. “(Ohn no) khao swè is also one of the most famous Myanmar dishes,” she adds. Ohn no khao swè is a dish consisting of noodles in a curried chicken and coconut milk broth.
When it comes to Burmese cuisine, one must also mention Mohinga which is available at the restaurant. A kind of rice noodle and fish soup, it’s also known as the national dish of Myanmar. “One of the true beauties of Mohinga is its versatility and adaptability. It gained significant popularity among the Burmese in the late 19th century because it is reasonably priced,” Lwin explains. The Spring Revolution restaurant continues this tradition by only charging ¥850 for their Mohinga.
The Challenges of Running a Burmese Restaurant Abroad
The restaurant also has a nice selection of curries. Burmese cuisine has taken inspiration from some of their neighbors like India and Thailand over the centuries. At the same time, it always took care to make the resulting dishes their own. All that and more is available at Spring Revolution. However, no one can say for sure how long that’ll last.
Most of the dishes can be cooked with ingredients available in Japan. But sometimes they need to be imported from Myanmar. “Due to the high cost of trade and the high cost of raw materials, there are some products that are difficult to access. Now, the military coup has worsened our situation,” says the Burmese restaurant proprietor.
For what it’s worth, Japan has taken steps to address the situation. Back in May, the government announced that it would be freezing all developments in Myanmar unless the situation in the country improves. That same month, Japan indefinitely extended the visas of Burmese students and interns, allowing them to remain in Japan legally while the turmoil in their country continues. And in late August, the Japanese government refused to issue visas for military officials chosen to replace the Burmese diplomats in Tokyo who were fired back in March.
But what can you, as an individual, do to aid the democratic efforts in the country? The Spring Revolution restaurant sounds like a good place to start. You will support their efforts, learn about the culture and taste their cuisine. There’s also a large Burmese community in the Takadanobaba district of Tokyo. Visit other restaurants there too if you ever get the chance.
Other rare opportunities to taste food from all around the world: