“Keep going for another 200 meters and you’ll see it”
En route, everything we see — clothing shops, grocery stores and food stalls — transport us to Myanmar. Our destination today, however, is MONA.
MONA is the neighborhood’s first Burmese restaurant that’s been running for over 16 years. Inside, the smell of incense and spices provides a fitting ambience for the restaurant. A couple of Burmese customers are enjoying their meal, chatting away in their mother tongue, while we’re waiting to meet the restaurant’s 51-year-old owner, Auntie Mona.
Mona emigrated to Thailand from south Mandalay. She told us that when she was 16, she had to struggle because she didn’t have her parents around. When a Burmese acquaintance who lived in Kanchanaburi told her to relocate to Thailand, she did exactly that and met her soon-to-be Thai-Nepalese husband not long after. Unfortunately, he passed away when their children (now aged 18 and 20) were very little. Mona has been a single mom since then.
As a food lover who also likes to cook, Mona is no stranger to the kitchen as she’s been selling food since she was a teen. In Thailand, she and her friend started out their small business with a food cart, selling Burmese food around Wat Khaek area. After less than two months, her friend could no longer pay for the cost, so she decided to go solo, opening her own restaurant in Prakanong market under her own name.
MONA is a Community
No matter what time of day it is, MONA can always be relied on when it comes to Burmese food. Not only is it a favorite spot for many Burmese migrant workers, the place sees a wide range of customers including Europeans, Nepalese, Thai as well as Tai Yai people who travel all the way from Chiang Mai. One customer loved the food so much they wanted her to go open a restaurant in France. Mona also told us that recently she’s been getting Japanese and Korean customers, too.
Besides cooking up tasty food in the restaurant, she also does catering for weddings, birthdays, and religious ceremonies. Her food has on many occasions graced official events such as ASEAN food fairs and functions held by Nepalese associations. Some Burmese families who haven’t seen each other in more than 20 years choose the restaurant as their reunion spot. All of this is a result of authenticity, meticulous care and fine ingredients that she’s put into her dishes.
5 Signature dishes not to be missed at MONA
Before we get to sampling what Mona’s prepared for us, here’s the 101 on Burmese cuisine. The food, with its influences from China, India and Thailand, is seasoned with fish sauce, soy sauce, and shrimp paste. Seafood is particularly popular in coastal areas like Sittwe, Myeik, and Mawlamyine whereas meat and poultry are more of a staple in the northern part of Mandalay. Fish and river prawns are often eaten raw, sundried, fermented or as a paste.
Burmese food comes in a wide variety of dishes, ranging from salad, yum, curries, and soups eaten with rice or fermented noodles. The main ingredients used are potatoes, ginger, tomatoes, kaffir leaves, string beans, and betel leaves.
Nan gyi thoke (70 baht)
Similar to a spaghetti dish, nan gyi thoke is made with thick round rice noodles with chicken meat, duck egg, shallots, and Chinese cabbage. One of MONA’s best sellers, it’s garnished with toasted chickpea flour, spring onions, fried shallots, hard-boiled egg, and coriander.
Mohinga (40 baht)
Considered the national dish of Myanmar, mohinga is rice noodles served in fish curry with banana stems. Typically eaten as breakfast, the dish is prepared with chickpea flour, garlic, onion, lemongrass, ginger, shrimp paste, and fish sauce. Served with condiments such as sliced lime, fried shallots, coriander, chilies and fried mung beans.
Tua pu eun (50 baht)
A kind of thick chickpea soup seasoned with sweet soy sauce and Burmese spices. Served with rice noodles and rice flour and garnished with crushed peanuts, fried shallots and garlic. This vegetarian dish is a popular breakfast option.
Lahpet thoke (80 baht)
Typically eaten as a snack, this famous fermented tea leaf salad is made with different legumes such as yellow split peas, butter beans, toasted sesame seeds, fried dried shrimps, fried garlic, pickled ginger, chilies, and tomatoes.
Khao soi toh (50 baht)
This noodle salad is made with khao soi noodles and a host of other ingredients like sliced cabbage, cucumber, spring onions, coriander, fried tofu, roasted gram flour made from chickpeas and sliced chicken meat. Everything is then tossed in peanut oil, soy sauce and chili flakes fried in oil and garnished with fried shallots and garlic.
“I have to keep going no matter how tired I get. Whenever I feel unwell, I’d just go to a clinic to get a jab and come back to work. My kids are my moral support.”
Mona feels indebted to Thailand for allowing her to work legally whether it’s in Kanchanaburi, where she lived during her first years in the country, or in Bangkok. She told us that, pre-Covid, her income was in the thousands, but now it’s decreased to only hundreds. If anyone happens to be in Prakanong, don’t forget to swing by the restaurant and say ‘hi’ to her (she can speak some Thai). The restaurant is open daily, from 10.00 – 19.00 (delivery is also available).
MONA Burmese Restaurant
Address: 10/32, Soi Sukhumvit 71, Prakanong Neu, Wattana, Bangkok 10110
(Accessible through Soi Suk Uthit and Soi Petchkeaw, 500 meters from BTS Prakanong station)