Review: Nong Inlay (Burmese), Takadanobaba, Tokyo

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Bamboo bugs AKA takemushi/ 竹虫!

I make a lot of friends through food. Everyone has to eat, right? Once you discover some common ground, *poof* you’ve instantly got something to chat about or a place to hang out.

Of course, there are those mysterious creatures among us who would rather take a nutrition pill than bother with the hassle of eating a meal. I’m assuming you’re not one of them, since you’re reading a food blog 🙂

The result of this culinary camaraderie is that I make friends who are fairly adventurous when it comes to food. And so this why I spend my Saturday nights doing things like… cycling 10km across Tokyo to eat some insects.

Yes, you read that right. Insects.

Over the past year and a half, I have tucked into a range of grub (pun fully attended) from the insectosphere, including grasshoppers, silk worms, bees, bee larvae, and giant hornets. I’ve also drank hornet- and water beetle-infused alcohol.

This time, we were off to Nong Inlay in Takadanobaba, north of Shinjuku, for some Burmese food. The restaurant advertises itself as specialising in Shan cuisine, which is a state in the northeast of Burma and which, in my opinion, produces some of the best food within Myanmar.

Nong Inlay is divided into two small rooms with a hatch

Nong Inlay is divided into two small rooms with a hatch

The inside of Nong Inlay is very much cafeteria-style, with simple wooden tables, chairs and benches. A paper menu on the wall detailed the delicacies awaiting us.

Takemushi! Litereally, bamboo bugs! OH YES!

A plate of crickets was also on offer and so we hurriedly ordered and began taking gratuitous bug-munching photos!

Ryosuke loves takemushi

Ryosuke loves takemushi

The takemushi arrived and we tucked in. They were very crispy, with a slight shrimp-like taste. My friend Ryosuke was particularly delighted and will be heading back to order them again.

I love crickets

I love crickets

I preferred the very crispy crickets which had a slight soy sauce tang to them, but Ryosuke found them a little bitter. I liked their bitterness.

CRUNCH

CRUNCH

As for Miyu? I don’t know but she cheerily ate everything like it was completely normal. I was so impressed as it was her first foray into entomophagy. She is a true eating explorer!

For me, I wouldn’t particularly order the insects again but would tuck in if someone else did. I’m still yet to be convinced that they will ever be tasty enough to reach wider appeal – ignoring the psychological issues that come into play just by looking at bugs! However, Nong Inlay certainly offered some of the tastiest insects I’ve tried!

Shan noodles

Shan noodles

Of course, we had to delve into the other items on the menu. We got ourselves Shan-style noodles, which tasted a bit like Japanese soba meets Taiwanese beef noodles minus the beef, and nothing like Shan noodles I had in Myanmar. Pleasing though.

Shan-style fried rice

Shan-style fried rice

Chicken & cashew nut

Chicken & cashew nut

The Shan-style fried rice was unremarkable but improved by a dash of fish-sauce but the chicken-cashew nut stir-fry was moreish, and very Chinese in its style (I say that in horror at my own ignorance of varieties within Chinese cuisine but it really did taste like a typical dish from a Chinese restaurant in the UK or Japan, although it thankfully avoided cloying sweetness).

Shan tofu

Shan tofu

The Shan tofu was deep-fried, crispy on the outside, silky on the inside but not too flavoursome by itself.

Lahpet AKA fermented tea leaf salad!

Lahpet AKA fermented tea leaf salad!

For me, the absolute highlight was the fermented tea leaf salad known as lahpet. This was my absolute favourite dish when I wen to Burma – as well as fermented tea leave, it can contain crunchy beans, peanuts, garlic and other veggies. Nong Inlay’s effort wasn’t quite up to the flavour-punch of those I had in Burma but it made me so happy. SO HAPPY.

All of this food (minus drinks) worked out at 2000 yen a head, which I think is pretty reasonable. Given the insects are 970 yen for a tiny plate! If you do order them, I recommend getting a beer – they’re perfect drinking snack food.

Nong Inlay 3.75/5 – Intriguing dishes, reasonably priced. I’ll be going again for their stir-fried frog!

Food 3/5 – Not a flavour sensation, but some of the more credibly cooked insects I’ve tried.
Value 5/5 – Given some of the ingredients aren’t in the local supermarket, excellent.
Service 3/5 – Dishes were given to us sporadically and the waitress didn’t seem to understand Japanese.
Atmosphere 4/5 – Laid back with friendly co-diners more than happy to offer a suggestion!

Where: 2-19-7 Takadanobaba Shinjuku Tokyo
東京都 新宿区 高田馬場 2-19-7 タックイレブンビル 1F (1 minute from Takadanobaba station)
When: 11:30~23:30(L.O. 23:00); lunch menu 11:30~14:30
URL:   http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1305/A130503/13009115/

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