Shwe Shan Lay – Yangon

One of my personal goals in this food voyage of mine (from my mom’s dining table to a hole-in-the-wall resto in the middle of nowhere) is to enlighten people about both little known and well known food cultures around the world. It’s always a delight for me to try new foods (unless it’s about consuming odd animal body parts like testicles, ovaries and that nonsense.)

I took pictures of just about everything I ate in my last trip to Asia (200 photos on the last count), thinking that I would blog about it along the way. Alas, accessing internet and a time crunch became major issues for me, especially in Burma. So here I am, writing about the interesting things I ate, 7 months later. Better late than never, I suppose.

While wandering through Yangon’s Chinatown, at the heart of Burma’s former capital, my family stopped by Shwe Shan Lay (ရွှေရှမ်းလေး), a home restaurant next to a famous Chinese temple, specializing in ethnic Shan cuisine (As a side note, the Shans are an ethnic minority living in the highlands and known for their use of preserved and fermented ingredients and pork).

One of the saddest things about Burma is how pervasive child labor is, from live-in maids to waiters. This is common throughout Asia, but nowhere as blatantly practiced. The young boys serving us were probably all younger than 10 and most likely had been bought from rural families who need extra income. I guess it’s one of the sobering realities of visiting other countries.

Anyway, everyone ordered variations of Shan noodles called (Shan khauk hswe (ရှမ်းခေါက်ဆွဲ), which are vermicelli rice noodles, pickled mustards, and ground pork, in a curry gravy and garnished with crushed peanuts. A large serving cost only K800, or ~80 cents, easy to say for a foreigner. But the average Burmese person makes little more than $1 a day, so it’s no wonder most people can’t afford to eat out everyday. I thought it was a little dry.

The dish was served with mustard greens. The Shans are famous for their mustard greens (called Shan mon hnyin gyin or ရှမ်းမုန်ညင်းချဉ်), preserved vegetables that are characteristically sour and complement almost any rich dish. My parents managed to smuggle a jar or two back to the US, along with at least 20 pounds of pickled tea leaves and other foodstuffs.

I also ordered a large bowl of Shan tofu salad (ရှမ်းတိုဖူးသုပ်), which is a salad of yellow tofu (made from chickpeas, not soybeans), and dressed in a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and peanut oil, then garnished with cilantro, fried onion bits, peanuts and red chili, K700, or ~70 cents. This is one of my favorite Shan-style dishes, because I love how smooth and firm the tofu is. And even when eaten alone, it has a distinct taste, unlike soybean tofu, which is essentially bland when eaten by itself. This particular dish was absolutely delicious, with perfectly dressed and soaked slices of tofu.

The restaurant also had two cats that I couldn’t help but take pictures of before we left. 🙂

Address: No. 71, Sin O Dan St, Latha Township, Yangon, Burma

Rating: 4.25/5

– Justin


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