The OG ‘khao soi’ at Yangon’s San Pya Daw Kyi

I’m not about to start a feud between Thai and Burmese cuisines. But having been fueled by endless bowls of khao soi* while I was in northern Thailand, I beyond excited to grab a bowl of the ‘original’ Burmese coconut chicken noodle soup, aka on no khauk swe (အုန်းနို့ခေါက်ဆွဲ) when I flew into Burma.

*Khao soi just means ‘noodles’ in Burmese. Khao soi is Thailand’s take on the Burmese coconut chicken noodle soup, and has an intense coconut milk broth, on wheat noodles and a curried protein (chicken or beef).

My introduction to San Pya Daw Kyi was humble enough. 5 years ago, my family had complained about the immense boredom we had, eating hotel breakfast buffets day in and day out at Shangri-La, in spite of how amazing Asian hotel breakfast spreads are. (In fact, we began to gift our breakfast vouchers to local friends and family so we could instead scour the local dining scene.)

Old school pots of simmering soup broths
Old school pots of simmering soup broths

One morning, my uncle hand delivered breakfast: a dozen plastic bags, tightly wrapped and coiled in rubberbands, each containing boiled noodles, coconut soup broth, some protein, and bunch of garnishes. Little did I know those plastic baggies contained the most flavorful coconut noodle soup I’d ever tried.

Fast forward 5 years. It was our last day in Yangon, and we were scrambling to relive our food memories before we had to depart that night. Immediately after picking us up, my uncle took us to the place that had become my gold standard for coconut chicken noodle soup.

Restaurant's humble exterior
San Pya Daw Kyi’s humble exterior

San Pya Daw Kyi (စံပြဒေါ်ကြည်) serves an incredible array of Burmese snack and breakfast dishes, including traditional salads (pickled tea leaf, tofu, fish cake, noodles, you name it). But it’s  really just known for 2 particular dishes: catfish chowder and vermicelli (mohinga, မုန့်ဟင်းခါး) and coconut chicken noodle soup. (Also, since health conscious eating is now on the average Burmese person’s radar, the restaurant also offers milk noodle soup (နို့စိမ်းခေါက်ဆွဲ, no zein khauk swe) for the cholesterol-conscious.)

Indoor seating
We grabbed indoor seating. Plastic patio seating is the norm for restaurants there.

We went all out, immediately ordering 4 bowls of on no khauk swe, alongside extra curdled duck blood on the side.

Arrival of the bowls!

The bowls came within minutes, served with the standard garnishes: lemon, diced onions, and cilantro.

Mmm mmm good.

I was immediately elated. My nose perked up to the delicate and sweet fragrance of coconut milk permeating the air. Everything else was forgotten.

Plenty of curried chicken bits, and fried pea fritters for a nice change of texture. Supple yellow wheat noodles perfectly complementing the intense creaminess of the noodle’s broth. The curdled duck blood, almost burgundy in color, delicate and rich. I immediately dove into my bowl, forgetting to cleanse my palate with some of the complimentary green tea served at Burmese restaurants.

Clockwise from top: Garnishes (including lemon, sliced onions, cilantro); Congealed duck blood; a bowl of hearty coconut noodle soup
Clockwise from top: Garnishes (including lemon, sliced onions, cilantro); Congealed duck blood; a bowl of hearty coconut noodle soup

This bowl of noodle soup brought me back to what I had remembered from 5 years ago. For a second, time had rewinded. I was back in Yangon circa 2009, a time before the immense societal and political changes Burma is undergoing now. It was just me, enjoying a hearty bowl of comfort food. A nice conclusion to a short but eventful pitstop in Burma.

San Pya Daw Kyi
No.88, Corner of Wa Dan St. & Anawrahta Rd,
Lanmadaw Township, Yangon


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