Sunday, August 20, 2017

Street Eats: Finding Yangon’s best Shan noodles in a tent

Every night, the streets of Myanma Gon Yi Road swell with the usual litany of red-tented stalls and vendors selling fried snacks and fresh produce. Wading through the night-time crowd in Mingalar Taung Nyunt township can sometimes be dizzying. Small children chase each other through the maze of stalls; bein mont pancakes and pork satay skewers awaken the senses; dogs idle wantonly about the sidewalks.

Regular Shan noodles come garnished with green onion, bok choy, crushed peanuts and a dollop of chilli sauce. Photo: Nick Baker / The Myanmar TimesRegular Shan noodles come garnished with green onion, bok choy, crushed peanuts and a dollop of chilli sauce. Photo: Nick Baker / The Myanmar Times

Yet on the corner of Myanmar Gon Yi and 90th Street, a home-style Shan joint cuts through the evening chaos and quells any rumbling stomach. Adorned with a necklace of potato crisps, the blue- and green-tented noodle stall, known colloquially as Doe Shan Lay Noodle Shop, serves up what may be the best Shan noodles and tofu in Yangon.

It may be easy to walk right past Doe Shan Lay, which looks almost identical to the other cookie-cutter stalls lining the block.

Wife and husband owners Khin Htwe and Tun Sein first opened the shop in 2007, after a cousin from Mandalay came to Yangon looking to earn her own money and break free from her parents. She invited Khin Htwe and Tun Sein, who had moved to Yangon from Shan State, to join and help her.

Khin Htwe has been cooking the same Shan delicacies since she was a child.

“I learned how to cook from my grandmother and from my younger cousin. She has a good technique,” says Khin Htwe, smiling and straining noodles.

Almost 10 years after opening, Doe Shan Lay packs tables each night, having garnered a loyal and ravenous following.

Khin Htwe and Tun Sein work together to feed hungry customers. Khin Htwe and Tun Sein work together to feed hungry customers.

Their menu consists of a few key dishes, offering a simple, affordable, and truly unmatched taste of the family’s hometown, Namhsan, in Shan State.

“My family came to Yangon in 2000,” says Bo Nyein, the 24-year old son of Khin Htwe and Tun Sein. He joined his parents in 2001 and currently works for Easia Travel Company. “The noodle shop was supposed to be temporary. They came here for us, so we could get a better education.”

But business soon flourished, and there was no reason to close shop. Though Tun Sein’s family is related to the folks over at the famed 999 Shan noodles, Doe Shan Lay’s noodles are quite different; they are not the standard greasy fare found populating Yangon’s streets. The noodles are notably less oily, cooked al dente and mixed with a light tomato sauce. The taste of fresh garlic, ground peanut, and spring onion jump out on the palate.

Doe Shan Lay makes four types of noodles and three types of tofu. Guests can choose from sticky Shan noodle, normal Shan noodle, meeshay or flat noodle all for K1200, or K1000 if vegetarian. Normal Shan – a breakfast staple in Shan State – remains the most popular dish on the menu.

Various condiments are added to give the noodles a unique flavour. Various condiments are added to give the noodles a unique flavour.

Equally popular and far more labour-intensive is their soft and gelatinous yellow tofu. Made from a combination of ground chickpea flour, water and salt, the tofu takes a full day, three-step process to prepare. Once the liquid mixture has formed into a solid, the tofu is fried into a crunchy tofu kyaw, or cut into long strips for a spicy, sesame-seed-and-coriander-infused tofu salad, both for K500. A warm and creamy tofu ngwe which is poured over rice noodles and garnished with spring onion is K1200.

Khin Htwe cooks her tofu that same way she did in Shan State with a little help from her three workers. She wakes at 7:30am each morning and heads straight to Thein Phyu Market. There, she picks out the day’s vegetables and meats and has a bucket of chickpeas ground into a flour to make the tofu. Her three workers, three girls from Ayeyarwady Region, who are more like daughters or sisters to her than employees, help her filter the tofu mixture and stir it over a flame with a bamboo stick.

Making sure to respect the customs of her Muslim neighbours, Khin Htwe always buys meat from a halal vendor.

“We want everyone to have the chance to try Shan noodles,” says her son, Bo Nyein.

Bo Nyein, Tun Sein, and Khin Htwe pose in front of Doe Shan Lay stall.Bo Nyein, Tun Sein, and Khin Htwe pose in front of Doe Shan Lay stall.

Though life in Yangon is far different from sleepy village life in Shan State, Doe Shan Lay is more than just a noodle shop. Their shop is a reminder of home, of speaking Palaung and bits of Chinese, of going to the marketplace before day has broken, of a certain kindness and hospitality which is rare to come by in fast-paced city living.

Doe Shan Lay, 90th and Myanma Gon Yi in Mingalar Taung Nyunt township. Make sure to get there early if you want to try their tofu, as they often run out by the evening.