The Irrawaddy

Pao Mon: Mon Kitchen 

Local and homemade Mon dishes: fish curry, string bean salad and fried chicken. 

MOULMEIN, Mon State — In the Mon State capital of Moulmein, traditional Mon dishes available at Pao Mon or “Mon Kitchen” let visitors experience the local cuisine.

Many restaurants in Myanmar focus on international cuisine, forgetting to promote local dishes. Pao Mon fills that gap.

The restaurant has been in business for two years, featuring sweet, sour and hot flavors, as almost every dish uses dried Marian plum and green chili.

String bean salad. / Pao Mon / Facebook

Pao Mon is a social enterprise run by a team of incredible indigenous women from the Mon Women’s Organization (MWO), which aims to empower women. The restaurant was started to preserve Mon tradition and culture, serve local dishes and teach Mon cooking.

The chef, Ngu Wah (aka) Mi Khamoon Khit Chan, had been interested in cooking since she was a child. She joined the MWO in 2001 and contributes her culinary skills to the group.

She said that she just wants others to be able to know about and try Mon dishes. She ensures that the vegetables, fish and meats are all locally sourced when possible to help local farmers. As Mon State is near the Thailand-Myanmar border, the farmers have to compete with imported goods.

Green fish curry with rice. / Pao Mon / Facebook

Along with sharing the food, customers can spend time with the chef, learning how to prepare Mon dishes.

Mi Khamoon Khit Chan’s sense of cooking comes naturally, and she has been taught by local elders. She challenges herself and succeeds in creating delicious meals for her customers.

Pao Mon restaurant. / Nyein Nyein / The Irrawaddy

“There are not many restaurants where you can get local dishes. We want to promote our traditional foods. We don’t use MSG or artificial flavors. The foods are all natural, fresh and healthy. We try to be sustainable through this social enterprise so that we won’t need outside support in the long run,” said Mi Kun Chan Non, the vice chair of the MWO.

The MWO’s purpose is to empower women in the community through vocational skills such as hand weaving and cooking. Along with community development and social enterprise, it also raises awareness about women’s involvement in politics.

Pao Mon is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day except Monday and customers can also order dishes in advance by calling 09425329170. For groups, pre-order is preferred. The restaurant is located on the corner of Myaing Tharyar Road and Third Street, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Moulmein.

A group of three or four that does not pre-order should expect to wait about 25 minutes for their meal to be prepared.

Customers can also buy traditional Mon sarongs and other souvenirs at Pao Mon, as well as enjoying the local food.