Rediscovering Traditional Myanmar Snacks

By Lwin Mar Htun 17 July 2018

The traditional Burmese snacks shops called ‘Da Lae’ (tradition) bring back childhood memories for some while offering a variety of new flavors for others.

If you look back over the last 20 years, there aren’t a lot of Burmese breakfast options and most people eat traditional snacks like kauk nyin poun (steamed sticky rice), bein moat (Burmese sweet pancake), moat sein paung (steamed rice cake), shwe hta min (jaggery sticky rice cake) and more.

Anyone born before 2000 grew up eating these snacks for breakfast or afternoon dessert.

But today, it’s becoming more difficult to find traditional snack vendors. People are instead reaching for fast food, Western food and Korean food, said Ko Linn, the owner of a traditional shop called Da Lae.

A bookshelf and the small tables inside the shop.(Photo: Aung Kyaw Htet/ The Irrawaddy)

When Ko Linn visited Taunggyi, he founds a vendor selling kyaw sone (fried snacks) and kyauk nyin poun at the local market. It tasted delicious and he wondered why these snacks couldn’t be easily found in Yangon.

He said the idea for a shop came from that visit. Along with his wife, he visited Hinthada, Pyapon and other cities in the Irrawaddy Region and learned various recipes from elders in each location. He then experimented with the recipes in Yangon for six months.

All of his snacks are homemade and he says there are some he still can’t offer because he hasn’t mastered the recipes.

A staff member waiting to welcome customers at the entrance. (Photo: Aung Kyaw Htet/ The Irrawaddy)

“We all grew up with these foods but we are now forgetting them. We no longer see the vendors and we forget the techniques for making them. I want to remind people of our traditional snacks,” he said.

When asking foreigners what they know about Myanmar, they will likely answer Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Shwedagon Pagoda and then possibly moat hinn khar (fish soup), he said, adding that he wanted to promote other snacks and traditions.

Da Lae opened last March and has quite the local following. The shop is located in the middle of Pyi Thar Yar Street in Thingangyun Township. It is a bit small and you might need to look carefully the first time you visit.

The shop has a thatched roof and its name is written on a sakaw (bamboo tray). Inside, there is a bookshelf and a few small tables.

After taking a seat, the staff welcomes you with traditional tea and sweet smiles. I visited around 10 a.m., not exactly proper breakfast time.

So, I ordered the hta min sote (rice ball), which was mixed with dried, salted fish that is grilled on a small charcoal fire for 1,500 kyats, along with a big sakaw of traditional Burmese snacks for 3,000 kyats, which included four snacks that the customers can choose.

Da Lae’s hta min sote, topped with fried quail eggs.(Photo: Aung Kyaw Htet/ The Irrawaddy)

I chose htan thee moat (steamed toddy cake), moat sein paung (steamed rice cake), moat leik pyar and shwe hta min (jaggery sticky rice cake). Individually, each would cost 800 kyats.

Customers are free to peruse the bookshelf and spend time reading at the shop. The owner placed the books there in hope that people would do so.

“I warmly welcome people who love reading. They can even come and read without ordering food, Ko Linn said.

The wait wasn’t long. The plate came with three small hta min sote, topped with fried quail eggs and filled with pe byote (boiled peas).

The portions were big and the food was delicious. The rice was not too hard and the pe byote was amazing. These might have been perfect if the rice had been warm.

Owner Ko Linn preparing the snacks in Da Lae’s kitchen.(Photo: Aung Kyaw Htet/ The Irrawaddy)

The shop played old Burmese music, which Ko Lin had collected over time to play at his shop, hoping that the younger generations could be exposed to it.

Then, the big tray came. It was enough for three people although we were only two.

Moat leik pyar is thin layers of rice noodles filled with jaggery and red bean, folded in squares and served with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. It is one of my favorite traditional desserts and whenever I see it on the road or in the market, I buy it.

Shwe hta min is sweet sticky rice baked with jaggery and topped with coconut flakes. It is sweet, but not too sweet. Some people like to eat it without the coconut flakes but for me, it is the perfect pairing.

A friendly staff member explaining the menu to customers. (Photo: Aung Kyaw Htet/ The Irrawaddy)

Mont sein paung is another local favorite. It is layers of steamed, ground rice mixed with layers of jaggery. It is also served with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds.

The htan thee moat was served warm with toddy palm fruit. The cake was fluffy and smelled great, a mix of sweet and sour at the same time.

Overall, the food was tasty, the staff was friendly and willing to explain, the shop was clean and the vibe was chill. I will definitely be back to spend my afternoons with a good book and the delicious snacks at Da Lae.