Developing a new Chin: Mr Sabuti
AS a Yangon born Chin Myanmar, 25-year-old Zippy is excited to get the chance to eat some traditional food from home – a corn soup named ‘Sabuti’ - but can only do so when his family makes a trip to Chin State to see friends and relatives. There are some small Chin food stores in Yangon but Zippy says it just doesn’t hit the mark like the homemade stuff that he remembers from his childhood.
Perhaps the magic is the corn itself – a staple crop grown in the Chin mountain air that gives the dish its authenticity and luster, something that just can’t be replicated using inferior Yangon Region corn. Indeed, the ‘good stuff’ is only available when it’s gifted by friends and family.
In answer to this predicament, Zippy, with two partners, has opened his own Chin food store, named Mr Sabuti, so that he might be able to share the magic of his homeland food with people here in Yangon, who seldom get to try it.
Penetrate the Market Yangonites have become accustomed to, and embraced, a good amount of Shan cuisine over the years, evidenced by common noodle houses and the popularity of sticky kao swe. Kachin food, centred in Sanchaung, has found favour as well as spicy Rakhine fish dishes. Could Chin be the next wave of ‘ethnic’ food to enter the Bamar heartland? Zippy hopes so.
“Like how Shan noodles and Rakhine Mote Ti can be accessed in almost every street now, I would like Chin food to be here,” exclaimed Zippy. It’s his goal to run a big successful restaurant that serves up hot, fresh traditional food with soup being the main focus.
Sabuti is Chin for meat and corn soup. It is a staple of the region owing to its mountains and difficulty of transportation, also for its weather and topography which makes corn the most popular crop, as opposed to rice in the Bamar delta. The soup is generally served with beef but can be paired with pork or chicken as one desires. The classic version is made with beef, however. Zippy is responsive to the needs of customers in Yangon and says he is working on a vegetarian version. The focus, it is said, is on achieving a delectable mix of spicy and sour notes which can be combined however you like it.
The opening of the new shop has required the three partners, who do not have previous experience in the food industry, to go on exploration missions to learn as much as they can about the cuisine they are so intent on doing justice to. They’ve traveled to Chin to eat as much traditional food they can get their hands on. They also compared those experiences to what Chin food could be found in Yangon.
Main difficulties The cost of renting a space was the three partner’s biggest concern since they didn’t know how well the cuisine would be received. They settled on a small location near Sule Pagoda that might attract the Chin Christians who frequent churches downtown, specifically the Immanuel Baptist just off Mahabandoola Park, which might provide Mr Sabuti with a baseline of business before they try and make their cuisine a fashion. Right now, though, it’s a small kitchen and tables and chairs that spill outside onto the street.
It’s still early days but the presence of a dedicated Chin soup restaurant is making a splash with people who are familiar with the cuisine and culture. One young customer The Myanmar Times spoke to said they hailed from Sagaing Region, not too far from Chin and loved that they could now get fresh sabuti downtown. “I miss the days of my youth when I got to have it,” The happy patron reported. “I used to eat it for its health benefits, so much nourishment and no fat.”
At this point, 22-year-old Lal Chhan Hima, another of the partners, reckons they’re serving, on a good day, up to 140 bowls of soup on the weekend and 70 on week days. “I really aim to share Chin food with as many people as possible.” He said.
Mr Sabuti Time and Price Tuesday to Friday – from 11am to 6pm Saturday -8am to 6pm Sunday - 3pm to 6pm Monday closed. Location: No. 197, Mahar Bandoola Park Road, Kyauktada township, Yangon.
Welcome to real Chin cuisine in Yangon.
Zippy gets it right.
Eating authentic Chin food.