Eating your way through Pyay
YOU can travel the 180 miles (300 kilometres) to Pyay, Bago Region – about six hours by car – to marvel at its pagodas and drink in its history, which extends back to the fabled 1000-year Pyu era.
Or you can go there to eat. Fried snacks, Pyay rice salad, paper-thin crisp pancakes of rice batter, “hooligan” snacks and chicken soup (Mon-style) can all be had in the Kyat Taut San shop near the famous Nawaday Bridge.
Even in Yangon, you may have come across Pyay-style Daw U rice salad. But if you want the real thing, locals recommend the night market under the statue of Bogyoke Aung San in downtown Pyay.
Pyay resident U Ann Kaut said, “Shops in the night market are open until midnight or 1am. The food is inexpensive. You can get a salad with cooked oil, pea flour, and add tofu, beans, mango and onions. All the shops are different, with various flavours and ingredients.”
A rice salad with fried egg costs K700, and goes with meat or fish curry.
Next morning, breakfast can consist of fried snacks and hot oiled rice. Crispy fritters of onion or vegetables, shrimp or gourd melt in the mouth.
Pyay residents swear by their trademark paper-thin crisp pancakes of rice batter, which are available everywhere in town. They admit you can buy it elsewhere in the country, but say that’s only because it was spread out from Pyay by itinerant pagoda festivals. “In the Ne Win era, the generals ordered Pyay pancake chefs to cook for their receptions,” said U Ann Kaut. Or so they say. Anyway, the sight of a pancake seller pouring a ladle of batter into a hot pan and rocking it from side to side before tossing in green peas and onion tops is very common here.
For lunch, fried chicken, small fish fritters, chicken soup and chicken curry can be had at the shops near the Nawaday Bridge. The soup, with chicken, green chilli pepper, tamarind, eggplant, lemon grass, ginger, garlic and fish paste, is a poem in spice.
In the evening, you can walk along Strand Road sampling more fritters on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River.
If people know you’ve been to Pyay, they will expect souvenirs. Buy your cream, bean sticks and homemade, chemical-free fruit jam on a Saturday or Sunday to be sure of getting them, because they sell out fast. Most aficionados go to the “teacher” home shop near behind Santaw Kyo Pagoda for something that cannot be mistaken for a commercial jam.
As resident Ko Kyaw Tun Khine says, “Nothing can compare with the food of Pyay.” –