Street eats: Find­ing fried veg­gies in Tarmwe

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - KHIN WINE PHYU PHYU

EV­ERY af­ter­noon, Tarmwe town­ship teems with en­ergy. If you turn the cor­ner on Tadi­pah­tan Street around 3pm on a given af­ter­noon, you’ll find lo­cals queu­ing up for the open­ing of a small, unas­sum­ing shop called The Aw Kwae Kyi Shop, run by U Ta Yoke and his wife.

Wait­ing in line, the sounds of oil pop­ping and the warm aroma of taro whet the ap­petite. Inch­ing closer to the front, you might see a pre­view of what is to come as a boiled mix­ture of white car­rot and rice – first chilled into a mould and then fried – is swiftly cut into sheets by a ny­lon rope and thrown into the fryer.

Though ev­ery­one on the block knows this af­ter­noon de­light as aw kwae kyi, its name is de­rived from the Chi­nese word for car­rot-in­fused taro cake, site tauk kae. Ad­di­tion­ally the snack can be made us­ing a va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles in­clud­ing taro, pump­kin and car­rot. And if you’re a meat eater, don’t fret; aw kwae kyi of­ten comes with fill­ings such as dried shrimp, fish paste and chopped chicken. Lo­cals will even add a lit­tle chili sauce or palm su­gar for an added kick.

How­ever, you’ll want to queue up early if you want to have your taro cake and eat it too.

“We make four pyi of rice a day and that comes out to about 80 moulds. But we run out of aw kwae kyi around 5:30pm though some­times we’ll have some left in the evening,” owner U Ta Yoke said.

He and his wife have been fry­ing up aw kwae kyi on the cor­ner of Tadi­pah­tan Street for al­most 20 years, gar­ner­ing an in­sa­tiable, ded­i­cated fol­low­ing and carv­ing out a space as a sta­ple af­ter-work snack joint.

“We be­gan sell­ing aw kwae kyi for K25 a piece and sell­ing around 300 pieces,” U Ta Yoke said while cut­ting the cake and toss­ing pieces into a pot of hot oil. The cooked pieces hit the grill for a few min­utes to sap up the oil.

U Ta Yoke’s wife, who asked to re­main anony­mous, cuts the cakes with scis­sors in­stead of a knife be­fore serv­ing to cus­tomers be­cause the pieces are very hot once off the grill.

“My hands have be­come very re­sis­tant to the heat. I’m sorry to make our cus­tomers wait a lit­tle longer while the cakes cools off but the good smells will in­crease their ap­petite,” she said.

U Ta Yoke’s aw kwae kyi is well worth the wait if only for the ex­cel­lent qual­ity of rice which gives the cakes a soft taste, al­most melt­ing in the mouth. For U Ta Yoke, mak­ing taro cake has be­come sec­ond na­ture as he mea­sures the ra­tio of rice to car­rot by hand.

“We soak the rice overnight so it’s easy to grind. The cake be­comes flabby if there is too much car­rot. We add the car­rot into the rice mix­ture un­til it be­comes creamy and we put it all into cylin­der-shaped molds to chill for three hours,” he said.

Rain or shine, U Ta Yoke’s shop is open serv­ing the same, de­li­cious and af­ford­able taro cakes. The only thing that changes sea­son to sea­son, says long time cus­tomer Ma Moh Moh, is the colour of the wa­ter­proof can­vas roof above the shop and the faces of the age­ing ven­dors. Even though she has moved up the creek to Thin­gangyun, she al­ways heads back to Tarmwe for her favourite snack.

Pho­tos: Aung Myin Yezaw

The aw kwae kyi is a fried mix of veg­eta­bles, with oc­ca­sional meat top­pings tossed in.

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