Digging into Chinatown's best tofu puddings
FAMOUS for its bustling Chinatown, Yangon’s Latha township comes to life at around 3pm each day. Among the vendors selling snacks, groceries and clothes is U Soe Shwe who sets up shop at a car park in front of a department store.
There he sells a rare treat – tofu pudding – known in Myanmar language as pebaung, a healthy snack that many take as a diet supplement, to relieve stomach pains and to increase metabolism. Pebaung is a home-cooked favourite in Chinatown as people of all faiths and creeds line up to get a taste.
Much like the recipe for making Shan-style tofu, tofu pudding is a labour (of love) intensive process. First, U Soe Shwe soaks dry soybeans in water overnight and grinds them into a paste in the morning. From there, he boils this mixture and it becomes a sort of soy bean milk. The last step is to add a natural substance to turn the milk into a jelly, and pour a bit of ginger syrup for a zesty taste.
Though U Soe Shwe declined to say what the secret ingredient is, as it has been a family traditional recipe for years, he assured The Myanmar Times that he does not use any chemical products to make the pudding.
Originally from Mayangone township, U Soe Shwe comes to Latha every day either driving his car or taking the circular train. When he needs to fill up orders, U Soe Shwe rolls up in an industrial Townace car, transporting tofu from his home to the street corner in Latha.
In one day’s work, U Soe Shwe uses twelve pyis of dried soy beans. He uses five for soybean milk and seven for tofu pudding.
Along with U Soe Shwe’s tofu pudding shop, there are only three other vendors making pudding in Chinatown, serving up an old favourite to a steady stream of hungry customers. “We would say pebaung is a kind of medicine as well as a dessert,” he said. U Soe Shwe, now nearly 50 years old, has sold tofu pudding and soybean milk since he was 17 years old.
While buying some pebaung, one of his regular customers said that even as they get older and older, U Soe Shwe has kept the style of his stall and the quality of his food deliciously consistent throughout these years.
His homemade soymilk is quite different from the soy milk one can purchase at the store. The soymilk is so fresh, it must be enjoyed right after U Soe Shwe adds a spoonful of sugar. As he doesn’t use any preservatives, the milk will spoil in a day’s time.
Right after most offices close for the evening, customers flock around U Soe Shwe’s stall, and he and his assistant rush to serve the small crowd.
Ma Myitzu, a 45-year-old resident of Latha township, said, “Pebaung is very good for digestion. It is rich in protein and is good for the skin.”
U Soe Shwe’s tofu especially is a Latha township staple, where he is known as the best tofu maker. Some even say their days were ruined when they had to work late and miss the chance to enjoy U Soe Shwe’s expertly sliced silky, smooth treat. –
Part-desert and part-nutrition suppement, the Myanmar tofu pudding known as pebaung is a staple in Chinatown.
Street vendor U Soe Shwe has been ladling it out for more than 30 years.
The Myanmar specialty is considered good for the skin.
A jelly-like substance, pebaung takes all day to prepare.