Thursday, July 27, 2017

Street eats: Finding fried veggies in Tarmwe

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.

The shopkeepers have been working their corner for nearly two decades. (Aung Myin Yezaw/The Myanmar Times)The shopkeepers have been working their corner for nearly two decades. (Aung Myin Yezaw/The Myanmar Times)

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.

The aw kwae kyi is a fried mix of vegetables, with occasional meat toppings tossed in. (Aung Myin Yezaw/The Myanmar Times)The aw kwae kyi is a fried mix of vegetables, with occasional meat toppings tossed in. (Aung Myin Yezaw/The Myanmar Times)

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.