Monday, August 21, 2017

New Shan sheriff in town

ON the outside with its cheeky wooden sign, red awning, and outdoor menu display (an anomaly among Yangon restaurants) it is hard to distinguish Shan Kitchen from the rows of other hipster-friendly haunts that line the streets of Yaw Min Gyi.

Across the street from Craft coffeehouse and adjacent to Fatman, Shan Kitchen is a both a delicious and cozy new Shan cuisine experience, set to rival long-standing Yaw Min Gyi Shan stronghold, Aung Mingalar.

When I arrived at Shan Kitchen with my party, we were eager to try not only the wide variety of Shan noodles but also some of the lesser known dishes on the menu. Though my experiences with Shan cuisine are in no way comprehensive, they are wide ranging. I was particularly keen on seeing how Shan Kitchen’s warm tofu noodle (tofu nwe) and fried tofu salad (tofu kyaw thoke) compared to some of my favourite Shan spots, including a family owned noodle stall right off of Myanma Gone Yi road.

One of Yaw Min Gyi’s newer additions. One of Yaw Min Gyi’s newer additions.

With brightly-coloured paper parasols decorating the restaurant, we were greeted by friendly hostesses who were available to answer our questions about the food.

As we were quite hungry, we decided to splurge ordering a total of eight dishes: Shan chicken rice (K3500), warm tofu noodle (K2000), nan gyi thoke (K2000), Shan sour pork (K2500), fried tofu salad (K2000), pennywort salad (K2000), crispy golden pork belly (K5000) and fried dumplings (K2500) as well as a smattering of fruit juices and Myanmar beers.

The crispy golden pork belly.The crispy golden pork belly.

While the warm tofu noodle and nan gyi thoke were certainly delicious – the chick pea flour in the nan gyi thoke particularly flavourful, the real stars of the meal were the Shan sour pork and crispy golden pork belly.

Unlike standard fare Shan restaurants frequented by expats, Shan Kitchen served up some surprises. The Shan sour pork, a pounded combination of minced pork and sticky rice steamed in what appeared to be a banana leaf and garnished with fried garlic was unexpectedly tasty. Though it is not as aesthetically pleasing as some of Shan Kitchen’s salads, appearances hardly factor into consideration. The pork rice combination – its warm and subtly meaty flavour – elicited in me the sensation of eating a home cooked meal. Oddly familiar yet still exciting to my palate.

The crispy golden pork belly also aroused a similar feeling. When executed poorly, pork belly is frankly gross – it is a hard to sell texture, a duo between tender pork and sometimes tough, gelatinous fat. Yet Shan Kitchen continued to deliver, the crispiness of the pork meat was perfectly balanced with the fat content, a handful of sliced tomatoes, onions and green chili as well as a generous portion of a tangy, sweet sauce.

On the whole, Yaw Min Gyi’s newest addition is a potentially new favourite. Having survived the restaurant death season of last month that claimed other establishments, I feel it’s safe to say that Shan Kitchen will become an affordable and exciting fixture in the Yangon food scene.