Aung Myint Thu Teashop
Main road, near Taung Kwe Pagoda
Loikaw, Kayah state
by Daw Aung San Mue Sli
Standard hotel breakfast fare in Myanmar is a disgrace: cardboard white bread, plastic margarine from Singapore, once-fried now-cold eggs, and a fried rice and a fried Noodle Option if you’re lucky. Watermelon slices, whether or not they are in season, despite the fact that down the road is a market overflowing with the sweetest, tangiest, freshest pineapples, mangoes, papayas, etc. Weak Lipton tea, usually in a pot used interchangeably for serving weak and bitter coffee, and tasting like a sad mix of the two. Milk powder.
This dismal state of affairs provides the best excuse for an early morning hunt for a teashop.
I left the hotel in Loikaw, skipped the Shan noodle option opposite the hotel, and wandered down the hill toward the pagoda. (Kayah state is mostly Christian and animist, but true to form the Burmese have plonked a bunch of stupas on the limestock rock that sticks out over Loikaw, as they do with most sites of natural beauty in Myanmar.)
A little teashop nestled in a small row of small shops caught my eye. I approached. They stared. Ah – you have itchagwe (a fried dough stick – when fresh from the fryer, better than any doughnut). They smiled. But it was cold. Do you have any hot itchagwe? No. An awkward pause. But would you like Nepali roti? And how would you like your tea?
They ushered me inside. I sat down at one of the four tables, facing the small TV. It was showing Death at a Funeral (not recommended), with the cleavages smudged.
The tea was brought first. The teamaster presented it and, grinning, pointed out that it was made with fresh milk, and he had given me extra ‘mi laing’. It was true. There was extra boiled milk skin in there, and a few shiny fat globules too. Heavenly.
His wife made the roti. It came with a Tiny Bowl of Nepali curry and a tiny bowl of tomatoey spice. Chillies had been chopped and pounded into the roti mix, and perhaps there was some potato in there too.
They told me that an Indian who worked for Telenor had come here every breakfast during his stay in Loikaw and eaten three rotis. I managed two. They were of Nepali gurkha origin; she moved down from Kalaw in Shan state (which has a larger Gurkha population) to marry him twenty years ago. They had opened the teashop in March or April; before that they lived in a village outside Loikaw and farmed. The name of the teashop ‘means the successful one’.