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Trishaw gastronomy: A Mandalay teashop foodies tour

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Mandalay’s Nan Shae Market is ground zero for casual snacking.

Before embarking on the half-day Mandalay Teashop Foodies Tour offered by Grasshopper Adventures, my wife and I pondered whether to eat a bit of breakfast at our hotel.

Despite the insistent grumbling in our bellies, we opted against the idea. That decision gave us enough extra time to walk to the tour company’s office on Mya Sandar Lane, where the trip was scheduled to start at 8am.

While most excursions offered by Grasshopper Adventures require clients to utilize their own energy to pedal a bicycle, the foodies tour is conducted via hired trishaw, allowing travelers to relax and enjoy the scenery while someone else supplies the locomotive labor.

As it turned out, skipping breakfast was a smart idea. Nestled in the cozy passenger seats of our respective three-wheeled chariots, we were soon trundling along the shady byways and busy thoroughfares of eastern Mandalay, gobbling our way through an entire day’s worth of food in just a few hours.

Under the direction of our ethnic Kachin guide Zaw La, our first stop was a street-side fried food stall – the kind of place where locals pause on their way to work to pick up plastic bags filled with fried chickpea, lentil and tofu snacks, along with small baggies of tamarind, garlic and chili dipping sauce. We ate a few samples to quell the early-morning emptiness in our stomachs, and then continued along a quiet, leafy backstreet where pink-clad nuns walked in long processions collecting alms.


A fried snack vendor sets up for the morning rush.


Young Buddhist nuns make their alms rounds.

Farther down the street we checked out Nan Oo, a family-run enterprise where noodles are made fresh every day and sold to teashops and individual homes. The products are manufactured in several tasty denominations, including Shan, meeshay, coconut and monti varieties.


Fresh noodles at Nan Oo.

From Nan Oo we followed the noodle-distribution trail by swinging onto busy 19th Street for breakfast at Shwe Latyar mohinga shop, where the locally made noodles are counted among the fresh ingredients. We ordered Mandalay-style mohinga – which is has thinner fish broth, fewer noodles and less oil than the Yangon variety – plus chickpea tempura and green tea.

As we ate, Zaw La filled us in on the history of the Royal Palace, the layout of Mandalay and some important Burmese social customs. He also pointed to a public hall across the street and explained that whenever a marriage ceremony takes place there during one of his tours, he drags his clients along to crash the party and to enjoy the glories of a traditional Myanmar wedding.


Mandalay mohinga for breakfast.

Unfortunately, all was quiet on the matrimonial front on the day we joined the tour, so we plunged straight into the nearby Nan Shae Market, where the first floor is dedicated to clothing and the second floor houses vendors selling fly-magnet meat and a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables transported daily from Pyin Oo Lwin.

Of course there were also snack vendors galore in the market, and Zaw La urged us to cram some mount sikyaw (sticky rice dough mixed with jaggery) into our already half-full bellies. Crickets were also available for consumption but we decided to skip them, if only because it was too early in the day to indulge in nature’s own beer-matching munchies.


Snacking can be dangerous, so it’s important to wear a helmet at all times.

On our way out of the market we passed a stall selling bananas and coconuts – not for eating, but for making offerings to nat (spirit) shrines. Zaw La was inspired to tell the tale of the mighty blacksmith Maung Tint De, who was murdered by the king of Tagaung and later became the nat Min Mahagiri (Lord of the Great Mountain).


Bananas meant for offering to the spirits.

Off we rolled on our trishaws to another teashop, this one famous for its hearty pauksi (chicken and pork dumplings) and ei kyar kweh (Chinese fried donut sticks). We indulged in both, along with cups of Myanmar’s ubiquitous black tea with condensed milk, a tradition that Zaw La explained came to this country from Portugal via India.


Chicken- and pork-filled dumplings.

The atmosphere at the shop was noisy, with the under-aged waiters sounding like agitated gremlins as they shouted orders at ear-splitting volume. Zaw La said visits to this shop elicited the one question most frequently asked by clients on his tours: Why are these kids working instead of attending school? His ready response provides instructive insight into the debilitating effects of poverty in Myanmar, as well as into the dire state of the country’s educational system.

The next stop was the legendary Ah Yee Taung laphet thoke shop on 26th Street, where different varieties of pickled tealeaf salad can be sampled from a lacquerware dish before ordering a full serving – we chose the tongue-searing “special spicy green tea snap”, which also supplied our umpteenth caffeine kick of the day.


Laphet thoke (pickled tea leaf salad) samples in a lacquerware tray.

With the morning advancing and the temperature rising, we welcomed the ensuing respite at a thirst-slaking roadside juice stand, which boasted a wide range of fresh produce from which to choose. Zaw La urged us to mix the fruit as we desired, but my puritanical upbringing has conditioned me to tend toward the conservative in beverage-related matters so I stuck with pure pineapple juice.


Fresh fruit at a roadside juice stand.

We sat on plastic chairs in the shade of an almond tree and sipped our drinks while chatting and mulling the implications of the words “Zeus, the dope god” – a cryptic message that some enterprising graffiti tagger had painted on the wall of the water purification factory across the street.


Baffling graffiti.

From there it was just a couple of blocks to Shwe Pyi Moe Café on 66th Street. Famous for its Indian chapatti and poori platters, it also serves a menu of Shan favorites.

The café was meant to be the tour-concluding lunch stop, but by this point my wife and I could barely eat another bite. I managed to stuff a bit of chapatti and mutton curry into the last square centimeter of space left in my stomach, and then I waved the white flag of gastronomic capitulation.

And with that, Mandalay Teashop Foodies Tour came to a successful conclusion. But pity the poor trishaw drivers tasked with pedaling our bloated bodies those last few blocks back to where we had started our journey four hours earlier and several kilos lighter.

Travel Information

The Mandalay Teashop Foodies Tour costs US$33 per person and can be booked through Grasshopper Adventures, 4/3 Mya Sandar Lane (between Streets 24th and 25th streets, and 62nd and 63rd streets), Aung Myae Thar Zan township, Mandalay. Telephone: (95) 09-40265-9886; website: