2019 was the year Burmese food finally arrived in Portland. And not even two weeks into 2020, we'll soon have one more Burmese option.
On January 23, popular NW 21st micro-restaurant/take-out spot Top Burmese is opening a new concept called Kyay Oh. While Top Burmese serves a broad array of dishes popular throughout Myanmar, Kyay Oh, located in Top Burmese's original space at 833 NW 16th Ave, will be laser-focused on a single dish from the capital city of Yangon. Translated literally as "copper pot", kyay oh comes in two traditional variants: dry (no broth) and wet (with broth).
We asked Top Burmese's Kalvin Myint what to expect.
Can you describe the dish for someone who’s never had it before? It differs from other Burmese noodle soups in that it is not spicy, sour, or savory. The flavor profiles are more on the sweeter side. Vermicelli noodles are served in a cloudy broth with meatballs, quail eggs, and green veggies. The dry version made its distinction by adding a small amount of si chet (Burmese fried garlic in oil) to the dish. It hits all 3 points in my book… It smells good, looks good, and more importantly tastes super good!
What does the dish mean to you? I feel kyay oh is underserved outside of the country. It is very popular in Myanmar but you will see that it is missing from the menu at most Burmese restaurants in the US. A relatively young dish to Myanmar and it didn’t show up in Burmese food scene until 1968. No one knows how it started. Presumably by Chinese expatriates who fused their family recipes with what was available to them in Burma at that time. The first documented kyay oh restaurant in Yangon is still in business today.
This dish is a longing nostalgia for me and it’s also true for most Burmese people I know. Kyay oh restaurants are a category in between a café and full-blown restaurants in Yangon. I remembered as a youngster hanging out with friends, when we were hungry, but not super hungry, then a kyay oh restaurant is a great place to pop in. They got more satisfying food than a café, and with a lot less formality of a restaurant. A perfect way to just drop in, have a great meal, and move on to whatever we were doing.
Where did you source your recipe? Grandma April [the mother of wife and Top Burmese chef Poe Myint] sourced the recipe from various kyay oh chefs she has known in Myanmar.
There’s no canonical recipe since no one knew who started it. However, there are a few well known Burmese kyay oh restaurants such as YKKO (Yankin Kyay Oh) that influence what [people think] kyay oh tastes like. Our recipe doesn’t veer off so far from it. We have fine-tuned ours based on our dietary preferences. We want our dishes to be a balanced healthy meal—high on veggies and less harmful meat or fat. Our kyay oh will not have exotic meat like pork belly fats or intestines. But we will have options with lean chicken complete with the greens, ong choy and quail eggs. And of course, we’ll have plenty of vegan options.