Monday, December 3, 2018

In defense of Kyay-Oh

“It is just another asian noodle”, uttered 20-something traveller  with a thick European accent, in response to my suggestion to eat Kyay-Oh, while she was in Yangon night market.

“Blasphemy”, I thought internally, while probably doing a terrible job at hiding my mortified face.

“What??? Kyay-Oh is not just another asian noodle,” said my accompanying friend from the States, half-chucklingly, with an obvious-but-failed intention to diffuse the heat.

“Hmmm..I wonder what you are looking for”, I asked.

“I was thinking something a bit more exotic. I have just travelled to Singapore so I felt like I am ready to be adventurous”

“Hehhhh?? I have no idea what you just tried to say by the word “exotic”. More importantly, saying your Singapore trip has prepared you for Yangon is like saying you are learning indications of Whipple procedure from Grey’s anatomy.

“Whipple, Grey..what??”

“Oh never mind. If you don’t think you want Kyay-Oh, there is a newly opened KFC around the corner”.

“Oh yeah? I might try that. I heard KFC tastes different in different countries”.


The end of the story.

Ok, now, let me tell you, my readers, why Kyay-Oh is not just “another asian noodle”. 

First of all, the word "Kyay-Oh" literally translates into "copper pot". The story has it that the dish gets its name from copper pots used to cook the dish in its inception. But, although the vessel of cookery has long evolved, the name still lingers. 

For the basics, there are two ways you can eat Kyay-Oh - wet and dry. The wet or the classic one is served with thin rice vermicelli noodles in opaque, almost milky pork broth, while in the dry ones, the noodles are tossed in garlic-infused pork fat. The wet one is for another post. 

I love using this noodle strainer to cook my noodle. It is so much better than trying to fish out the noodle.

Now, let’s talk about my favorite - the dry one with garlic-infused pork fat, pretty much my death-sentence meal. Fuck lobster or wagyu beef. What I want before I die is simple carbs tossed in generous amount of flavorsome pork fat, and seasoned heavily with my favorite umami trifecta - light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and pure MSG. Yes, you heard it right - the recipe calls for sparkly crystalline rods called MSG. It is not a matter of committing culinary deviancy by using MSG, but rather an act of sticking to authenticity. Trying to avoid MSG while eating in Yangon, or many parts of Asia, is personally considered snobby at its best, and middle-finger to the food scene at its worst. The artificial savoriness of the MSG works well with natural well-rounded saltiness of the soy, to complement the fatty unctuousness of the lard-coated vermicelli. Lastly, the noodle has to be accompanied by quickly blanched asian mustard greens and chives. These humble duo creates an essential characteristic wasabi-like pungency, that acts as a palate cleanser. 

There are many different ways to eat Kyay-Oh. Some are purists. Others, like myself, like to douse the dish heavily with chili sauce, until the dish becomes the scene of red wedding.

Last but not least, I cannot help but to feel that Kyay-Oh also plays an essential role in the Burmese pop culture. 1) You have to know that the bowls used to serve Kyay-Oh are massive. The fact that you can finish the whole Kyay-Oh bowl by yourself was a feat worthy of discussion during my middle school days. In other words, it can be loosely associated with the mark of your adulthood. 2) If a man and woman go to eat Kyay-Oh together, they are in a relationship. If they share one bowl of Kyay-Oh, they just started dating. If they order separately with extra chili sauce, they are probably married for years, and may even have kids at home. 3) If you visit a sick friend or family member, you always bring them Kyay-Oh. 4) Kyay-Oh is the only acceptable late night snack in Yangon after 11pm.

Ingredients for garlic-infused lard
  • 2 lbs. of pork belly
  • 2 garlic bulbs (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup of flavorless oil, such as peanut or vegetable oil


Using a pairing knife, take out the skin. Heat a large non-stick pan under medium low heat. Spread the pork belly slices to a single layer as much as possible.

Cook slowly until the meat slices are thoroughly golden brown and crispy, and most fat are rendered out. You have to make sure sure you turn the meat slices every now and then. This will yield about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of fat.

Fish out the bronzed pork slices, and snack on them later. Pour in 1/2 cup of flavorless oil.

Heat the mixed oil very gently, and cook the chopped garlic pieces VERY gently under low heat, until the garlic pieces start to turn yellow. If the pieces turn to dark golden brown, you have burned the pieces. My advice is to undercook the garlic pieces initially to slight yellow and let the residual heat do the remainder of the job.

Once they turn yellow, stop the heat, and place the infused oil in a clean ceramic bowl, and the residual heat. 

Ingredients for pork balls

  • 2 lbs. of ground pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp of corn starch
  • 1 tbsp of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp of tapioca starch
  • 2 cloves of finely minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp of soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 2 tsps of salt
  • 1 tsp of pepper

Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl with a spatula. The trick is to not over-mix the meat. What you want to do is fold in ingredients slowly until all of them are combined.

You can make any size or shape with these meatballs. I make about an inch to one and half inch diameter meat balls.

How to prepare the bowl

It is extremely important to get the correct type of noodle for this dish. What you want is thin vermicelli noodle (I use the brand Wai Wai). DO NOT ATTEMPT to use Vietnamese rice noodle sticks. The recipe will fail

Asian mustard greens are very unique. Most asian stores carry them. Click here if you have never seen them before.

200 g of thin rice vermicelli noodles 
2 pre-boiled quail eggs (You can use canned quail eggs that you can find at Asian grocery stores)
5-8 meatballs
1 cup of roughly chopped asian mustard greens
3 stalks of asian chives, chopped to about 1 inch lengthwise
5 tbsp of garlic-infused lard
1 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tsp of dark sweet soy sauce (click here for reference)
1 tsp of white pepper
1 tsp of MSG or chicken bullion powder


Heat up about 5 quarts of water in a large stock pot. Flavor the broth with 2 tbsp of chicken bullion powder. 

Put the dry vermicelli noodles the noodle strainer and cook until tender - about 3-5 minutes or according to the package instruction. After the noodles are cooked, fish them out and set aside in a large bowl.

Drop in about 5-8 meatballs in the same pot. Cook for about 10 minutes with simmering broth. Fish them out also and put in the same bowl as the noodle.

Blanch asian mustard greens and chives in the broth for about 15-20 seconds.

Mix all the ingredients, and serve right away. 


  1. What soy sauce and dark sweet soy sauce do you use?

    1. You can use any type of light soy sauce, but for the dark one, I use the one in this link.

  2. I seriously missed all your beautiful photography and your stories. This is a dish I can totally see myself making. I feel like you can't be afraid of fat and msg in your recipes lol They're what make food taste great. Just do a couple of extra push ups or something lol

  3. What a beautiful recipe. I stumbled across your blog while looking for a traditional dish to try, I'm excited to make this recipe.

    1. Thank you so much. Let me know how it turns out.

  4. I have seen some great stuff here. Worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to create such a great informative website. Your work is truly appreciated around the clock and the globe. defsa

  5. Thanks for posting this wonderful post. Keep writing. These are very valuable information.Great reading these your posts.


  6. "Awesome review Holly! This sounds good!"

  7. Keep up the good writing.