A tea shop open all day long, a party of three could eat plentifully for less than 10,000 Ks, and not worry about physical side effects in the following hours. Shwe Ei is a middle-class eatery that Yangon desperately needs more of.
Charlie Michio Turner
A traditional Burmese tea shop with perhaps a bit more polish. Not too much polish of course, but enough gleam to prevent this small restaurant from taking on a weathered appearance of a typical tea shop.
With seemingly modern decor and air conditioning, I started to wondered if this place was actually a Burmese tea shop or simply a Burmese restaurant. I asked a few local friends: What makes a tea shop a tea shop? Many were unable to give a concrete definition, instead restoring to the line, ‘you know one when you see one’. Shwe Ei probably would not pass this instinctive eye-test of what a tea shop is or isn’t, that said, it possesses all of the classic tea shop characteristics.
(1) Shwe Ei offers traditional Myanmar dishes. The Mohinga being the most popular. (2) The prices are affordable, with most dishes no more than 2000 Ks. (3) They serve complimentary tea and Laphet ye (4) Most patrons are local.
Seems like a tea shop. Of course, locals who frequent Shwe Ei care little about how ‘authentic’ it is, being much more interested in their servings of homemade Shwe Ei mohinga. For those who haven’t heard of this popular brand: Shwe Ei is to Mohinga what Maruchan is to Japanese Ramen. However, instead of poor college students, Shwe Ei has been able to grow into a national institution thanks to the export market of nostalgic Burmese expats who live in countries without the fish soup that is widely considered Myanmar’s national dish.
This Kyi Myin Daing restaurant is the first brick & mortar location to carry the company name and serve homemade Shwe Ei mohinga. Whether it’s mohinga or one of their several other traditional options, this tea shop takes cleanliness seriously.
“More restaurants are beginning to prioritize hygiene, which is a good thing because it’s a concern. I make it an issue with Fresh Kitchen and at this restaurant too.” says owner Aaron Barnes confidently in the shiny white restaurant.
Upon sampling the Fried Rice and Chili Basil Chicken, the lack of oil and MSG was immediately apparent. This may hurt Shwe Ei’s designation as a tea shop, but it was incredibly refreshing for someone who has grown to accept vegetable oil as part of the food pyramid.
Foreign-Owned? Sort Of…
Is this the first foreigner-owned Burmese tea shop in Yangon? It seems improbable, but until someone can point to another example, Aaron Barnes and Shwe Ei take the title by default. He reckons he’s the first.
Well, Barnes is from Australia but he is half Burmese with many family members being established restauranteurs . In fact, it is his Auntie Ei who is the founder of Shwe Ei mohinga and one of the catalysts for this new teashop. The F&B family dynasty also includes an uncle who founded FEEL Myanmar, the iconic chain of restaurants. Now Barnes is using his background in business management to start something of his own.
Barnes first started Fresh Kitchen a year ago, a successful catering service offering refined pan-Asian cuisine, Shwe Ei is his more local venture, but one believes has a broader appeal.
While Shwe Ei may serve local cuisine, Barnes views the international community as being a key customer base going forward. With more young people moving to Yangon who are eager to immerse in a new culture, with limited finances, this modern and affordable tea shop could end up being their saving grace.