James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Warm Gloop is An Underrated Soup Topping

Warm Gloop is An Underrated Soup Topping

Tohu Nuway in Myanmar

It was a pleasant winter morning in Nyaung Shwe, the small town in the Shan region in eastern Myanmar. Even at that early hour, there were people milling around on the narrow lanes. Many of them were travelers on their way to Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist destinations.

The others, locals all, were sitting on wobbly plastic chairs clustered around plastic tables inside small shacks. These roadside cafés were not just makeshift breakfast joints, but also served a serious purpose as social hubs. This was where locals caught up with news—in the form of the printed word or in the form of gossip—over their morning soup.

I was also headed to one of those, following my guide Aye, who assured me that it was the most popular. I had eschewed the usual bland fare served at my resort for a local breakfast of tohu nuway soup, special to the Shan region.

When I had first read the description for Shan tohu nuway, it didn’t sound too promising. A soup with tofu? Blah, even if it is Burmese tofu. But blogs by seasoned travelers said it was a must-have, and who was I to argue?

It was also a vegetarian dish, a blessing I would usually grab with both hands and warm words of thanks. Myanmar, I discovered, has a wide repertoire of vegetarian dishes, perhaps because it is culturally closer to South Asia (think Nepalese lentil curries and Sri Lankan coconut gravies) than Southeast Asia. Meals had been easy thus far, with Myanmar’s incredible range of salads, from the very quirky and tasty fermented tea leaf salad to the more sedate ones with green tomato or avocado. But I was a bit unsure about this breakfast soup.

In any case, the tohu nuway soup turned out to be absolutely delicious, the tofu made of mashed chickpea and served as a warm gloop. The texture of this tofu was creamy and silky, very unlike the crumbly soy tofu that I tend to avoid. My first spoonful was tentative, suspicious; but after that, it was all over in a quick and undignified flash of slurps. It was a sublime marriage of tastes and textures.

The tohu paste, I discovered, is kept warm and poured over a watery soup of flash-boiled noodles. It is then further topped with all manner of delicious and crunchy things, including roasted garlic, pounded peanuts, toasted sesame, cabbage, and parsley.

But it was the final addition, a crunchy chili paste, that really made my subcontinental palate sing. And made me go back for more the next morning.

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