06 Feb How Rabbit in 19th Street makes its legendary Chinese pastries at a Yangon Bakery
Yangon’s Chinatown is a traveller’s hotspot. Every evening 19th Street turns into a jovial street food bazaar where backpackers feast on beer and barbequed skewers and you find plenty of cheap and cheerful hostels with free breakfast and cosy rooftop bars. The whole neighbourhood has a distinct Chinese character and festive feel with red lanterns, colourful temples and mooncakes galore. But it wasn’t always like that, under the military rule life wasn’t easy for the Chinese people of Yangon. Many fled the country, those who stayed, kept a low profile and blended in. Now under the new regime, Chinese life is no longer confined behind closed doors but can once again spill out on the streets. Character signboards appear on shopfronts, people start learning Chinese, dim sum recipes resurface and every year the Chinese New Year celebrations grow bigger. We meet Aung Kyaw Moe, owner of Chinatown’s most famous Yangon Bakery about his secret family recipes and the spirit of Chinatown.
Don’t let the rickety signboard fool you, this is one of Myanmar’s most famous bakeries
Ten workers form a production line are the diameter of the shop
This small family workshop turns out hundreds of its signature flaky pastries every day
In a nondescript stall on the corner of 19th Street hangs a humble sign written in Chinese and Burmese with the symbol of a rabbit. Don’t let the rickety signboard fool you, this is one of the most famous bakeries of the country, supplying pastries to supermarkets and other bakeries all around Myanmar. Little did we know that this small family workshop turns out hundreds of its signature flaky pastries every day.
Ten workers form a production line are the diameter of the shop. One worker rolls the dough, another inserts a ball of peanut butter in the center and the last one brushes the dough with egg yolk, Aung Kyaw Moe explains, “this is a Tai Yang Bing (“Sun pastry”), Dan Wang Su (Egg Yolk pastry), Taro pastry from Taiwan.” These two recipes reveal part of their family history. During the military regime era under General Ne Win the Chinese experienced discrimination and restrictions. It was difficult for us to set up a business and Chinese schools were closed down. As a result, his father fled to Taiwan and learned baking. When he came back, he opened a small bakery. It was 1999, the year of the rabbit.
During the military regime it was difficult for us to set up a business and Chinese schools were closed down, so my father fled to Taiwan and learned baking.
Making sun and taro pastry, following traditional Taiwanese recipes
One worker rolls the dough, another inserts the filling and the last one brushes the dough with egg yolk
The pastry recipes reveal part of the family history
Aung Kyaw Moe is not your average baker. Before taking over the oven mitts in the family business he told his father, “I want to be a swimming trainer.” However his father quickly scolded him and slowly crushed this dream. Aung Kyaw Moe took an interest to swimming at a late age, diving in at age 18 to the pool to train professionally. He went on to win three silver medals at the Asian Games. But just three years later his father told him his time was up and asked him to take a lead in the family business, Before taking over the oven mitts in the family business he told his father, “I want to be a swimming trainer.”.
Aung Kyaw Moe still swims, he shares reluctantly as he shows us his medals and photographs. But these days most of his time is spent managing the bakery. Especially in the run-up to Chinese New Year things get busy here.
The pastry recipes reveal part of our family history.
Aung Kyaw Moe is not your average baker. He was a god swimmer, bringing home three silver medals at the Asian Games
Before taking over the oven mitts in the family business he dreamt of being a swimming trainer
Meet the rabbit and the rooster on the streets of Yangon
Want to find the spirit of Chinatown?
Ready to explore the streets of Chinatown? There’s plenty more to see. Get your hands on the iDiscover Yangon Guide with 4 handcrafted itineraries that bring you the honest and authentic in the city’s most historic neighbourhoods: Chinatown, Indian Quarter, Pansodan and around the Secretariat. Comes with a free navigational app so you can get lost without getting lost. Feel more like a guided tour? Check out Yangon Heritage Trust, they’re the best. Don’t forget to stop by Rabitt, a Yangon Bakery.
Find Chinatown’s hidden gems and insider secrets with the iDiscover App&Map
Words and photography by Libby Hogan
Libby is a freelance journalist who has documented the changes across Myanmar’s many ethnic states in the past three years after Aung San Suu Kyi won elections. Her passion is looking at youth culture and stagleaping to isolated regions to hear untold stories from those who never had access to media or the opportunity to speak freely. Check out her website.
Libby’s favourite spot in Yangon: watching the sun set behind Shwedagon Pagoda when walking the boardwalk at Kandagyi Park.
Interviews by Tiffany Tang
Tiffany Tang is iDiscover’s community manager. Hong Kong born free-spirited and adventurous urban traveller Tiffany has a passion for culture and cities. Born in Hong Kong, she speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and English and even a bit of Tai Shan (Southern Guang Dong province) which came in handy during the interviews. She has fallen in love with Myanmar for its friendliness and relaxing creative environment.
Favourite spot in Yangon: Central Train Station, on my way to a new destination in this beautiful country
Translation & facilitation by Thurein Tint
Thurein (or just call him Tim) is 19 years old graphic designer and recent graduate from the prestigious Pre-Collegiate Programme in Yangon. He loves the city where he was born and raised, but dreams of going overseas one day to explore new adventures. Find him at @timmmdraws
Favourite spot in Yangon: they do a really good mohinga breakfast at 11th street in Chinatown
Map design by Mekong Kyaw Swar
Mekong is an art director and illustrator who handcrafts minimalistic elegant works of Burmese heritage and sunny landscapes out of his hometown Yangon. Find him at @mdesignygn
Favourite spot in Yangon: BBQ with beer on 19th street in Chinatown