A few years ago, after an arduously tiresome journey from Lake Inle (most of it spent literally sitting on a road after a lorry broke down and left an entire mountain bypass of vehicles stranded), I found myself seated in a roadside restaurant in Bagan, Myanmar. The menu featured a dish that immediately caught my attention: fermented bean paste. How promising! I placed an order.
Five minutes later a woman, presumably the proprietor of the diner, approached with a menu in hand. She pointed to the item I ordered and firmly said "foreigner no like." She repeated this statement each time I insisted I had no interest in changing my order, and I stood firm in my decision. Ten minutes later my food arrived, and before me was my first taste of pone yay gyi. I was in heaven.
Used as a condiment and seasoning in Burmese cooking, pone yay gyi is made from fermented horse gram beans (pe bazat in Burmese). In cooking, the paste is often used alongside pork, but is also served on its own as shown in this recipe. The paste is thick and salty, with a sometimes nearly imperceptible chalky texture. The flavour packs a heavy punch for such a simple food (the power of fermentation, kids) so it's impeccably complemented by a mound of freshly steamed white jasmine rice.
It's an obscure ingredient not easily sourced outside of its native Myanmar, but if you have access to a Burmese market you will almost certainly find pone yay gyi. If you live in the UK it can be bought online from Mum's House Burmese Supermarket.
Pone Yay Gyi with Garlic and Shallot
This mix of fermented pone yay gyi bean paste with fresh and fried garlic and shallot, plus a generous glug of flavoured oil, is so simple it hardly qualifies as a recipe. Quantities are vague because you should combine the ingredients to taste. All of the ingredients aren't necessary; pone yay gyi mixed with fresh shallot and plenty of oil is also delicious. If you live in the UK you can order it from the online Burmese supermarket Mum's House.
- 1-2 packets pone yay gyi
- Fried garlic
- Fried shallot
- A few thin slivers fresh garlic
- Thinly sliced fresh shallot
- Fresh chillies
- Peanut, sesame, shallot, and/or garlic oil
- Mix the pone yay gyi paste with fresh/fried garlic, fresh shallot, chillies, and some oil. Top with more oil and fried shallots, if desired. Serve with jasmine rice.
- Author: Kip Dorrell
- Serves: 1-2 with rice
- Cuisine: Burmese