Once the capital of a Shan princedom, Hsipaw is five hours northeast of Mandalay on the road to Lashio and the Yunnanese border. The town is small: after a few minutes’ walking, you can be out in the countryside, with the sounds of birds and the wind in the trees.
Just outside town one day I came upon a small family-run noodle stand and stopped for a bowl of khaut swe (pronounced “kao sway”), rice noodles topped with simmered meat and pea tendrils. It’s a first cousin of the noodle dishes found at morning markets along the Mekong River in Yunnan and Laos. In Kengtung, farther east, a version of these noodles, called khao soi, is sold streetside for breakfast every morning.
The five-spice powder, a reminder that China is a short distance away, gives the tomato-laden chopped-pork sauce a little warmth. There’s no chile in the sauce itself; instead, diners can add chile powder or chile oil if they want. There are many other possible condiments—choose the ones you like. I sometimes make the sauce as a topping for rice, adjusting the recipe by adding extra water to make it more liquid.
Heat the oil in a large heavy pot or a wok over medium-high heat. Add the turmeric and then the sliced shallots and cook until the shallots are translucent, 3 or 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Add the pork and stir and turn to expose all surfaces to the hot oil. After several minutes, once all the meat has changed color, add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the mashed soybeans or miso paste, fish sauce, five-spice powder (or alternative spices), and salt, and stir to blend into the sauce. Taste for seasonings, and add extra salt if necessary.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Put out the optional toppings and condiments, and set out the individual bowls for your guests near your stove. Drop the rice noodles into the boiling water and boil gently until softened, about 1 minute for fresh noodles, 4 minutes for dried noodles. Drain and then distribute the noodles among the bowls. Top each pile of noodles with a generous helping of meat sauce.
Invite your guests to add the toppings and condiments as they like.
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