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Posts from the ‘Burmese’ Category

Shovel Time: Burma Noodle Bar

twoshovelUnlike in the Bay Area, Burmese food has never been a thing in NYC. There was Village Mingala, one of the first restaurants I ever experienced in the city over 20 years ago, that short-lived Burmese Cafe in Jackson Heights, a few food festivals here and there (in fact, there’s a Burmese new year celebration this Sunday) and possession of part of the menu at Crazy Crab, the spot for Vietnamese seafood boils in Flushing–oh, and the Porchetta pop-up that’s actually happening tonight and that I forget about because it’s not immediately logical.

burma noodle mohinga

And because I don’t pay attention to Smorgasburg or pop-ups (not even In-N-Out taunting the Philippines or other Asian cities) I had no idea Burma Noodle Bar existed until I attended a Sunday triple birthday party at The Drink and xeroxed menus started getting handed out as afternoon segued into evening and the scent of spices began wafting from an indoor takeout window.

I’m not sure that the menu is always the same–the one they do for Sycamore in Ditmas Park is slightly different–but it looks like there’s always a noodle soup, and a few fried tidbits like curried beef potato croquettes, onion fritters and samusa a.k.a. potato samosas.

$6 for a small serving of mohinga (large is $3 more) thick rice noodles and catfish in a moderately hot broth described as chowder? You could do far worse for bar food in Williamsburg. Despite my Sunday experience, the website states that this is a Monday evening event.

Burma Noodle Bar at The Drink * 228 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Burmese Cafe

*Dang, the word on the internets is that Burmese Cafe is over. I too, saw the gates down last weekend and worried. (11/16/07)

I can’t even begin to explain how misguided it was to try and peacefully shop at the Elmhurst Target the Friday before Christmas (and this was intended as an antidote to the always troubling Atlantic Center Target that had been attempted earlier in the day) so I’ll refrain. But at least I was able to squeeze in a new Roosevelt Avenue Asian restaurant into the migraine-inducing trip. Burmese Café appears to have taken over the corner spot that used to be Karihan ni Tata Bino.

My only experience with Burmese food includes two non-recent visits to Rangoon in Philadelphia and a late '90s undocumented delivery meal from Village Mingala in the East Village (strangely, Village Mingala is quite possibly the first restaurant I ever set foot in in NYC. I first visited in '94 and accompanied a friend to pick up a take out order for the artsy bisexual Indonesian girl who was letting us stay at her 11th St. and Ave. C walk-up). I recall things like night market noodles and thousand layer bread, rich dishes that hinted at India. Burmese Café is nothing like that.

Part of me doesn’t want to admit that their food wasn’t immediately accessible. Some cuisines jump out while others don’t. I find Thai and Sichuan food grabs my attention without even trying, and not just because of the spice. Also heat-driven and good-oily, Malaysian and Indonesian fall right behind. Burmese feels like it’s in the realm of Laotian or Cambodian, lesser known and kind of raw and sharp. Though I don’t think Myanmar shares much in common with the Philippines, the vinegary, bitter, pungent qualities I tasted in the dishes we ordered felt vaguely Filipino. The style could grow on me but I have to get to know it better.

Lephet Thoke

The tea leaf salad truly is a strange combo, hot, sour and crunchy all at once. It seemed to contain sesame seeds, sliced green chiles, bean sprouts, dried broad beans, peanuts, dried shrimp and tomato slices. James, who’s fairly open-minded food-wise said, “I hope it tastes better than it looks.” It did look a little swampy. Let’s just say I had plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day (it's better fresh because after a few hours the crunch turns to mush). I was thinking the leaves would be dry like you’d find in a teabag but they’re wet and fermented, very much like grape leaves for dolmas. I don't recall it being described as using green tea leaves, but that's the case.

Duck Soup

I thought it was strange that James ate this without complaint since it was way funkier than the tea leaf salad. It contained bitter greens that might’ve been mustard, odd bits of poultry and blobs of liver (which only I ate) in a sour broth. James compared this to something his mom might cook, unconsciously delving into a heavily boiled, vinegary Filipino repertoire that his Midwestern father isn’t fond of.

Beef Curry

Ok, I “got” this dish. It’s basically Burmese rendang, stiff chunks of meat stewed with coconut milk and aromatics until most of the liquid is absorbed. Like I was saying above about Malay-Indonesian food being good-oily. I’m not scared of the shiny orange pool that coats the bowl.

Burmese Café * 71-34 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY


A big part of going to Philadelphia was being able to try things they don't
have here. New York is totally a food mecca, but they aren't known for their
Burmese food (I know there's Cafe Mingala in the East Village, but I've
never heard a good word about it). I wanted to see what sort of items would
come out of a Thai-Indian cross breeding.

The curries, fritters and use of potatoes and flat bread seemed Indian,
while the basil, peanut sauce and lemongrass were clearly Thai. I'd say that
most of the dishes leaned towards the Indian camp, though.

We ordered an appetizer of bar-b-q beef with thousand layer bread, which
was kabobs of grilled beef, onions and peppers served over a buttery flat
bread (almost like a hammered out Pillsbury biscuit). We also had Rangoon
night market noodles, which were very plain, though not surprising since
this has been described as food for workers. The noodles were egg and had a
light sprinkling of scallions and pork and an oil dressing. It came with a
spicy, vinegary cabbage carrot condiment, but I wasn't sure if this was
supposed to be added or eaten separately like a slaw. Additionally, we tried
the pork with mango pickle curry, which was a curry of the thin soupy
variety that goes well with lots of rice.

James ordered Burmese tea since it was freezing outside, and I didn't
realize until after left that it was on the dessert menu. That made sense
since it was sweet and rich from condensed milk. What I didn't get was why
the tea was a creamy orange-pink color. I assumed it was from whatever
spices were in it, but who's to say.

I'd heard that Burmese food tended to be bland. Maybe bland wasn't the
exact word, but I'd agree that the flavors are not strong. Nothing was
heavily spiced or kicky. Many of the dishes appeared fairly straightforward
and simple, but this wasn't disappointing. There just weren't any extremes
such as hot, sweet or tangy, which I'm usually drawn to. It's the kind of
thing where you need to sample more than just a few items before coming to
any conclusions. I certainly can't say that my first meal of 2001 was a
bust. (1/1/01)

Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian-it's all southeast Asian food that I'm not
experienced enough with to be nit picky. I don't think the NYC renditions
are all that remarkable, so I wish I had more time to explore the menu at
Rangoon. I'm intrigued by the salads, particularly the tea leaf one. I think
I prefer Thai, but I'd probably choose Burmese over Indian. It's hard to
resist a their thousand layer bread with potato curry dip, which is really
the same thing as Malaysian roti canai. And they serve inexpensive wine,
which is a plus if you have your vegetarian visiting-from-England sister and
her boyfriend in tow. Those Brits like to drink (and eat lots of tofu).

Rangoon* 112 North Ninth St., Philadelphia, PA