Happy eats at “Taste of Burma”
by Mihnea Nemes
Anyone who lives in Hawaii for a few years will have a tough time returning to his original point of departure. But as magnetic Hawaii may be, family is a stronger magnet. After five years in the happy isles my wife and I decided to leave. But we took our time and a convoluted return path, making it back on the East Coast after 9 months spent backpacking on the roads and rails of Asia and Europe. I am a Washingtonian again, but after being away for so many years, I feel like a little alien in this Greater Washington, D.C. Area. Years ago, comfort food consisted mainly of bread, tomatoes and sheep cheese. Now, after Hawaii and a year on the road, comfort food includes Thai curry, Thai (in fact Laotian) sticky rice and Vietnamese noodle soup.
Now the tragedy: we haven’t found yet in our new home area a Thai restaurant to match any of those in Hawaii or Thailand. Luckily, there are a plethora of excellent Vietnamese restaurants (including an entire Vietnamese shopping center nicknamed “Little Saigon”), serving the food one might find in the streets of Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). But the restaurant that got our attention, and to which we keep coming back doesn’t get its food inspiration from Thailand or Vietnam, but from a country we have not visited and we know little about: Burma.
We spotted “A Taste of Burma” on our way to the CVS Pharmacy. We asked for a menu, and a polite and friendly waiter (perhaps the son of the owners) gave us a card with the restaurant website on it: http://www.atasteofburma.com/. When we got home, we filed the card, never to retrieve it again from its safe location. Months later, while trying to decide where to take our guest to dinner, we thought: why not Taste of Burma? We lowered the expectations by telling our guest we hadn’t tried the restaurant before. But she was as eager as us to embark on a new culinary adventure.
The same friendly young man welcomed us into a neat, bright, colorful dining area. Fresh orchids were on every table and soothing music played in the background. Just when you thought you could pinpoint the flute music as coming from the depths of India, all of a sudden you had the distinct impression you just heard a Native-American rhythm. I felt like having tea and not leaving the place for hours, and thankfully, “street-corner chai” was on the menu. We ordered curries all-around. Hard-boiled egg and potato curry for me, Asian pumpkin curry for my wife and tamarind curry for our guest. We all shared. Although I loved my egg-and-potato curry (reminiscent of the Indonesian gado-gado) it was the Asian pumpkin curry that won the evening’s amateur’s taste award. It was the Asian pumpkin curry that brought us back for a second visit, too.
This time we expanded into the realm of salads. In addition to the pumpkin curry and the chef recommended green curry, we also ordered the golden samosa salad. The samosas (fried pastries filled with potato) came smothered in chickpea gravy and topped with tamarind sauce. Our tongues wanted to say: “Novel and excellent!!!” But the best was yet to come. The mom, cook and possibly owner, came to say hi and inquire if we liked the food. “We love it!” came the answer. “Are you vegetarians?” “Yes” both my wife and I replied.
The mom came back and served us another vegetarian salad, the Fermented Tea Salad, and an eight-dollar value, on the house! Well, as you probably have guessed, the Fermented Tea Salad won the evening’s honors. The peanuts, broad beans, and sesame make it the crunchiest salad in the world, too.
Today we came back and had a hana-hou at the pumpkin curry, and tasted the cousin of the tea salad, the Burmese ginger salad, which ties the Tea salad for crunchiness.
You probably wonder how many times I’ll be able to return for the pumpkin curry and the crunchy salads. I’m curious about one thing, too:
When was the last time you tasted Burmese food?