Category Archives: Burmese

5 savory dishes to try in San Francisco

As much as I hate to admit this, I will concede that our neighbors up north do have a pretty respectable vibrant food scene. During the week of Christmas, a few college friends and I drove up to San Francisco and crashed at Rosalie’s family home, which is nestled in Outer Sunset.

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On the journey back home

Two Decembers ago, I returned to Burma for the third time, en route from neighboring Thailand, where my family had spent the bulk of our Christmas holiday.

To be honest, I struggle with writing about Burma. In some ways, I’ve been both blessed and burdened by my upbringing as an American of mixed Burmese and Chinese heritage. (My family is part of the overseas Chinese diaspora, with deep roots in Burma.)

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Rakhine style eats at Yangon’s Min Lan

Min Lan (မင်းလမ်း), perhaps Yangon’s best known seafood restaurant chain, serves amazing and delicious Rakhine-style fare. We paid tribute to this local favorite, dining at the chain’s Sanchaung Township location within hours after landing in Rangoon.

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Late night hankering for mohinga? There’s a place in Yangon.

Mohinga is to the Burmese what menudo may be to the Mexicans. It’s the stuff of life, found all across Burma, in homes, street stalls and in restaurants. As a kid, I regularly ate it for breakfast on weekends (there was no way I was going to school with a potent fishy breath). Over the years, I’ve had countless iterations of mohinga. I’ll tell you this: once you’ve eaten enough bowls of mohinga, you realize that no two persons cook the same recipe–every chef makes the dish their own.

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The OG ‘khao soi’ at Yangon’s San Pya Daw Kyi

I’m not about to start a feud between Thai and Burmese cuisines. But having been fueled by endless bowls of khao soi* while I was in northern Thailand, I beyond excited to grab a bowl of the ‘original’ Burmese coconut chicken noodle soup, aka on no khauk swe (အုန်းနို့ခေါက်ဆွဲ) when I flew into Burma.

*Khao soi just means ‘noodles’ in Burmese. Khao soi is Thailand’s take on the Burmese coconut chicken noodle soup, and has an intense coconut milk broth, on wheat noodles and a curried protein (chicken or beef).

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Was I in Chicago or in the middle of Burma?

Painting of a Burmese maiden hanging at their home.
Painting of a Burmese maiden hanging at their home.

I won’t lie. There’s a very special place in my heart for Burmese food, because it brings me home. The sound of chilis and garlic ground with a stone mortar and pestle, the aroma of caramelized onions, and the pungency of fermented fish sauce. And I had a obscene amount of it while visiting the Midwest last month.

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B Star Bar – San Francisco

Americanized Burmese food is one of those things that instantly repulses yet fascinates me. At the one hand, I’m surprised there’s a market for Burmese cuisine outside the country. On the other hand, I’m left at the end of the meal feeling unfulfilled.

An incomplete Burmese meal imparts a feeling called “ah yi” (အအီ), with no true English equivalent, describing how one feels after wolfing down a hearty and oil-laden meal. I won’t dissect the anatomy of the requisites in a Burmese meal, but dishes are paired according to their qualities. For example, oil-based curries are paired with a sour-tasting soup to offset the oiliness, and by extension, that feeling.

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626 Night Market Summer Series – Arcadia

626 Night Market

Hello there!

I know this post is a bit overdue, but my schedule’s been jammed packed as of late and this is the first real down time I’ve had in a while. I know I’ve told several people that I was done with my 626 Night Market reviews, but I have to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the 626 Night Market summer series this past summer, and I just had to blog about it.

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Of funerals and death anniversaries: Burmese traditions and Chinese rites

This August, my grandma passed away, shortly after she turned 90. Despite how emotionally prepared we thought we were, it was still a bittersweet occasion.

With that said, I thought I would provide a glimpse into some traditions and rituals performed during Chinese Buddhist funeral services and Burmese death anniversaries. A major feature of many Chinese rites is food. Funeral services are no exception. However, in comparison to Taoist rites, Buddhist rites are very solemn affairs devoid of ostentation (i.e. no gold paper or hell note burning).

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Of biryani and Burmese American Buddhists

Volunteers doling out plates of biryani

This past May, I had the privilege of photographing a once in a lifetime event, the sacred umbrella hoisting ceremony at the Progressive Buddhist Association (Thondrarama Brahma Vihara Monastery) in Azusa, a hillside community in Southern California. The monastery is perched on the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and was once a ranch, teeming with horses.

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Htamane, a sticky Burmese snack

Just wanted to share a festival snack native to Burma. Htamane (ထမနဲ) is a snack made on the full moon festival of the 11th lunar month on the Burmese calendar (corresponding with late February).

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A Burmese death anniversary

The weekend after Chinese New Year, my family made preparations to honor my grandmother, who passed away 14 years ago.

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YKKO – Yangon

YKKO (short for Yan Kin Kyay Oh or ရန်ကင်းကြေးအိုး) is one of the few restaurants in Yangon specializing in kyay oh (literally ‘copper pot’), a Burmese noodle soup with flat rice noodles, pork intestines and an egg. It has a few franchises throughout town, but kyay oh (ကြေးအိုး) is not nearly as popular as biryani. I think kyay oh has Chinese origins, but I’m not 100% sure.

The folks here let you choose what kind of noodles (flat, thin, thick, etc) you want and how you want it cooked (fried or in soup). First up was kyay oh with flat noodles. The soup base is very meaty and there’s a half-cooked egg that’s added on top.

My sister ordered a variation of dry kyay oh, called kyay oh si gyet (ကြေးအိုးဆီကြက်), meaning it’s been fried in cooked oil and garnished with fried garlic. It comes with a soup that’s lighter than the one found in kyay oh.

I ordered the same thing, except my soup base was meatier and there was a quail egg included. The pork meat is really tender and easy to eat.

No. 286, Seikkantha St.,
Kyauktada Township, Yangon

Peace,
Justin

Preserved turnip egg omelets (chhai po ng)

菜脯卵, aka chhai po ng
Preserved turnip egg omelets, eaten best with congee (糜)

Another easy and simple egg recipe! It’s a Teochew-style omelette that’s traditionally served with plain rice porridge or congee. Some of my earliest childhood memories have involved me eating this stuff. There are so few ingredients involved, but the preserved turnip (typically found at any Asian markets) really makes a difference in the texture and taste.

Fun fact: Eggs (the kinds you eat) are called nng (卵) in Hokkien and Teochew, not dan (蛋) as in Mandarin or Cantonese. Congee is me (糜), not zhou (粥).

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • Some salt and sugar to your liking
  • Chopped slivers of preserved turnip
  • Oil

Recipe:

  1. Chop the preserved turnip into smaller bits
  2. Break two eggs and whisk the yolk and the whites thoroughly and mix the preserved turnip bits in.
  3. Sprinkle salt and sugar to your liking. I prefer them a bit sweeter, because the sweetness of the omelette really complements the salty-sweet turnip bits.
  4. Fry the omelette with some oil until the omelette’s golden and firm.

Peace,
Justin

Burmese Kitchen – San Francisco

Over spring break, Josie and I took a road trip with some friends to Norcal. We had already planned out all the food places we’d hit up along the way and we somehow managed to eat at all of them. 🙂 Food (and good company) was the highlight of this trip.

After a really long drive up to SF, we checked in our hotel near the Civic Center and did some sightseeing at the City Hall. Then we headed over to Burmese Kitchen, a Burmese resto really close to SF’s Little Saigon. The place is pretty small and packed at dinner time. We waited for a good 20 minutes for our seats.

There are a bunch of Burmese carvings and decorations in Burmese Kitchen, giving it a homely feel. But I’m still of the opinion that home-cooked Burmese food is a lot better tasting than restaurant-style Burmese food. I just wanted my friends to experience Burmese food.

For appetizers, we ordered Burmese-style samuza (ဆမူစာ) for $4.95. Unlike Indian samosas, Burmese ones are relatively flat and triangle-shaped. They were perfectly fried, but a bit too small for my liking. (The samuza I’m used to are the size of my palm.) The potato-filled samuza came with a tangy and sweet sauce.

We also ordered fish cake salad or nga phe thok (ငဖယ်သုပ်) for $6.50. Nothing too amazing—just strips of fried fish cake mixed in with a generous serving of oil, chilies on the side, chopped lettuce and onions.

For the main course, we had the pork with pickled mango (ဝက်သားနဲ့သရက်သနပ်အချင်) for $6.50 and chicken curry (ကြက်သားဆီပြန်) for $5.50. As a primer, Burmese curries are rather oily (curries are called si byan or “glistening with oil” in Burmese).

The pork with pickled mango was rather disgusting, to be honest. The pickled mango slices, contrary to my expectations that it would be sweet, were really sour and difficult to chew. My mom always cooks this dish with sweet mango pickles, which give off a delicate masala spice fragrance that can be tasted in the pork. However, here, the pork chunks were totally drowned in an overpowering sour sauce.

The chicken curry was decent, but missing most of the oil sauce that it’s cooked in (maybe to make it more edible to non-Burmese folks). It was a bit too salty for me too.

We also ordered the tamarind fish (ငါးဆီပြန်နဲ့ ခရမ်းချင်သီး) for $6.95. It’s a shame that they were so stingy with portions. I could’ve eaten all of the fish fillets on the plate in a single bite.

Since we were still not full, we ordered pork with chana dal (ပဲပြုတ်နဲ့ဝက်သားဟင်း) as our last course, for $6.50. It tasted and looked more like an Indian dish than a Burmese one, especially the Indian chickpeas and the spices used. But as usual, a generous amount of oil used.

Service:
Prompt and friendly—I got to use my Burmese skills for a change. The restaurant owners (presumably) were pretty nice too. Since our rice was late, they gave us extra rice (biryani and coconut rice as well) on the house. Also, we were able to use a 10% coupon without any trouble by showing an online copy, since I forgot to bring my printed coupon.

Verdict:
Disappointingly small portions, but a good place for introducing Burmese cuisine to people who otherwise might not have a chance to try it out. I still think that monasteries and homes are the best places to find authentic Burmese food though!

Address: 452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102 | map

Peace,
Justin