Burmese food is the best. I may not know how to make any of the dishes (except for the exceptionally easiest dish to make, pickled tea leaves or la phet), but I sure know how to enjoy it. Unfortunately, my mother isn’t the most excellent cook, unlike my grandmother, who passed away.
Luckily the Burmese community in the Los Angeles area is about 80,000 strong (not including inconspicuous Burmese Chinese, Indians, etc.), so there is some variety and a handful of talented chefs. Many Burmese cooks who sell their dishes do so from their houses, which is against the law in the U.S., but nevertheless is pervasive, especially because the L.A. area suffers from high rental prices for businesses and the like. I know of only two Burmese restaurants in the Los Angeles area and a few that are Burmese in name, but Chinese in menu.
One of them is called Daw May Yu, who originates from Mergui (or Beik) in the southern tip of Burma. She cooks excellent noodle salad (khauk hswe thoke), which I ate today. Noodle salad is literally a salad of noodles, consisting of large noodles mixed with cut cucumber, fried fish paste, a wealth of seasoning and oil, curry, cilantro and chopped lettuce and onions. She also cooks several regional dishes from the Mergui region, which tend to be heavy on seafood. One is the ‘cut-with-scissors’ noodles (kat kyi hnyet) which is very reminiscent of the Thai pad thai, except that it includes pork and is light and delicate on flavor. Although her business has been shut down by the Health Department several times (because it is illegal to operate an unlicensed food establishment), Daw May Yu is popular among monastery donors who want to serve hundreds on Buddhist holidays as well as among ordinary customers.
Next is the ubiquitous biryani, called dan pauk in Burmese. Although introduced by South Asians, biryani is to the Burmese what cheeseburgers are to Americans. In Rangoon and Mandalay, restaurant chains like Nilar and Kyet Sha Zun that sell ‘fast-food’ biryani. In the U.S., however, few Burmese expatriates cook excellent Burmese biryani. Among those is an Burmese Indian named U Maung Maung, who only sells catering amounts (like 60+ servings). U Maung Maung’s biryani is a blend of basmati rice, fresh and sliced onions and cucumbers, a medley of curries, and curried chicken in a delectable dish.