I know it sounds a bit odd that I'd lived in Thailand for over two decades without once trying the cuisine of my neighboring country, Burma. You might even compare me to a Texan shying away from Mexican food. The truth is Burmese restaurants in Bangkok, my hometown, were and still are extremely rare. So it was a matter of inconvenience, not unwillingness. I had my first taste of Burmese food just last week in San Francisco, at a small eatery called Burma Superstar. I found the flavor profiles to be quite familiar, yet there were also some surprising elements.
Entering the restaurant, we were enveloped by an intense (but not too intense) aroma of spices, which revealed its deep-rooted connection to Indian cuisines. And as I earlier mentioned, the place was humble in size. We had to walk sideways between tables (And I'm not even big; I'm 5-foot, 110-lbs.), rendering it not ideal for claustrophobic diners. That aside, everything else--the decor, the staff, the hygiene, the promptness, the food--was very pleasant.
The tea leaf salad--a refreshing appetizer comprised of fermented tea leaf, lettuce, tomatoes, roasted peanuts, roasted sesame seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds, crispy fried garlic, jalapenos and dried shrimp--was the star of our lunch. Complex in texture and incredibly fragrant, it totally outshone our entrees. I never thought I'd say this, but yeah, I enjoyed EATING tea. Then we had lamb curry and pork curry with pickled mango. (Perhaps we shouldn't have ordered two curries, but I guess we were really in the mood!) Both were hearty and packed with spices, more like pungent Indian curries than coconutty Southeast-Asian versions. One thing I found lacking in those curries, though, was the heat. I don't know, maybe that's just the way Burmese food is supposed to be. But personally, I would have loved for them to match the bold fragrance with fiery spiciness. Yeah, I'm a typical Thai with a chili pepper addiction, and I can't lie.