Burmese Hut

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I don’t know precisely how many posts I’ve published on ethnojunkie.com; I stopped counting when I hit 1000. But I can tell you that the number of times I’ve suggested that you go somewhere and get something post-haste can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

This is one of those posts. The “somewhere” is Burmese Hut, a new stall in Elmhurst’s HK Food Court at 82-02 45th Ave (definitely not to be confused with its short-lived Burmese predecessor) and the “something” is their fantastic Laphet Thoke. Laphet is the Burmese word for pickled or fermented tea leaves and thoke means salad; in Myanmar, tea is not only drunk, but also consumed as food.

There’s no set ingredient list for laphet thoke, but there are four key elements: the tea leaves plus some other veggies like shredded cabbage and tomatoes; the add-ins like dried shrimp; the dressing, often garlic oil, lime juice and fish sauce; and the all-important “crunchies” – expect fried garlic and fried onion, fried broad beans and toasted soybeans plus peanuts and sesame seeds – all mixed together and garnished with green bird’s eye chilies and slices of fresh raw garlic. But basically the performance is entirely up to the chef.

And in this case, the chef is a virtuoso.

On last weekend’s Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket, my guests who had spent time in Southeast Asia were very familiar with the dish, having enjoyed it more than once. I like it so much that I spent years perfecting a recipe for it. And after all the experiences of their eating and my cooking, we concurred that this was absolutely the best, most outstanding version any of us had ever tasted.

Go there. Go there now. Order their spectacular Laphet Thoke. And tell them ethnojunkie sent you.

Hong Kong Food Court Update – Part 2

As I indicated in my last post, some additional vendors have emerged at the new incarnation of Hong Kong Food Court (82-02 45th Ave in Elmhurst) and it’s my self-imposed duty to keep you informed about them!

I was encouraged to find a Burmese stall, Thar Gi, with a menu of about eight items including this Burmese Thick Noodle Chicken Salad.

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In addition to their standard menu, there’s a display case featuring a selection of dishes, mostly curries with various proteins and the same sauce, targeted for heating up at home. I asked if they could heat one up for me and this is their Beef Curry. They didn’t have rice. Go figure.

I’ve enjoyed a great deal of Burmese food over the years – even prepared some myself – and I’ve always been a stalwart fan. I was hoping for a little more personality from these two dishes. We’ll see if anything changes as they settle in.

And here’s one more from Lan Zhou Ramen, highlighted in my last post: Cumin Lamb Burger. Definitely tasty and on my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst food tour!


Amayar Kitchen

A couple of months ago a few friends and I ventured out to Amayar Kitchen, a Burmese restaurant in Maywood, NJ (a rather remote location – or so it seemed to me). Here’s a quick overview of our lunch that day.

From the Appetizers section:

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Veggie Fritters – a tempting assortment for starters.

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad – known to all at the table as Lahpet Thoke, but the menu shied away from all but a few Burmese designations.

Tofu Salad – the yellow tofu is a clue that we’re doing Burmese cuisine. It gets its color from yellow split peas and turmeric.

From the Noodles section:

See Jet Noodles – roast duck with garlicky noodles.

Bait Noodles – named for the seaport on the southern tip of Myanmar, the noodz are topped with shrimp, sausage, a fried egg, beans and bean sprouts.

Aung San Fried Rice with roasted beans, a fried egg, and Three Layer Pork Curry – the special of the day. (I’m guessing that “three layers” refers to the pork belly stripes!) The best dish of the group IMO.


Assorted Burmese Cakes/Jellies

Coconut Sticky Rice Cake in Banana Leaf – sweet roasted coconut inside a dumpling made from pounded sticky rice, the most intriguing of the lot.

I do wish the food had been a little more hard-core, but I’m guessing that they offer what the location would likely accommodate. Delightful folks: we wish them all the best!

Amayar Kitchen is located at 111 East Passaic St, Maywood, NJ.

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Burmese Traditional Rice Salad

Instagram Post 4/15/2020

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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Well, not so much cooking today, more like raiding the pantry. Most of the international markets I shop at offer a significant assortment of sometimes mysterious but always intriguing quick-and-easy seasoning blends for rice or noodles or some such. Usually when I bring one home it’s consigned to a shelf, reserved for a time that I don’t feel like cooking. Like today. So you’re looking at the aftermath of a packet of Burmese Traditional Rice Salad seasoning colliding with rice.

The instructions innocently read: “Make a salad with a plateful of white rice adding all the ingredients in the pack.” How much rice is a plateful? Reminds me of the time when I was a kid vainly trying to elicit a blintz recipe from my grandmother as she was making them. I asked how much flour she used. She replied, “Enough.” But I digress.

The packet contained two more packets that contained five more packets of…stuff. And a dried hot pepper, one of the few items I could identify with any degree of certainty. But I’m reasonably sure there were dried shrimp, dried shallot, powdered peanut, chili oil and another salty liquid in the mix.

I combined them in a bowl and was encouraged as the dressing thickened when I stirred them together. I added “enough” rice, and the result was unexpectedly tasty.

The aforementioned intriguing packet. And fortuitously, this happened during Burmese New Year that runs from April 13–16 this year. Happy Thingyan everyone!

Myanmar Baptist Church Fun Fair – 2019

Instagram Post 10/30/2019

Selections from the recent Myanmar Baptist Church Fun Fair held on October 12 at the St. James Church Parish Hall in Elmhurst. In no special order:

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Fresh Spring Roll: ground pork, cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, lettuce.

Crispy Fried Wonton with Chicken: curry chicken, potatoes, crispy fried wonton, and cabbage in bean soup topped with mint and lime.

Mandalay Mee Shay: rice noodles (underneath it all) supporting chicken and pork (because I asked for both 😉) in a rich soy based sauce, with bean sprouts, pickled mustard greens, and fried dough sprinkled with fried garlic.

Garlic Flavored Oil Noodle: noodles and diced chicken in a garlicky sauce dressed with crispy fried onion and fresh scallion.

Assorted Vegetable Fritters: kidney bean, Chinese squash, split pea.

Burmese Style Pork Offal: intestine, liver, heart, kidney, tongue, ear, stomach, you get the idea.

Assorted Burmese Sweets to take your mind off the offal including banana cake (the pinkish one), cassava cake, semolina cake, and coconut agar jelly.

📢 📢 📢 📢 📢
If you love Burmese food as much as I do, stay tuned for info about a new Burmese restaurant opening in Brooklyn – soon I hope!
📢 📢 📢 📢 📢

National Humanitarian Fundraising for Myanmar Food Fair – 2019

Instagram Post 9/19/2019

If I’m not mistaken, last Sunday’s National Humanitarian Fundraising for Myanmar Food Fair was the second in an annual series; proceeds were earmarked for flood relief and recovery objectives. It’s held in the Parish House of St. James Episcopal Church at 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens and, like last year’s event, the food was authentic and delightful. Burmese cuisine is one of my favorites and this always wonderfully overwhelming event featured a multiplicity of dishes, but lacking any English signage, I was left to my own devices, hence:

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Laphet Thoke – pickled tea leaf salad. Laphet (you might see laphat, lahpet, lephet, leppet, letpet, latphat, or others) is the Burmese word for pickled or fermented tea leaves; thoke (you might see thohk) means salad. (Hey, it’s a tricky language to transliterate.) The dish is as much about the crunchy toppings as it is about the laphet along with the customary addition of some raw veggies. Recipes vary wildly and widely.

Shan Htamin Chin (you might see jin or gyin which means fermented or sour; htamin means rice). The Shan people are a Tai ethnic group of Southeast Asia who live primarily in the Shan State of Myanmar. This is their traditional mashed rice, potato and fish cake; just in case it wasn’t garlicky enough, cloves of fresh garlic were provided for nibbling.

Mandalay Mee Shay – Mandalay style rice noodles with pork. Excellent.

Tofu Thoke – Shan tofu has little to do with familiar soybean tofu; it’s made from chickpea flour and is soft and supple in this contrastingly spicy Burmese salad. (Count on Burmese salads to be topped with crunchies!)

Buddhist Association Thingyan Festival

Instagram Post 8/26/2019

I came across these photos recently and since Burmese cuisine is one of my favorites, I was inspired to do a quick post about two unusual (to some) and delicious items from last April’s bountiful Light of Dhamma Buddhist Association Thingyan festival in Elmhurst, Queens.

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This is “tofu noodle” which has little to do with noodles and less to do with familiar soybean tofu. Shan tofu is made from chickpea flour and is custard-like in consistency; crispy fried pork skins, peanuts, cilantro and other essentials embellish the dish. And yes, I asked for it spicy. Top notch.

Htamanè, a distinctive snack prepared from sticky glutinous rice, thick slices of coconut, black and white sesame seeds, ginger, and abundant peanut oil, salty and sweet at once – love that combination. Shown as sold in a cup, and…

…plated later at home.

I only wish there were more Burmese food bazaars in the city.

Asian Bowl

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as three posts, published on March 6, 7, and 8, 2019.

Promise me that you’ll disregard the restaurant’s pan-Asian sounding name. Promise me that you’ll ignore the fact that the menu still lists sushi rolls and General Tso’s Chicken to attract the local lunch crowd. But above all, promise me that you’ll go to Asian Bowl, 101-11 Queens Blvd in Forest Hills, because that’s where you’ll find some of the very best Burmese food in New York City right now. John, the new owner, will happily answer your questions about menu items (yes, you’ll have questions), and Aye, his wife who does all the incredible cooking, will ensure your return with her remarkable range. This is one of the very few restaurants where I am compelled to work my way through the entire menu – the Burmese side of it, that is.

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Pa Zun Chin Thoke. A thoke is a Burmese salad and the cuisine has many to offer. Pa zun means shrimp, chin means sour, and this fermented shrimp salad, served cold, is undoubtedly authentic. A little spicy with a delicious mild funkiness, it’s an amazing assemblage of textures and flavors playing against each other that come together with every bite.

You might even find a few unfamiliar ingredients lurking within like this pickled crosne (pronounced krone, rhymes with bone). Don’t be startled by its appearance; it’s just a Chinese artichoke and it’s yummy.

Fried Beef with Spicy, as the menu reads. When this hit the table, it looked like it might be a chewy, dry jerky similar to Nepali sukuti. Nope. A little crispy on the outside, but tender on the inside with a medium spice level and surrounded by caramelized onions, it was another winner.

Latphat Thoke. Latphat (you may see lahpet or other spellings) are fermented tea leaves; thoke (pronounced toke with a clipped K) is a salad. It’s a popular Burmese dish and one of my all-time favorites. As a matter of fact, a few years ago I wrote about my idiosyncratic trials and tribulations in developing a recipe for it here called “One Thoke Over the Line.” Asian Bowl’s rendition was very good; I do wish they had used a heavier hand with the tea leaves – perhaps a shortage that day? – but that’s a personal preference. Nonetheless, it was delicious: a foundation of cabbage and tomatoes decked out with crunchy dried fava beans and soy beans, spiked with bird peppers and fresh garlic and the titillating funk of fermented tea leaves in a tangy dressing. Do it.

For a change of pace, try the Sechat Khauk Swal, a simply seasoned but tasty wheat noodle dish with chicken and scallions. I asked John, the owner, what sort of noodles were in the dish – thick? thin? flat? round? Fishing for the right descriptive words, he grabbed the rubber band that had been girding the morning’s mail. “Like this!” he grinned. Visual aid to the rescue!

Nga-gin Curry. Nga-gin is a type of freshwater fish in the carp family; it’s bony, but not impossible to work around. Big, meaty chunks of fish lazed in a mild tomato-based curry that’s tricky to characterize: very rich, umami-laden, somewhat salty, a little sharp, certainly oily. Does that help? Let’s just go with delicious.

Shan Khauk Swal Thoke. Shan is a state in the eastern part of Myanmar bordering China, Laos, and Thailand. Khauk Swal Thoke is a wheat noodle salad made with dried shrimp, herbs and veggies, fish sauce and lime juice, and topped with peanuts. A warm aura surrounded this dish that I can’t specify other than to state that it was different from its tablemates – the type of fish sauce perhaps? Once again the textural interplay between soft noodles and crispy bits so characteristic of Burmese thokes made this choice another treat.

What more can I tell you? I love this place. You will too. Order from the Curry and Group A à la carte sections of the menu along with some clearly identified soups, and you’ll be as blown away as we were on that frosty afternoon.

I promise.

Asian Bowl is located at 101-11 Queens Blvd in Forest Hills, Queens

Major h/t to Joe DiStefano (chopsticksandmarrow.com) and Dave Cook (eatingintranslation.com).

National Humanitarian Fundraising for Myanmar Food Fair – 2018

Instagram Post 5/27/2018

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A sunny Sunday earlier this month brought the first “National Humanitarian Fundraising for Myanmar Food Fair” to Elmhurst, Queens at the St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway. There was nary a word of English in the signage and since I’ve never studied Burmese, I was equipped only with the knowledge of many delectable Burmese dishes I’ve enjoyed in the past – so sans proper names, here’s a plate of spicy deliciousness: Clockwise from 6:00, a taste of eggplant curry; a pink fermented shrimp and red onion salad; a sample of pork curry peeking out from behind spicy dried shrimp.

I did manage to get the name of the second one: Nan Pya Dok, flat wheat noodles with curry chicken. So good!

Ethnojunket: Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst

An ethnojunket is a food-focused walking tour through one of New York City’s many ethnic enclaves; my mission is to introduce you to some delicious, accessible, international treats (hence, “ethno-”) that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without (hence, “-junkie”).

Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst
It is said that Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. Its Elmhurst neighborhood reflects that characteristic in its own microcosm of Latinx and Asian populations, and on this tour, we’ll zoom in still further for a look at the sheer diversity of its Asian community and their culinary treasures.

On this ethnojunket, we’ll savor goodies from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia and parts of China – surprising snacks that are practically addictive, unique Himalayan dumplings, exotic noodle dishes, sweet yogurt comfort food from South Asia, Taiwanese street food, and lots more! And if you’re into cooking, we can explore a large Pan-Asian supermarket along the way.

Some photos from past visits:

The cost of any tour is $85 per person (cash only, please) and includes a veritable cornucopia of food so bring your appetite: you won’t leave hungry, and you will leave happy!

Tours usually begin at 1pm and typically run about 3 to 4 hours (depending upon the neighborhood).

Sign up!
Simply send me a note below and tell me when you’d like to experience a food adventure and which ethnojunket you’re interested in – I’ll bet we can find a mutually convenient day! I’ll email you with details.

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Please note: While I generally have a pretty good idea of what ingredients go into whatever we’re consuming, I can’t vouch for salt or sugar or gluten or so many other clandestine buzz killers. If you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies, please be mindful of that and take responsibility for them just as you would if you were dining under any other circumstances. (I’m a foodie, not a doctor!) By the same token, if something troublesome happens to you along the way, I can’t take the liability for that any more than if you were just walking along the street or in a shop by yourself. (I’m a writer, not a lawyer!) In other words, when you join one of my ethnojunkets, you are taking complete responsibility for your own welfare and safety.

What I can do is bring you a few hours of entertaining, educational, and delicious fun!

Questions? Feel free to write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com.