Day 41: Burma
Here are the countries that border Burma: Thailand, China, Bangladesh, India and Laos. You think their food will food be interesting? Yeah, me too. David, a good friend and my father’s old work associate is in town, so I manage to convince him (with essentially no effort) to join Mr. Meatball and me at the universally well regarded Golden Triangle in Whittier, CA. With Tuesday rush hour traffic it takes about an hour, but there’s something fun about having to struggle a little for your meal— so in a way it’s more exciting than going on a traffic free weekend afternoon. Whittier, it turns out, is a strange looking town, but Mr. Meatball points out that it’s where a lot of movies shoot their scenes for “Anytown, U.S.A.” so suddenly it makes a lot more sense. Even after we pass a store with the hilarious title: “Gloria’s Crafts Y Party Supplies”. We sit down inside the large, near empty restaurant and peruse the menu for a moment before David arrives. Once we’re all assembled, I ask the group how many dishes we should order and David says “Well, this restaurant is cheap and I’m in town on business. Let’s put it this way. If I took your dad out for sushi on the corporate card, it could be a couple of hundred bucks. This place is cheap, so I don’t think we could get the price that high if we tried.” Better words have rarely been said.
With the aid of our very helpful Thai waiter Beck, we order. A lot. But tomorrow is going to be a dinner day for the project, so I figure I can eat leftovers for lunch (or the next two lunches). As the dishes arrive one after the other, the influences, as well as the individuality, come out. A wonderfully bright and savory pairing of Indian and Southeast Asian curry appears in the form of paratha and chicken curry. Thin wheat flour discs, slightly sweet, fried expertly in ghee (clarified butter) and served alongside an absurdly tender chicken in a dark, rich, will-stain-anything-it-touches curry. Ngapi kyaw— dried shrimp and crushed chili minced very finely, then topped with fried garlic is served with coconut rice— tastes like a brilliant Burmese version of pasta aglio olio (oil, garlic, parsley and chili flakes). An appetizer special, which was described on the menu as “Wet the Chin: Stair fried Ground sour Pork with chili sauce” is a very spicy paste which is so deeply complex and powerful on its own, it feels like a condiment I wish I could put on everything from hamburgers to Vietnamese spring rolls. Every dish is unique, but none step on each others toes. Unlike a cuisine such as Ethiopian, the dishes don’t seem to desire being mixed. Each one is a a complete course on its own.
The closest thing to redundancy is the tea leaf salad and the ginger salad. Either on its own would have been revelatory, but together the impact lessens slightly with the other to compare it to. In both salads, every component is extremely small. Sesame seeds, extremely crunchy ground peanuts, yellow peas and tender slivers of their main components, tossed with a “lemon sauce”. The tea leaf salad is more muted in flavors, but still feels like something vegetarian Yogi health nuts wish their food tasted like. The ginger salad, meanwhile, is just plain outstanding. Absurdly bright flavors, a total range of bipolar textures and yet somehow completely accessible. If I had only eaten the ginger salad and not the tea leaf, it would have stood out far above the rest. Even as is, it comes pretty close. The Indian influenced, barely sweet and fruity, baked, red-tinted rice with goat curry (Dun bauk htaminh) is concluded as the favorite dish of both David and Mr. Meatball. Lastly, there is the soft, yellow curry noodle dish, panthe kaueskswe. It manages to be both spicy and soothing, like a husband that slaps you in the face then feels bad and buys you an expensive necklace, except if you’re in a fight club and kind of like being slapped.
For dessert we try shwe gi mok and pa law penan. Both are dense, glutinous, small cake-like creations topped with appropriately subtle fried onions. The shwe gi mok has raisins and a more neutral flavor compared to the sweeter, coconut and cassava laced pa law penan. They’re new, different, confusing and ultimately delicious. We wash them down with a trio of Burmese caffeinated beverages. Mr. Meatball has the smooth, milky Burmese tea which has the consistency of hot chocolate. David and I both opt for Burmese coffee, mine flavored with mango and his with durian. I never would have guessed that coffee and fruit could be so beautiful together. Rich, creamy, frothy and decisively fruity, the mango is somehow exactly what you would expect, but also the best possible version of that expectation. The durian, meanwhile, is a thing of beauty and something everyone should try once in their life. It’s enough to make you want to go out and buy a durian and enough for David to remark “This may be my favorite thing of the whole meal.”
I head home with a dangerously full stomach and a one foot tall bag of leftovers. If I were to award Man Bites World Gold Stars to the upper echelon meals I’ve experienced thus far, then Golden Triangle, most appropriately, would be awarded one. Mr. Meatball drops me at home and I give him five bucks for gas, remarking “Not bad for an amazing meal.” So let me officially make my plea that if anyone out there wants to come join me with a corporate credit card for some fun, edible adventures, I’m more than open to that possibility. Of course David is someone I would happily take out to dinner myself, but having him here to help us truly splurge on a new region of cuisine prepared so well, is a rare and extremely lucky treat. I can’t wait for lunch.
7011 Greenleaf Ave
Whittier, CA 90602
Food Breakdown: 4 alcoholic beverages, 4 non-alcoholic beverages, 1 appetizer, 2 salads, 4 main dishes, 2 desserts
Distance From My House: 28.2 miles