After the launch party of Burmese designer Mo Hom, my interest in the Burmese culture and especially cuisine had been awoken. Mo had hosted Ginger Salad so nicely prepared we just couldn’t stop eating…
When a Burmese photographer saw this, he was fascinated and challenged at the same time. He made both my friend and me an offer we simply couldn’t refuse: Taking us out to a great Burmese restaurant so that we could get a taste of even better food.
This is why last week Thursday we all met up at an inconspicuous looking building in the Upper East Side. Although the restaurant itself does not look like anything special from the outside and albeit it is right across the street from a huge construction site (they are trying to come up with a bigger, better, faster 2nd avenue subway station over there *eyesroll*), my foodie experience was quite the opposite than from what I had expected. Another case of do not judge at first glance – many things in New York are like that, by the way.
Most people by now are probably scratching their head. My friend was equally perplexed when I told him about it. The response is quite understandable. “What exactly is Burmese cuisine?” he asked. “Does it involve a lot of rice?” You would think it did, as it is close to China, India, and Thailand. Nonetheless, its food is very different than from the typical Asian cuisine I had expected (lots of expectations blown out of the window that day).
We first started with a few different appetizers:
The fried squash, which is squash pieces cooked in a breading. Be careful with these, as they can be very hot at first (in the sense of temperature). We dipped them in a sweet and sour sauce to give the breading some flavor but the vegetable inside was just fine without.
The Ginger Salad: My personal favorite! Fresh vegetables and ginger roots mixed with sesame seeds, toasted besan and topped off with peanuts and crisp onions. I cannot say what exactly tastes good about it but the ingredients all together just go well with each other.
We had a mango salad at the end. It was composed in the same manner the ginger one was, but like I said, I really prefer the first option. The mango salad gives its variants a completely different taste – it is also very refreshing and sweeter than the ginger salad. So it was good to end this in a dessert-like manner.
We then went on sharing two dinner dishes:
Mohinga is considered the national dish of Burma. It is a fish broth containing thin rice noodles, minced fish, and boiled eggs among lemon grass and other distinct flavors.
Thun, our Burmese friend, also ordered Mangalay Nungi Noodles. They look like spaghetti noodles, but they do not have the consistency of them. I sorta ate around the chicken (as I am a vegetarian), but still got to experience the crispness when biting in the pasta. Noodles are not made the same in every country and Burma has come up with its own tasty interpretation.
Burmese cuisine is light and does not leave you with a feeling of having eaten too much. At the same time you did not miss out on culinary flavors, which leaves you with a great impression of the night. I believe the evening was a great success
partly greatly due to our company: Burmese locals who knew exactly how to differentiate their cuisine from other Asian food and who made sure to point out the differences in texture and flavor.
Another thing about Burma is that I basically no nothing about this country. The restaurant was beautifully decorated with many landmarks and milestones of Burmese history and also cultural hotspots. It resembles the countryside of China (I only know from pictures) and I therefore hope to see this wonderful place myself at one point in time. The language itself is supposed to sound similar to the Chinese language and Tibetan dialect. My friend is very good at languages and therefore ordered in Burmese all evening long. Another friend who joined us said he had forgotten the polite way of ordering already, after being abroad for a few years. I am not sure if he was just joking but could to some degree understand how he unlearned parts of his own language if he does not speak or write it on a regular basis.
Café Mingala is located at 72nd St and 2nd Avenue. I know it’s not always on everyone’s typical way of things. It’s definitely not on my way when I go to Manhattan, that is for sure. But it’s absolutely worth the trip out of your way, I can tell you that much. Easily situated off the 68th St stop around Hunter College, it’s refreshing to stroll around and just absorb the student-infused neighborhood. If you ever happen to crave great Asian Cuisine or if you want to try out something exotically nice, make sure your stop includes this restaurant.