Trekked Saturday from Brooklyn to the heart of Briarwood, Queens for the Burmese Food Fair. What I discovered was a small Burmese community celebrating their culture among themselves, yet at the same time friendly and outgoing to outsiders. As an introduction to the scope of Burmese food it might not have been the best route. However, what I did try, in combination with the perfect weather and festival vibe, was unique enough to have made it worthwhile.
Varieties of noodles dominated the vendors offerings, from a noodle salad composed like Thai green papaya salad, to a fish noodle soup, to fried noodles. Only noodle dish I tried that stood out was the fish noodle soup- a substantial yellow broth studded with fish cake and thick white noodles. Intense fish flavor, and the most striking dish I sampled. Other items included a selection of fried foods, including a fried bean cake and triangular dough filled with something like spring roll filling. These were improved immensely by the flaming red yet medium-spicy sauce on the side. Burmese style parathas were stretched and fried fresh to order, served with a yellow bean mash and topped with fried onions. Oily, flaky, hearty, and the only indication I got of Indias influence on the cuisine. Another dish similar to a Thai salad was the fish salad. Also made fresh to order, I tasted the lovely womans first go and pronounced that it needed more spice and lime, which greatly pleased her. The fish in this was thinly sliced white fish cake, which comprised most of the flavor along with the lime and a little heat from the chile powder. Also noteworthy were what I took to be Thai kanom krok, the delicious hemispheres of sweetened coconut milk, rice milk, and scallions. While made with scallions and cooked in a similar, poached-egg like setup, these were studded with a white bean and were completely savory. Not what I expected, but satisfying and probably protein-rich. Sadly no one had any lepet thoke, Burmese green tea salad or gin thoke, ginger salad.
Dessert meant shaved ice topped with peanuts, various dried fruits, and coconut milk. Colorful and refreshing, with a different flavor in each bite. Also there was a hot pink cold soup that I saw the locals happily slurping up. A scoop of vanilla ice cream was plopped into the tub, joining ice cubes, tiny tapioca balls, a stringy gelatinous thing, and the odd piece of fried sweetened tofu. Surprising and addictive!
One table ran out of highly praised items by the time I arrived- some kind of dessert and a chicken with yellow rice dish. These were both brought from the Myanmar church in Boston. Instead I bought a tub of Burmese furikake-like rice seasoning. These came in either fish or pork forms mixed with what look like nuts and various seasonings. I opted for the fish on the vendor's word. Havent tried it with rice yet. The fellow who sold them assured me that its very spicy, but the initial taste was mostly of the baby sardines.
Happily slurping our desserts, the climax of the day came while enjoying the soulful efforts of one young teen girl backed by the endearingly metal Burmese youth karaoke band. It wasnt the first familiar tune we heard, but finally someone nailed it. Behind the language barrier she clearly was belting out Joan Jett and the Black Hearts I Hate Myself for Loving You. We cracked up, joined the chorus in English, and it was perfect.
Thanks to the OP below, More Kasha, Jonathan Saw, though I got his tips too late (and the dishes he described didnt seem to be there), and the Myanmar Baptist Church community. You rock!