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Chowdown at Grocery Cafe, Oakland [Burmese]

...tm... | Apr 7, 201511:01 PM

Eight of us gathered at Grocery Cafe for a great meal, set out by owner William Lue. It was a banquet of their classic dishes, and several that don’t appear on the menu, but may be offered as specials.
We were served:
tea leaf salad
ginger salad
fish dip with vegetables
mohinga
samusa
nan gyi chicken
lamb
catfish
seafood
pickled mango pork
oxtail kabocha
biryani rice and white rice
We were also served condiments--two table sauces they always have, a toasted red chili/oil condiment and a green chili condiment in vinegar. There was also a balachaung and a fried anchovy, and one of my favorites of the evening, a mustard green and carrot pickle.
To me, one of the most intriguing dishes was the fish dip. The dip itself was chili based, and was intensely savory, with fish chunks at the bottom as well as fish paste, and perhaps some bitter flavor. It was served with bitter melon leaves, and a seed that we couldn’t figure out the name of, and guessed durian or jackfruit seed, but it is not. It had the funk of a blue cheese or durian, but a strong savoriness and saltiness, and a refreshingly firm bite. Many of us really enjoyed it, though some found it inedible. Count me in the intrigued/spent half an hour trying to google what it is camp.
The catfish was also quite good. It was a whole catfish, hacked into pieces and seemingly gently stewed in an oily, chili infused sauce with plenty of aromatics. I really liked the texture, it had a level of gelatinous softness I haven’t experienced before from catfish.
I also enjoyed the oxtail kabocha. The kabocha was a nice texture--not overly soft, but cooked enough to no longer be grainy, and the oxtail was stewed much longer, so that some of the gelatinous connective tissue could be scraped off the bone, as well as the meat. It was relatively subtly spiced, and more of an oxtail stew than a curry.
Other dishes, like the lamb, “pickled mango” pork, biryani rice, and chicken portion of the nan gyi chicken (noodles) were good, and had a similar spice flavor profile, with an emphasis on the “sweet” spices--cinnamon, clove, cardamom, mace.
Since I live nearby, I’ll have to make my way back soon, especially since I think that mustard green/carrot condiment is for sale to go.
And, I was particularly glad Melanie asked about the “grocery” aspect, as it seems that they are working towards having an outdoors farmers market-type venue for Asian vegetable vendors a couple times per week in the summer. I really hope that works out!! I’d be a buyer at the market, or if they manage to get a CSA going.

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