BURMESE HOMECOOKINGby Sophia Hsu Photos by Amit Chaffee
Upon entry, the interior has a few touches from Burma (Myanmar), tapestries depicting traditional dancing, an ox cart, fish. The television plays Burmese music videos. The chatter is both in Burmese and Mandarin. It sounds and smells like my childhood, fish sauce and fried delectables.
The owner Oscar Myint is all smiles and excited to see what we order. First arriving in NYC in 2000, he began his career as a Japanese chef specializing in sushi. He has worked in 18 states across the US and traveled extensively. After working for several employers, he opened his namesake sushi restaurant, Oscarr’s, in the Catskills and after selling it, NYC called to him.
“Together, that’s my hope that this restaurant can be a gathering place for the community,” remarked Oscar when I asked him about the name of the restaurant. Little did he know, the neighborhood with signs in Cyrillic and Yiddish was home to a large Burmese community, too. “Sushi has been my career for almost 20 years, so my Japanese menu gave me a sense of familiarity and stability, but I wanted to showcase my food, Burmese food.”
Oscar panicked a little when he heard Cafe Mingala had permanently closed mere months before his was to open. If the only Burmese restaurant in the five boroughs closed, how was his restaurant going to survive? “I didn’t advertise the Burmese menu. I just painted the words ‘Burmese homecooking’ in the window in Burmese and hoped for the best.” Local Burmese came in as they passed his sign in Burmese. They told him that they lived just a few blocks away and wanted to see if it was really as advertised in the familiar script in the window.
“If I go eat a hamburger, no one is going to make it Burmese style for me, so why should I compromise my food? I ate what my mother cooked, what my grandmother cooked, so my food tastes like home. I am not going to change it for anyone.” That unwavering dedication to his family recipes is what keeps the neighbors coming back along with those curious about Burmese cuisine.
I ordered dishes out of childhood nostalgia. When pressed to describe it, I always say that Burmese cuisine is the best parts of Thai, Indian, and Chinese cuisine.
● Lephetoke: a pickled green tea leaf salad with a variety of textures including crisp cabbage, delicate green tea leaves pickled and preserved, and crunchy-fried nuts, seeds, and garlic chips.
● Mohinga: a fish noodle soup traditionally consumed for breakfast, but can be eaten anytime. The dish is made whole with the addition of hardboiled egg, cilantro, lime, chili flakes, and Oscar’s homemade pe kyaw, a fried, yellow split pea cracker.
● Ah Sone Khauswe Thoke: a mixed noodle salad of varying thicknesses hand-mixed with a flavorful and lightly spicy sauce, potatoes, and slivers of fried egg and tofu.
● Kyat Tha Paratha: chicken curry with fried bread similar to roti canai, if you are familiar with Malaysian cuisine.
● She Yin Aye (Sweetie Rangoon): a vegan – friendly coconut milk dessert soup served ice cold with sweet tapioca pearls, glutinous jasmine rice, and slices of coconut agar agar jelly and sandwich bread. You read that correctly. Sandwich bread is a common accompaniment to desserts across Southeast Asia.
As interest in Burmese homecooking grows, he plans to add more curries and more vegetarian dishes to the menu. Always check for specials on the whiteboard as these are seasonal and based on ingredient availability. Visit Oscar and his wife at Together and try the pork belly.
Together is located in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn at 2325 65th St