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Cheap eats; Burmese dishes join long list of offerings of Asian influence

Upon learning that Burmese immigrants now comprise more than 1 percent of Buffalo's population, some people might have pondered what elements the Burmese will add to Buffalo's character.

I wondered what they're cooking, and how I could get a taste. I'm shallow that way.

The answer is no farther away than Sun International Foods, a grocery-restaurant on Niagara Street between Hertel Avenue and Amherst Street.

In front, there are shelves with Thai, Chinese, Burmese and Vietnamese staples. Freezers of meat and fish line one side of the space. If I ever lack for beef shank or pork trotters, I now know where I can find them.

At the back, there's a counter for fresh vegetables and herbs, the kitchen, and five tables for diners.

We parked ourselves at one of the tables and asked for advice on the menu, which contains more choices than seem possible in such a small kitchen. There's the standard Chinese takeout repertoire, plus most of a standard Thai rotation, with stir-fries and curries.

There's Vietnamese pho, and other Vietnamese soups, and bun, the vermicelli-plus-protein dishes. Plus Japanese teriyaki and udon. Plus Korean bulgoki and kimchi fried rice.

Then there's Burmese -- four dishes that we could identify, with help from the menu and the server. "Burmese style fish noodle soup with banana stem," labeled "Mont Hin Kar," was hidden under "Vietnamese Dishes," along with "Burmese style egg noodle soup with coconut milk," or "Ownno Koksware."

I chose the latter, and was so glad I did. At $4.99 for a "small" (one-person) serving, it's Asian comfort food in the broadest sense, evoking both Thai and Indian flavors in an accessible, warming dish.

Soft egg noodles hide in a turmeric-scented broth, rich with coconut milk. There's tender chicken and quartered hard-boiled eggs, too, rewarding your exploration. It's accented with abundant cilantro and scallion. Adding texture, there are fried shallots and crunchy rice noodles riding on top.

It wasn't spicy at all. I added a dollop of sambal oelek chili paste and a dash of fish sauce and, rudely, begrudged my co-diner his obligatory spoonful.

The other two specifically Burmese dishes are salads, Tea Leaf Salad and Ginger Salad, both $4.99. We tried the former, which combines pickled tea leaf -- much like other Asian pickled greens -- with onion and other herbs, plus crunchy fried lentils, another Indian influence. It was sweet and sour, crunchy and soft, and disappeared in a hurry.

The pho, Vietnamese beef noodle soup ($5.25 small), was decent but my co-diner asserted that he prefers the broth at 99 Fast Food. Unusually delicious was the Vietnamese "Spicy Beef Vermicelli Soup" ($5.25), slices of brisket and a big fistful of noodles in broth redolent of star anise and slicked with chili oil.

Another favorite of the table was "Kim Chee Fried Rice with Pork" ($7.99 large), studded with the Korean cabbage pickle, tender pork, scallions and, incongruously, cubed carrots and peas. The dish had a subtle spicy undertone that tickled as you ate more.

The beef bulgoki ($7.99 large) was thinly sliced beef in a sweet gingery sauce with lots of broccoli.

The Thai Penang Curry with Chicken ($7.99 large) came in a soup bowl, suitable for its soupy curry, thinner than I prefer it, but with plenty of taste. Chicken slices were accompanied by red and green pepper, bamboo shoots and cucumber.

Large dishes come with a fried egg roll, Vietnamese style -- ground pork, bean thread noodles, shredded carrot. Hot out of the fryer, the crunchy bundles vanished without a trace.

The bottom line here is at least one Burmese wonder I'll return for, and dishes from all over Asia, cooked with more care than you'll find most places.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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SUN INTERNATIONAL FOODS    

4 pennies (out of four)    

"New flavors, served well"    

WHERE: 1989 Niagara St. (447-0202)    

HOURS: Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. on Sundays    

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Two steps to get inside.

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