If Burmese cuisine sounds impossibly exotic, take a moment to consider how foreign Thai food sounded in Western New York a generation ago.
Today, Burmese dishes are available in at least five restaurants in Western New York, mostly in Buffalo, where the majority of the area’s Burmese population resides. But there is one restaurant in the suburbs where diners can discover Burmese. Perhaps it helps the timid that it’s disguised as a Thai restaurant.
Thai House, tucked into the back of a car lot across from Depew High School, does serve Thai food. The usual coconut-milk curries, stir-fried noodle dishes and lime-dressed salads of Thai fame are all represented, and represented well. Chef-owner Kyaw Soe Kyaw took over in 2013. While he can certainly cook Thai food, his house specialties and Burmese dishes are worth trying as well.
Burma is between India and Thailand, and some of my favorite Burmese dishes deliciously demonstrate the overlap between those two great cuisines. I offer for your consideration chicken rice in clay pot ($11.99).
“This one is not 100 percent Burmese, but a combination of Burmese, Chinese and Indian,” Kyaw said. It is a favorite dish in Burmese restaurants, he said, and has been selling well in Depew, too.
The dish comes in two parts. The main one is a clay lidded vessel, fired on the stovetop in the kitchen. It holds a fragrant rice casserole that contains morsels of dark-meat chicken and shallots. Kyaw explained that the rice and chicken are cooked separately, then combined and finished to order for each customer.
The spices used to flavor the jasmine rice – garam masala, cinnamon, bay leaf, cumin, dried chile – echo Indian cuisine. The chicken is marinated in ginger, garlic, onion and more dry chile, and cooked until tender.
To prepare it, the cook heats a dash of butter and coconut milk and sautés shallots in a clay pot. Then the rice and chicken are added, and the covered pot is heated. The result is an intensely aromatic dish with crunchy bits where the rice has stuck to the sides. Before serving, Kyaw tops it with a scattering of roasted cashew nuts.
It’s served with a side dish that brings the herbs and flavors of Thailand to the party. A cucumber salad is offered, as a kind of fresh relish to be eaten with bites of rice and chicken. Besides cucumber, it contains sliced onion, cilantro and perhaps cabbage, dressed in a tangy-sweet Thai dressing with lime juice and fish sauce.
Despite all the spices involved in its creation, it’s no spicier than spaghetti and meatballs. That doesn’t mean it’s not flavorful – just not fearful.
Info: Thai House, 5246 Transit Road, Depew (601-7865)