Here you can find everything you need for a “Le Phet Thoat”, a Burmese tea leaf salad considered a national delicacy. It is a customer favorite at Burmese restaurants, like Lin or Sun on Niagara Street.
Step one, pick up a jar of pickled tea leaves.
Next, you need crunch. Chickpeas, fava beans, peanuts, sesame seeds and garlic come fried and mixed together in their own jar. At Lin’s these “Assorted Mixed Beans” sit conveniently next to the pickled tea leaves.
Don’t forget a bag of chewy and salty sun-dried shrimp.
Layer with ordinary farmers market fare like diced tomato, shredded cabbage and minced garlic.
Add a splash of fresh lime juice for tanginess. For a spicy kick, finish with a sprinkling of Thai pepper slivers.
Voila, a feast fit for a native. (For $7, make sure you like it, and sample the real thing in the restaurant next door.)
The refugee resettlement program that started a decade ago has turned the West Side into a “Little Burma.” Burmese are now about 4 percent of our population, according to study by the Partnership for the Public Good of Buffalo.
Head to the freezer section for frozen catfish or bone-in goat meat, crucial for a good Burmese curry sauce. Along the wall, there are the complements you need. Spices and sauces from fish to hot, and the piquant “balachaung” dried shrimp relish – the bacon bits of Southeast Asia.
Room for dessert? What about “cooked glutinous rice flour cake with durian mungbean filling”? It looks like a layer cake trapped in a jar. In the freezer section, I dared for the odd, yet safer sounding taste of microwaveable pumpkin custard.
Adventurous shoppers can also grab a house-made snack to go, like sweet sticky-rice cakes or “khit rose.” The latter are crispy fried honeycomb dough shaped like a blooming peony. It looks almost too pretty to eat, but destruction is worth it for the delicate, crunchy sweet sugar-cookie taste. Time your visit right and you can also walk out with steaming hot samosas filled with mashed yam, peas and onions for $1.
Soon I’m going back for at least one more thing. A frozen concoction from the vintage blue gizmo with the sign, “Refreshing Snow Cone.” The shopkeeper assured me it really works. For $2 you can get an icy dessert, Burmese style. I’m not sure what that is. Yet.
But with the first bite, I expect to imagine what the pleasures of childhood would be in the country known for its street food and colorful, spicy cuisine.
Info: Lin Asian Market, 927 Tonawanda St., 260-2625
Jenny Luk is a user experience designer, photographer, world traveler and epicure. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she is the granddaughter and daughter of restaurateurs. Her first home, famous for its multi-cultural cuisine, launched her passion for food.