Having severely panned the national Boston Market chain of eateries, I would like now to sing the praises of a local family-run ethnic restaurant.
"Myanmar" is located in a shopping strip on Lee Highway in the Falls Church section of Fairfax County, Virginia on the north side of the road about a mile east of Gallows Road. Over the past four years I have visited Myanmar five times. It is a little "hole-in-the-wall" place, and the decor is a bit sparse. Still, the decorations are astonishing and beautiful and include a painting of the Schwedagon Buddhist Pagoda seen looming out of the mist and fog from the vantage point of a canoe being paddled up a languid river and a pair of Burmese cerimonial swords.
As in most ethnic cuisines of the Indochinese Peninsula, Burmese cooking borrows heavily from its neighbors. Yet the dishes to be had at Myanmar are unique. Common ingredients are mustard greens and something called "sour leaf". Fish and chicken are of course well represented on he menu, but my favorites involve preparations of pork belly.
"Chili belly pork" is an incendiary stir-fry of pork belly and vegetables served with a soothing and flavorful rice. Milder is the "layer pork with chili, mustard green and sour leaf". It too is made with pork belly and although it is not as fiery as the "chili belly pork" still packs a considerable wallop.
There are less-intimidating options available, but even these come with a paste of house-made ground chili pepper on the side. Mind how much of these potent pepper flakes you use. This is not the pepper flakes you shake over your pizza. These compounded pepper flakes are made in-house with a mortar and pestle and are not just dry flakes but as I said are a heady, moist paste. Mete out a lump of this condiment just half the size of a pea into a 16 ounce bowl of otherwise mild-flavored soup and you will be sweating from the heat. And enjoying every bit of it.
The management does not encourage it on the menu, but I asked the staff today if it would be okay if one came in with one's freinds, gave the server 20 to 30 dollars per person and just let the staff decide what would be served and servi it up "family style". I'm looking forward to doing that.
Just one little note: Make sure your server tells you about the food and how it will be served and how it should be eaten. Soups are often served in tureens with noodles and/or rice in shallow dishes, with the noodles to be apportioned into individual bowls and the soup ladled over them. Some salads and other dishes are meant to be rolled with condiments in a lettuce leaf and eaten as a sort of "wrap".
I swear on a stack I am not being paid to write a word of this. Visit Myanmar restaurant and you will leave understanding what Rudyard Kipling said about Burma: There is no other place like it on God's Creation.