Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Post 43.3: Burma SuperStar, a Cinematic Experience (SF: Inner Richmond)

In the Richmond District is Burma SuperStar, an insanely well-known restaurant whose name has floated around in conversations amongst friends for ages.  I had only gotten into the car to leave from my afternoon meal at San Tung when Diana called and said that it was time to finally see about the hyped-up superb Burmese cuisine.  Eating at San Tung was like watching the matinee showing of an animated comedy, but eating at Burma SuperStar was like catching the midnight opening of a highly anticipated blockbuster.  To delve into my analogy further, I had just finished watching Tangled and was about to see Tron.  I felt reluctant yet excited the same time.

During the half hour wait, I squatted down Asian-style not to rest my feet but to hide from the ridiculously chilly San Francisco wind.  Dilemma.  I wanted desperately to step into the warm restaurant, but doing so would only require me to digest the food from San Tung immediately.  That was impossible.

We finally got seated in a corner, behind a pole and next to the front door that let in a draft each time someone walked in.  It was clearly the best seat in the house.  So the menu and ordering duties thrown upon me, I ordered every possible recommended item that four people could finish... an appetizer, a salad, a noodle dish, and a curry and a stew to pair with rice.  After much anticipation, we were ready for our cinematic experience with Burmese food.  Let the curtains rise...

The previews - Tea leaf salad
Fermented tea leaves (lahpet), peanut halves, slices of fried garlic, split yellow peas, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds were the hodgepodge of ingredients that comprised the tea leaf salad.  As the server tossed the salad right at the table, we gushed a few oohs and ahhs the same way the film's audience laughs, gasps, and claps during a film's previews.  There is much excitement, and this portion of the experience is highly memorable... but previews don't tell the film's story, and the tea leaf salad is not an accurate reflection of Burmese food. 

There is always at least one preview that inspires your return to the theater.  That was the fermented tea leaves for me.  I focused my attention to the tea leaves because the distinct taste playfully beckoned with exotic appeal.  It's the pretty girl with the blue eyes checking out apples in the produce section.  It was not the shrieking baby crying for her pacifier in the bakery.  The taste is pleasingly potent and not overly robust.  It was clearly the star Burmese dish, and it's the one I would return for.

Courtesy reminder - Burmese samusas
The server brought with him a scent of curried chicken and potatoes, but the fragrance was gone as quickly as it had arrived.  Hands impatiently grabbed the deep fried raviolis for a quick dip in the sweet and spicy sauce, and in one swift motion, the samusas were on their way to digestive doom.  The scene reminded me of how theatergoers scramble to turn off their cell phones when the 'please turn off your cell phone' flashes on the screen.  Everyone knows that as soon as the cell phones are turned off, and as soon as the appetizers are finished, it's time for the main attraction.

Opening scene - Bun tay kauswer (coconut curry chicken noodles)
Sometimes the opening scene of a film tells you little about the plot.  Sometimes it tells you nothing at all.  Sometimes the scene is blisteringly bright, and it hurts your eyes.  Sometimes it's so dark that you can't even tell the film has begun.  It takes a few moments to adapt to the opening scene.  With my first bite, I tasted the spicy curry flavor of the noodles, and I wondered silently... is this what Burmese food really is? I'm not quite sure.  Is it good? Oh, hell yeah. One more bite, a different nutty, creamy taste from the coconut rolled over, under and around my tongue.  I tried to figure out just exactly what was going on, but the action continued.

First conflict - Pumpkin pork stew
The sudden onslaught of various spices brought on the first conflict between characters.  The big chunks of savory pork clashed with the even bigger chunks of sweet pumpkin.  My stomach turned between the suddenly spicy, suddenly sweet, and suddenly savory tastes.  Had the pork and pumpkin been cut into a slightly smaller size, the flavors in the stew would have been blended together more smoothly.  This was the point that if the conflict didn't get resolved, then the drama would escalate, and disaster would be imminent.  Just my luck... an even spicier curry had just been served.

Intense climax - Burmese style curry with lamb
The lamb curry completely exploited the foundation of conflict that the pork stew had set up earlier.  If the pork stew lit the match of spiciness, then the lamb curry was the strong wind that ignited the wildfire.  The intensity of the spice formed beads of sweat on my forehead, and I could not continue eating.  With my stomach churning and the beads of sweat falling down my face, I resorted to gasping for air and downing water by the glass.  The Burmese curry was like the confrontation between Simba and Scar, the final sinking of the Titanic, and the toys' escape from Andy's room. 

Conflict resolution - Coconut rice and tan poi combination
The solution to my stomach's conflict with the spicy curry was just a few spoonfuls of the sticky white jasmine rice that was sweetened with coconut milk.  Even the cinnamon and raisins cooked in the tan poi's basmati rice were just sweet enough to soothe the burning.  The combination of rice slowed the sweat, and well, that made everyone happy.  The uncontrollable fire of spiciness had been put out.

Fin, credits - Coconut ice cream
The dessert, like the final credits, are simply not worthy of a diner's time.  But for others dessert, like the final credits, is a required element of a complete dinner.  The coconut ice cream was sweet and refreshing.  It helped soothe the spicy rumblings of our just-finished Burmese meal.  What was unique about the ice cream were the hidden shreds of coconut flesh submerged within the confines of the spherical scoops.  Using my childhood experience of digging marshmallows out of rocky road, I went after the coconut flesh like I was searching for buried treasure.  Simply delicious. 

An eye-opening first experience with Burmese cuisine was complete.  We had moved from Inner Sunset to Inner Richmond where the Asian cuisine is just as delicious and just as well-known.  The food from either one of these areas beats the Chinese cuisine from Chinatown without a doubt.  This is where adventurous culinary explorers should begin their search for delicious delicacies.  There are rows and rows of excellent restaurants in the Sunset and Richmond districts... perhaps there are just as many stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  It's impossible to conquer all the deliciousness in one visit to San Francisco.  That's probably why Yelp bookmarks pile up the same way the films in a Netflix queue do.

A gracious thank you to Justin for standing out in the freezing cold while Diana navigated her way through San Francisco... no thanks to her GPS.  Happy eating to all. 

Next post: Wining and dining smorgasbord

ML - 20110104/20101212


  1. Omg that fermented tea leaf stuff was so weird but so so good! Kind of like sticking your fingers between your toes but I digress.

    Good stuff you got going here. Next time you want to catch a "showing" in the city, let me know and we can catch another blockbuster! Keep writing!

  2. "the film's audience laughs, gasps, and claps during a film's previews" we dont hahaha

  3. @nick: Thanks!

    @wad: Hey man some of the most exciting moments are in the previews!