A Taste of the Burmese Food Fair in Queens
Burmese is one of the few cuisines that remains sadly elusive in NYC, but once a year, the Moegyo Humanitarian Foundation steps in to fill this void by putting on a Burmese Food Fair. On Sunday, Aviation High School in Long Island City hosted the seventh annual festival, which drew enormous crowds and featured an overwhelming range of dishes from the Southeast Asian nation, prepared and served by members of the local Burmese community. Proceeds will benefit the construction of a high school in the Irawaddy region, which has been devastated by cyclones and heavy flooding in recent years.
Burma shares its borders with Thailand, Laos, China, and India, and the influence of these countries' cuisines was evident in the appetizers, entrees, and desserts sold at the fair. Kawpyant sane, for instance, is a Burmese summer roll, served with a spicy dipping sauce. Its delicate wrapper was reminiscent of Thai and Vietnamese snacks, but the filling tasted like that of a Chinese egg roll. Shwe taung kout swel was a star of the event, a soup of chicken and egg noodles that initially reminded of Jewish penicillin, until the broth of coconut milk, fish sauce, cilantro, and citrus brightened and deepened the dish into something more complex, and decidedly Southeast Asian. Danpauk was a Burmese take on biryani, in which basmati rice was sweetened with caramelized onions, and then topped with chicken floating in a rich, ghee-infused sauce. And tohu nway was particularly eye-catching: Rice noodles, fried shallots, crushed peanuts, and fresh herbs were smothered in a thick, custard-like sauce made from chickpea flour, a recipe that derives from the Shan people, an ethnic minority in Burma.
Desserts and drinks were equally compelling -- nearly half the crowd seemed to be toting falooda, rose-flavored milkshakes studded with tapioca pearls, or shar labat yay, a bright green basil cream soda. But yaykae thohk, a shaved ice concoction somewhat similar to Filipino halo halo, was a perfect antidote to the steamy high school cafeteria. It came topped with sweet, multicolored cubes of gelatin, a squiggle of sweetened condensed milk, and crushed peanuts, which we raced to devour before it melted.
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