Food

At Bensonhurst’s Together, Burmese Specialties Shine

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Half a decade ago, Oscar Myint offered one of the best breakfast deals in New York: hefty, hearty bowls of noodle soup — the kind enjoyed most mornings by yawning commuters in Yangon and Mandalay — and a small coffee, all for $2. At the time, he’d taken over a deli counter inside New King’s Fruit grocery in Sheepshead Bay, serving the food of his homeland, Myanmar, alongside the Japanese fare he’d picked up in America. But with few seats and only a small sign outside incongruously advertising “Burmese Food & Sushi,” the enterprise lasted just a year.

There’s no specific bargain for early risers at Together, the restaurant Myint and his wife, Mar Lar Yee, opened last month a few blocks north on the border of Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst and Mapleton neighborhoods. Thankfully the promise of a filling, thrilling breakfast remains. Mohinga ($6), a murky catfish chowder seasoned with lemongrass and ginger, makes an ideal morning meal — so much so that in Myanmar it’s an unofficial national dish. Here it’s garnished with chopped cilantro, hardboiled eggs, and a scattering of little craggy, savory funnel cakes. Rice noodles, the thin and jiggly kind, bob just under the surface of a slightly sour broth fortified with rice powder. Myint’s ohn no khao swè ($6), a thick curried coconut soup brimming with soft shreds of light- and dark-meat chicken, is even richer.

Eating these dishes, it’s hard to believe that, as a city, we’ve only ever really flirted with Myanmar’s cooking. Thai, Indian, and Chinese are ubiquitous, but Burmese — which shares qualities with all three — has been absent, New York’s strictly Burmese restaurants, the Upper East Side’s Café Mingala and its downtown sibling, Village Mingala, both having closed in recent years. Here and there, the cuisine has been making inroads via Queens International Night Market vendor Burmese Bites, the Smorgasburg-born outfit Burma Noodle Bar, and Myo Moe’s Rangoon NoodleLab, a semi-permanent pop-up hosted by Bushwick watering hole the Bodega.

Myint’s own path to cooking from his native pantry has been one of persistence. Landing stateside in 1999, he discovered, and then sought to capitalize on, the popularity of Japanese food, and especially sushi, preparing it everywhere from supermarkets to mom-and-pop groceries to his own restaurants in Brooklyn Heights and upstate New York. When kitchen space would allow, he’d offer up Burmese specialties, even setting up a lunch buffet at his first restaurant in the town of Catskill, New York, but raw fish has always factored in to his business plans. “Sushi is my career in the United States,” says the 55-year-old chef. “Burmese food is my tradition. I wanted to serve both.”

In fact, Together’s Burmese menu is dwarfed by its sushi offerings, which include more than sixty kinds of maki rolls, combinations that Myint, who hails from Yangon, has experimented with over the course of his career. He makes an eponymous Oscar roll ($16), which matches tuna, salmon, shrimp, and crab with fish egg, avocado, and cucumber. His Hot Hot Baby roll ($10) certainly lives up to its name, pairing spicy smoked salmon with peppery crab stick. It’s all perfectly fine, and I won’t begrudge a man his nigiri, but step inside the restaurant and it’s the aromas of his Burmese cooking — much of it simmering away in the semi-open kitchen behind his refrigerated seafood case — that greet and tempt you at the door.

Where the soups soothe, salads ($6–$7) sparkle. If you’re accustomed to fiery Thai som tum and its milder, more herbal Vietnamese counterpart, you’ll flip for thinbaw thee thoke, Myanmar’s take on green-papaya salad. Together’s version gets a salty, earthy lift from an excess of peanuts, garlic, and fish sauce, a combination that also shines on slivers of mango. Don’t skip the noodle salads either, especially the diced chicken and crispy garlic over linguine-like wheat noodles called si jet, and a carb-laden plate that leaves out the bird bits and incorporates lo mein–like egg noodles and thin rice noodles in the mix with plenty of hot pepper.

Curries ($7–$8), which the kitchen will cook sweet or spicy depending on your preference, feature meats like glossy, fat-streaked pork belly and tender bone-in chicken in viscous sauces teeming with ginger, coriander, and turmeric. Chunks of curried beef could be more forgiving, but the spices coating the meat make the one or two duds in the bunch worth chewing on. Doled out in modest portions with plenty of rice and ngapi, a fermented fish paste, they’re perfect for a quick and inexpensive lunch.

Depending on when you show up, your background noise might be the musical stylings of Burmese pop star Hayma Ne Win interspersed with local Brooklyn news, a truly American soundtrack. Artworks on the yolk-yellow walls depict life in Myanmar, while a blue-and-gold long-tail boat dominates the dining room, its surface papered over into a makeshift place setting. “We used to serve sushi on it for special parties upstate,” Myint reminisces. The laid-back atmosphere is conducive to kicking back with something sweet. Forgo tempura-fried ice cream in favor of shwe yin aye ($4). Also called “sweetie Rangoon,” the stark, cooling dessert soup brings together tapioca pearls, coconut jelly, sticky rice, and spongy slices of white bread. At first glance it doesn’t sound like it should work, but like Myint’s restaurant, they’re great together.

Together

2325 65th Street, Brooklyn;

347-587-6302

no website

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