>> Burmese Bites | Eat the World NYC

24 October 2018

Burmese Bites

MYANMAR 🇲🇲
Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

This article originally appeared in the 25 October 2018 edition of The Queens Tribune:

When I first met Myo Lin Thway and his now famous palata, I had to summit a steep hill in the Briarwood section of Queens just north of Hillside Avenue. This hike eventually led to a small church that held the yearly Myanmar Baptist Church Fun Fair on its grounds. Raffle tickets were sold and there may have been balloons for children, but the “fun” consisted of having a good chunk of the Burmese community in New York City gather to eat each other’s home-cooked foods. This was about 12 years ago, but at that time Thway had already been 12 years into this yearly rhythm.

Sometime in 2013, he tipped me off to the summer street fairs to which he was going to expand on weekends the next year, while still holding down his job with an Italian jeweler in Midtown during the week. These were great, but his real success and food-world stardom took off at the Queens International Night Market, where he is finishing his fourth full year. If you ever arrive at the gates before opening time, a crush of people forms in what feels like Black Friday at Walmart. But instead of seeking flat-screen TVs, everyone rushes to get to Burmese Bites because the line will snake through the entire grounds for the rest of the night.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

These stepping stones are all on the path to one day opening a storefront restaurant. Until then, the latest more economical step in this dream came one year ago, when Thway unveiled the lime-green Burmese Bites cart in front of the Long Island City Courthouse and across the street from the famous green Citibank tower. This neighborhood is constantly expanding upwards with offices and new residences. It seemed like a perfect spot to test a daily business, as well as an excuse to leave the jewelry industry. During the lunch rush it is no different from the market, with lines full of hungry patrons happy to wait outside for a lunch that is astronomically better than others in and around Court Square.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Palata is again the star of the show, the Burmese variety of Indian paratha, a layered but unleavened bread that might be the most popular Indian-influenced dish still eaten in the country. With its roots in pre-partition times when Indians were coming to Burma in droves, it is usually served plain with some type of curry on the side, but can also be stuffed with ingredients. At Burmese Bites, both options are available. The stuffed keema palata ($6, below) is full of masala-laced chicken and ready to eat by hand, while potato and chicken curries are also available on the side for dipping the chewy yet crisp palata if that is your desire.

Thway’s history with palata goes back to the age of 13, when he went to his dad’s fish pond farm near the Irrawaddy River in the country’s Ayeyarwady Delta region. There he cooked for 20 employees and got his first lessons in what would become his claim to fame in New York City. Even before that, he always made himself available to help with his father’s snacks business.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Back in Long Island City, the daily menu also includes ohno kaukswe ($6, below), a coconut-milk–based soup of thick noodles and curried chicken. Usually eaten for breakfast in Myanmar, this warming bowl is good any time of day, topped with crispy bean fritters and onions. You may have access to a condiment bar of sorts when eating back home that allows you to spoon in cilantro and chilies and squeeze in lime. For preferences of sour and spice here in Queens, just ask when placing the order.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

The menu always includes a monthly special as well. Recently this was Shan tofu salad ($7, below) made with the distinct yellow chickpea flour tofu originally from Shan State. The dark dressing is light to the tongue with tamarind and ginger, while the smooth tofu itself is full of turmeric and heartier than its soybean cousins. It is a must order at any Burmese festival during the year, and if you see it here please do not miss out.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

The new cart’s location makes it easy for much of the Burmese community to go for lunch on the 7 train from Woodside, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, where the majority live. The savvy customers in the area who have found their way to Court Square Park have made for a fairly thriving business that now extends to dinner four days a week. Orders are now even accepted by text message, and round trips from Midtown are feasible for office workers near the 7, E and M trains.

Our original article from 2014 is available here.

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