Monday, April 25, 2011

Intro to Burmese Food: A Tradition in San Francisco

Burma, or Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia. If it's so large, then why has every Burmese person I have met in my life (3) been so excited when they've met or heard of another? It seems as if Burmese people are a rarity. 

Burma borders India, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand, and China. It's cuisine is heavily influenced by these countries and religion (Buddhism, Muslim). Vegetarian dishes are prevalent. With all these influences, burmese cuisine is still very unique. Common dishes include salads, curries, rice, noodles, and all sorts of meats flavored sweet, sour and spicy complimented with fruits and vegetables.

My first experience with Burmese food (other than samusas) was on a trip to the Bay in which one of my New York friends came with me. She is Burmese and requested that Burma Superstar be one of the places we visit. Burma Superstar is really famous in San Francisco. I immediately incorporated it into our itinerary.

We waited 40 minutes for a table and it was well worth it. My friend compared the food to her mother's home cooking and while some dishes were hits and others were better home cooked, she enthusiastically approved. We went with two other friends and their toddler. Even the kid loved the food! Especially the spiciness of the samusas!

As an introduction to Burmese food, my friend ordered quite a few dishes. We got the Tea Leaf Salad, Burmese Samusas, Salt and Pepper Calamari, Pork Curry with Potato, Okra Egg Curry and the Classic Burmese Chicken Casserole with Cardamom Cinnamon Rice. 

The Tea Leaf Salad is my favorite Burmese dish and I order it every time I go back. It has a spoonful of tea leaves all the way from Burma and is a mixture of lettuce, sunflower seeds, lentils, fried garlic, tomato, and sesame seeds. The salad is crunchy and full of flavor. I think the secret ingredient is fish sauce. 
Tea Leaf Salad
The samusas were spicy and served with an even spicier dipping sauce. It was addicting.
Vegetarian Samusas filled with curried spices and potatoes
The Salt and Pepper Calamari was ordinary and no different than what you could get anywhere else. Skip it if you want the true Burmese experience. 
Salt and Pepper Calamari
I wasn't a fan of the Okra Egg Curry being neither a fan of okra or hard boiled eggs but in terms of curry it was very subtle.
Okra Egg Curry
I would gladly gobble up the Pork curry any day. The pork reminded me a lot of Filipino Adobo. The pork was soft to the point where you did not need to cut it with a knife.
Pork Curry with Potato
The rice dish was like a Burmese paella. Fluffy biryani rice, almonds, raisins... It's all real good. The chicken and shrimp are buried in the rice and baked in the claypot.
Classic Burmese Chicken Casserole with Cardamom Cinnamon Rice
To top it off we ordered two desserts.
Coconut Fritters w/Vanilla Ice Cream + Strawberries
Platha w/Bananas + Strawberries
Every time I visit San Francisco, I make it a point to try new dishes from Burma Superstar. It has become a nice little tradition every time I go back to the Bay.

I also recommend beef with mango and platha. Platha is pan fried layered bread. Other dishes I have tried are the Nan Gyi Dok (burmese rice noodles with a mild chicken coconut curry sauce, eggs, split yellow pea, and fried onion) and Garlic Noodles. The Nan Gyi Dok was similar to Filipino Pancit Palabok but with curry and the Garlic Noodles were more like Chinese Chowfun. Both were great as we love our noodles but I think the Cinnamon Rice and Pork Curry are better main dishes.

I can't wait to have Burmese food again. Like the few Burmese people I have met, there just as few Burmese restaurants around. We found another (Pagan Restaurant) down the street from Burma Superstar on Clement Street and heard of one on Mission. I am curious to try the one lone Burmese place in Manhattan Cafe Mingala. San Francisco is too far to travel for Burmese food!

Photography Credits: Jennifer Cheng

Burma Superstar
309 Clement St.
San Francisco, CA 94118


  1. I am now hungry! and thanks for the geographical info! now we shall search for a Burmese restaurant. Jen, taaaake usss!

  2. Looks delicious! Although they don't specialize in Burmese, Sweet Yummy House in Elmhurst offers lots of Burmese dishes! Did someone say food outing???

  3. There used to be a Burmese place in JG but it closed. =( I miss the food. Thanks for making me hungry... its midnight...

  4. I sampled Sweet Yummy House at the Elmhurst Trick or Treat It was good! I would love to revisit or try Cafe Mingala.