When I first arrived in San Francisco, I immediately fell in love with the smells, the stunning scenery, and the diversity of flavors. One world in particular that sparked a young love affair was the enticing tastes of Burmese food. If there is one thing that Myanmar (formerly Burma) and the Bay Area have in common, it’s that they’re both melting pots of Asian cuisines.
Gaining an appreciation for Burmese food’s relationships with Thailand, China, Bangladesh, and India, I was struck by an obsession with funky, fermented tea leaf salads. My mind was opened to a whole new world of curries I didn’t even know existed. And although my infatuation with Shan noodles teetered on the threshold of addiction, there was one meal that I longed for obsessively. There is one dish that I cannot land at SFO without driving straight toward — and, to my surprise, it doesn’t involve noodles, dumplings, or pork.
Burmese Kitchen on Geary Boulevard in the Inner Richmond is an adorable space, with bright orange walls and colorful parasols dangling from the ceiling among triangular chandeliers. They have acclaimed dishes — like a tea leaf salad freckled with sesame seeds, or the Moh Hinga (lemongrass seafood chowder) — but nothing will twitter-pate your soul like the tofu thok. It’s light, it’s lovely, and it’s perfect for a summer night.
Tofu thok, translating to “tofu salad,” is a dish at Burmese Kitchen and one of the most wonderful discoveries you’ll make in the city. It’s a refreshing blend of homemade yellow split-pea tofu, fried shallots, crushed peanuts, and tamarind sauce. The pillowy tofu enhances the pea’s green, creamy flavor, while the shallots and peanuts contrast beautifully with every crunchy bite. This salad is filling and simultaneously light, it’s spicy and yet cooling, and though it’s veggie forward, it feels meaty. It’s a vegan’s dream and a carnivore’s pleasant surprise.
It’s nice to try something different from the usual suspects from time to time, but what’s even better is when that something different turns out to be your new usual suspect.
Burmese Kitchen, 3815 Geary Blvd., 415-474-5569 or burmesekitchen.com