Friday, January 7, 2011

Slurp du Jour: Mohinga from Burmese Kitchen

San Francisco is blessed with a number of solid Burmese eating places, including Burmese Kitchen, which I had never visited before today, all serving Mohinga, considered by many to be the national dish of Burma. It was a raw day today, the coldest so far this Winter, and it seemed like a good day to warm myself up with a bowl of Mohinga; not because it is spicy (it is hardly that) but because of the warming richness and depth of flavor that it brings. Burmese Kitchen also happens to be nearby the Asian Art Museum, which was due for a visit by me.

I found the restaurant's dining area attractive and comfortable, if a bit kitschy, with a grass hut motif going. A high counter with stools, similar to a ramen bar, added to the comfort of solo diners like me. I ordered Mohinga with an optional sliced boiled egg in it, and a roti on the side.

Mohinga has been called the Burmese version of pho. It has a number of variations, but the basic version is rice noodles in a fish broth thickened with chick pea flour and seasoned with garlic, onions, lemon grass, and ginger. The noodles are vermicelli sized, called nanthay noodles in Burma. The broth is made from extended (even continuous) simmering of specified fish types (varieties of catfish are acceptable) and may or not contain actual chunks of fish when served (Burmese Kitchen's did not). To add substance, various add-ins are offered. Burmese Kitchen offers fried chickpeas in addition to the sliced hard-boiled egg I ordered. Other toppings may include shredded spring onions, shredded raw or cooked green beans or slices of fried squash. My bowl also came, pho-style, with a complimentary garnish dish containing fresh cilantro and a lime segment.

I found the delicate, complex flavors ot my bowl of Mohinga to be deeply satsifying. The noodles were less toothsome than I'm used to with pho (and all manner of wheaten noodles) but this may be just a Mohinga style; along with the absence of any chili heat, the softness of the noodles seemed complicit in delivering an unctuousness that was not at all unpleasant. I also wished I had order the fried chickpea add-in as well as the boiled egg; even accompanied by a roti (which I found to be a little on the greasy side) my lunch was barely substantial enough to get me through the cold afternoon.

A nice little overview of Mohinga's history and its place in Burmese society by Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt can be found here.

Where slurped: Burmese Kitchen, 452 Larkin St., San Francisco.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year Noodles from San Sun -- House of 5,000 Noodles

It's New Year's Day, so I naturally headed out to down some noodles "for long life." Weather was iffy and my stomach was growling, so I hightailed it to a neighborhood standby, San Sun, which I've come to thinking of as the House of 5,000 Noodles. No, San Sun doesn't bill itself as such but I've done the math. I'll explain below.

San Sun is a venerable Hokkien Chinese-Vietnamese-Malaysian family-run restaurant on Stockton Street in Chinatown which specializes in noodle dishes and other one-plate meals. San Sun's colorful, booklet-style menu lists no fewer than 51 noodle soups. There's a choice of 10 different types of noodle for each, and for 50 cents more you can choose to have any two types of noodles in your soup. This makes for 100 different noodle possibilities for each of the 51 toppings, or 5,100 different bowls of soup. Add to that an additional 40 "dry" noodle dishes (chow mein, lo mein, etc.) with a choice from five different noodle types for each, and you begin to see my point.

San Sun's offerings include Chinese-type noodle soups (with Fujian influences showing clearly in some), Vietnamese Pho, and satay noodle soups (the Malaysian in the family making her influence felt). The house-made satay sauce, incidentally, is so good that it's sold by the bottle by popular demand. For good measure, you can also find a Cambodian-style rice noodle soup and a Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup on the menu, as well as noodle-less soups, congee, rice plates and various house specialties, including an oyster pancake.

For my noodles du jour, I decided to short-circuit the decision making process and honor New Year's Day with the cleanest, lighest option I could think of, the Pho Ga (chicken) with thin rice noodles rather than the heavier wide "ho fun" noodles (and no, I was not hung over). The slight sweetness of the delicately-flavored broth was easily tempered by a squeeze of lime from the condiment dish, and a few slices of jalapeno pepper added all the oomph it needed. The noodles were slightly springy, and the shards of chicken breasts tasted fresh. The Pho Ga at San Sun was the perfect refreshing tonic to start the new year with, and I immediately resolved to return soon for some meatier, satay-laden choices.

Where slurped: San Sun Restaurant, 941 Stockton St., San Francisco*

*San Sun will be mMoving to 848 Washington St. (the former Great Oriental space) "in early 2011," displaced by the upcoming Muni Chinatown Subway construction.