>> Irrawaddy Taste of Burma | Eat the World Los Angeles

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Irrawaddy Taste of Burma


COVID-19 UPDATE: A couple tables and an umbrella are set up outside, but the dining room is still blocked off for customers and is mainly takeout.

While many cuisines have certain locations around Greater Los Angeles that you can head to and find the tastiest versions clustered around each other, Burmese food has never worked quite that way. The vast region of the San Gabriel Valley might be the most dense with the food of Myanmar, but since Golden Owl closed, only three restaurants remain.

Culver City and Inglewood both have markets with some Burmese options, while Orange County has to rely on just one five year old full service restaurant to get its fix. Opened in early 2016 by an uncle and his nephew, the modest restaurant has the charm of the family business it is, and is respite from Stanton's somewhat monotonous chain-heavy eats.

Clockwise from left: La phat thote, tofu thote, gin thote.

Stepping up to the menu outdoors, it is immediately obvious that the restaurant gets a vast majority of customers that know very little about Burmese food. The kind woman who was handling orders on this day offered her help if there were any questions. On this day it had been predetermined that the order would rely mostly on the fresh salads unique to Myanmar, often times called "thoke" on menus but here transliterated as "thote."

Irrawaddy gets its name from the English of the Ayeyarwady River, which meanders its way from the north of the country, through the heart, and into the Andaman Sea. The menu at this restaurant with such a grand namesake includes most of the usual suspects in that category. Gin thote ($12, above bottom) is a salad of cabbage and shredded pickled ginger, tossed with tomatoes, peanuts, lentils, and chickpea powder.

Perennial favorite la phat thote ($12, above) is a similarly diverse array of textures and flavors, centering around the fermented tea leaves that give the dish its name. Irrawaddy does this especially well, using more of the tea leaves than normal and thus making a more bitter finished product than most restaurants. Extra crunch is in the form of fried bits of garlic as well as sesame and sunflower seeds.

Their tofu thote ($12, below) is also a winner, without the crunch but with a nice ladle of tamarind garlic sauce thrown on top. Burmese tofu is yellow because it is made with chickpea flour rather than soybean, which makes any dish using it take on this flavor as well rather than just the flavors of its other ingredients.

Thote dishes, all served room temperature and freshly mixed in front of you when ordered from vendors or restaurants in Myanmar, can be made with noodles as well. These dishes like nun gyi thote (translated as "southern noodles") and kauk swear thote ("Mandalay noodles") are available here and expected to be delicious. Unfortunately this order did not have room for them.

Noodles were enjoyed though, in the form of Myanmar's morning favorite moh hinga ($12, below), a fish stew with rice vermicelli noodles. Even before the sun rises in Myanmar, you will find steaming pots of soup ready for people going off to work. The most popular of these is this dish, with a broth made from catfish yet never seeming fishy. The rice noodles instead grab their flavors from lemongrass, ginger, onions, and garlic, as well as many spices. Ask for some dried red pepper to add a nice kick to it, and give it a good squirt of lime. Crispy fritters and parsley adorn the top.

Anyone who has spent time in Myanmar will have most likely eaten plenty of egg curry, which seems to be the most popular type of curry. Often you will find plenty of okra in these, so here they have given the vegetable double billing. Egg with okra ($12, below) is a deeply savory and oily dish that begs to be spooned over jasmine rice.

It starts to give hints towards its South Asian roots, which play a large part in the cooking of the country today. British colonial rule had a lot to do with this, as many Indians from the subcontinent came during this period Burma was a province of British India as soldiers, civil servants, and workers.

Future visits to Irrawaddy will of course take in some of those noodle thote dishes, but also look to include meals from their "Home Cooking" section of the menu. Here there are many other curry dishes as well as masala and coconut-based treats.

Hopefully that will be very soon, safely in the confines of their hospitality.


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