Burmese menu at Rangoon Bistro offers a sample of South Asian cuisine – Blogtown
Silken tofu with chickpeas wraps rice noodles in Burmese dish tohu nway. Janey Wong
Rangoon Bistro has started spreading the gospel of Burmese street food through pop-up diners. It then became a staple of the King Farmers Market and transitioned to a take-out-only concept operating out of the Gotham Building during the height of the pandemic. This development has now culminated in a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Breathe building in Southeast Portland.
“The way we’ve done everything is slow but deliberate,” co-owner Nick Sherbo told the Mercury. “Alex and I started talking about this idea over five years ago, [saying] we’ll know it’s time to open a place when we constantly hear ‘when are you going to open a restaurant?!’”
Chef Alex Saw has spent more than half his life away from his native country, but he says that, in a sense, he came home via his restaurant. In 2010, Saw arrived in the United States via Malaysia, where he had fled as a teenager to avoid arrest for covering political protests in Myanmar.
As he rose through the ranks in the kitchen of star chef Andrea Zanella, he met fellow Burmese expat David Sai. The couple honed their skills in fine Italian cooking and, when they met in Portland, originally planned to open an Italian restaurant. However, Sherbo, whom they met while working at the Bollywood Theatre, suggested they cook Burmese cuisine instead.
The trio decided to focus on Burmese cuisine, in part because it would give them the opportunity to represent their country. The restaurant’s social media is mostly about delicious food, but the owners aren’t shy about showing their active participation in local protests and sharing fundraising efforts, especially in response to the military junta that overthrew and overthrew the democratically elected government of Myanmar in 2021.
The cuisine of Myanmar (which is also called Burma) draws its influence from its many neighboring countries – revolves around Indian curries and biryanis, adaptations of Chinese noodle dishes and other reference points from Bangladesh, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Rangoon Bistro takes its name from the country’s capital, now known as Yangon.
The restaurant’s menu – a compilation of tried-and-tested dishes that were first tried out in previous iterations of the bistro – is divided into four sections: noodles, crispy dishes, rice dishes and thokes (salads). Going in a group is the best approach, so you can order a bunch of dishes and try a bit of everything.
One of the staples on the menu is homemade chickpea tofu, originally from the Shan people of eastern Myanmar. To make this, staff soak chickpea flour overnight until it forms a paste which then cooks over low heat for three to four hours. After adding turmeric for color and subtle flavor, the mixtures require constant stirring to maintain the smooth consistency of the tofu. In its silken form, Rangoon Bistro’s tofu is poured over Umi Organic rice noodles, acting as a sauce. Firm fresh tofu has a starring role in its own salad, or you can order it crispy, with tamarind chutney and vegan ranch for dipping.
Lahpet (pickled tea leaves), seen here mixed with a thoke (salad), is a Myanmar national specialty and is traditionally served as a gesture of hospitality. Janey Wong
Another salad, lahpet thoke, is the pride and joy of Sai and Saw. It contains crunchy nuts and seeds, tomato, garlic oil and cabbage, but the key ingredient is lahpet: pickled green tea leaves. The dish has a pungent, earthy flavor, but it is an unusual taste for many palates.
Lahpet is quite unique in Burmese culture, as Myanmar is one of the few countries that eats tea in addition to drinking it. The bistro version sources green tea from Minto Island Tea Company in Salem, then adds fish sauce, ginger, garlic and dried shrimp to give the leaves an intense umami flavor.
As Rangoon Bistro adapted to its new incarnations, Sai refined the processes for these beloved Burmese specialties. But he also pushes for innovation, which he says stems from his experience in different bars and restaurants, and the importance of continually asking what’s new. His philosophy is to preserve the flavor of an existing dish while incorporating his own techniques. One of Sai’s creations is the restaurant’s sweet coconut milk drink, which combines the ubiquitous Southeast Asian ingredient with condensed milk and toasted salt for an utterly sweet, flavorful, creamy drink. and refreshing that serves up a good mood to the bold flavors of food. . Speaking of which, many dishes in the restaurant are mild to moderately spicy, but if you’re looking to kick things up a notch or two, you can ask for fresh Thai chilies.
While Rangoon Bistro is currently in the process of obtaining a liquor license, Sai, true to form, already has a sticky rice martini waiting for him backstage.
Rangoon Bistro, 2311 SE 50th, (503) 953-5385, rangoonbistropdx.com