Lowell Burmese Food Fair coming up
Big, big thank you for pointing this out. I definitely would have missed it otherwise. And boy am I glad I didn't. I drove up from Cambridge with five friends yesterday and we had quite a feast.
The food fair is held in the basement of a large Baptist church. Most dishes are $3/each, desserts are $2 each, and fresh hot tea or cold bottled drinks are $1 each. Everything is cooked in the large kitchen next to the community room in the basement.
The foods on offer included samusas, burmese tofu salad (with either chickpea tofu or with noodles), assorted fritters (bean, onion and tofu) with a spicy sauce, bean plata with a spicy cabbage slaw, mohinga, burmese yellow noodle salad, and chicken briyani. Finally, there were two desserts. A Banana bread/cake and a shwe kyi, a coconut cake.
Oh my gosh, everything was delicious. Spicy and authentic, clearly made freshly and made carefully enough to be restaurant food but clearly the kinds of comfort food one gets from a loving home. I don't mean to be too poetic, but it was one of the most delicious meals in recent memory. I've had Burmese food at YoMa in Allston, as well as in London and Maryland and in a Burmese friend's home in suburban Baltimore. This was easily the best. And the least expensive.
The tofu salad and noodle salads had deep reserve of spice, and wonderful textures from the ground peanuts, chopped scallions, and the gritty texture of the chili sauce themselves. Bright cilantro opened everything up, and there was a slight sour taste underlying them. When I go the chickpea salad I asked for some of the spicy chili sauce. She warned me that it was very spicy but I insisted. After the first dallop I asked for another. She was right, it's an incredibly spicy, concentrated sauce. My friend and I were sweating and smiling as we dug into this dish. Wow.
The bean plata dish consisted of oily bread and oily chicken, with a dry and tasty side of cooked beans and a dry and very spicy cabbage slaw. The contasts worked really well together. Mohinga was probably the star of the show --- a deeply rich soup with thin rice noodles and a mound of cilantro. Fish sauce really came through. I almost didn't try the chicken briyani, thinking it out of place, but I'm glad I did. It was a terrific biryani, with fluffy flavorful rice even with only a little chicken. Banana and coconut bread made for a nice desert, not too sweet.
So no tea leaf salad, but lots of dishes available. With six people we were all able to try one of everything, and no one spent more than $10. Some overlaps with dishes I'd had before, and also lots of new tastes.
One of our ground had been to Burma for several weeks, and whether here or there Burmese food is a little oily. But it is nothing if not flavorful. I can't wait for this to happen again.
Also, while sitting and eating we were treated to several cultural performances and music, and met many interesting people, both from inside and outside of the Burmese community in Lowell. I don't think too many other people traveled from Boston for it, but it was so worth it.
While we were in Lowell we also walked around the old mills, got some interesting chocolates at Sweet Lydia's, peeked in at the Babylon Restaurant (an Iraqi restaurant to which I want to return) and the cute coffee shop Brewed Awakening, avoided the drunk UMass Lowell students preparing for Cinco de Mayo, did a little shopping at the Bangkok market, and stopped at Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe in nearby Chelmsford for a bowl of noodles.
Whew, what a day.
Great recap with lovely pix, lipoff. We are fortunate to have a Burmese community. On the point of oil, like some Indo-Pak food, Burmese dishes are often intended to be oily and that is part of the enjoyment, though I do note in the past year or so that YoMa has made some modifications to their cooking in this regard, reducing the amount of oil, and generally making their dishes a little more healthful. And, I gotta say, I do enjoy and appreciate that - they still make incredibly flavourful dishes, just a lot cleaner these days it seeems.