Burma Crave

I love trying new foods, particularly those of other countries and cultures. So when a “Best of Burma: Coming Soon” sign showed up in front of the old Shuffles Ice Cream, I jumped for joy – Burmese food was coming to Santa Rosa!

After Best of Burma opened last fall, I set out with my husband to try out this new culinary adventure. I had no idea what to expect for our dinner, and I had no idea what type of food Burmese actually was. I knew very little about Burma- other than the country was now known as Myanmar, and it’s the home of origin to the Burmese Python. But as one always up for new things, I was eager to try it out.Best of Burma

Our server Kevin was very helpful, and explained that the dishes were served family style, and pointed out what items were the most authentic. For someone as clueless to Burmese food as I was, I would say they were similar to Thai – lots of noodle and curry dishes.

Best of BurmaTo start with, we ordered the tea leaf salad. It came arranged with the individual components of lettuce, fried yellow beans, fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, fresh tomatoes, and jalapenos arranged around a pile of the tea leaves. We opted to have the dish vegetarian, but normally it comes with dried shrimp. Kevin then squeezed fresh lemon over the tea leaves, and then mixed everything together. He told us that the leaves are fermented in a clay pot for 3-6 months.

Best of BurmaOur next Best of Burma dish was Nan Gyu Thoke, a rice noodle dish with a chicken coconut curry sauce. Like the salad, it came arranged with the ingredients separate, and the server mixed at the table. I asked if that was a traditional presentation, and Kevin told us no, its just something they like to do because many people are unfamiliar with the ingredients. We also chose Pork Curry with Potatoes, which was as it sounded, but also marinated with pickled mangoes. I like both of these curry dishes, which were lighter and fruitier than other Thai curries I’ve had. Our server explained that most of the dishes in the cuisine were wet and saucy like these, which is complimentary to the wet and humid climate the country experiences.

For dessert, I somewhat reluctantly ordered Sooji, which Kevin described as a baked cream of wheat. It was the most authentic dessert they had, amongst a selection of sticky rice and ice creams. Despite not being excited about it (I mean, baked cream of wheat?), I was determined to explore all sides of the Best of Burma menu, so based on his recommendation, we forged ahead. It came with mango ice cream, and while it wasn’t my favorite dish by far, it wasn’t bad. Similar to a dry rice pudding, with flavors of cinnamon and coconut, it was much different than the descendant chocolate and sugary things I consider dessert.

I’ll be sure to come back. There were several other things on the menu that I’m eager to try, such as samosa soup and the rainbow salad, which was described as “4 types of noodles and 22 other ingredients that were too many to list.”

Best of Burma is located at 528 7th Street.

Phone: 707-623-9280


Shop Locally, Eat Globally

Visiting ethnic markets for the first time is a little like traveling. You never quite know what to expect.

The store fronts are always easy to pass by, plain and unassuming, but once you enter the stores, you are surrounded by bright colors, smells, and sights different from that of your standard grocery store. While our standard supermarkets all have an ethnic aisle, and its easy to get the basics, there is nothing quite like adventuring into one of Santa Rosa’s Mexican or Asian markets to seek the harder to find ingredients.

I haven’t had many opportunities to travel, but I love eating and cooking meals from different cuisines. And how lucky we are to live in such an culturally diverse community where we have easy access to foods from all over the world; both in restaurants and ethnic markets that cater to the people of those cultures and to those wanting to cook with authentic ingredients.

Asia Mart on Guerneville Road is one of the places I make frequent stops at. It's my go-to source for fresh rice noodles or lop chong sausage, as well as the basics like soba noodles, coconut milk, soy and Sriracha sauce. As the largest Asian ethnic market in Santa Rosa, they cater to a wide range of Asian populations, including Indian. I like their well-stocked aisle of sakes and the selection of oils and medicines I’m familiar with from my acupuncturist's office. I almost always leave with a package of Banh Cam, fried sesame balls with mung mean paste, that they perch on the corner of the check out counter.

MeKong Market, on Sebastopol Road, is much smaller and specializes in Vietnamese ingredients. When I was last there and talking with the friendly staff, she told me that they also cater to the Fijian and Islander population of Santa Rosa. MeKong has a fresh meat and fish counter, and it’s always interesting to see what types of cuts people are picking out.

Their produce selection is the best of all the Asian markets, filled with exotic-to-me ingredients like fresh banana flowers and taro leaves, but also staples like cilantro, ginger and onions at a great price. Around the Lunar New Year, I try to catch a Banh Tet, or Moon Cake, during its limited 2 week production; a delicious and unique rice, mung bean and pork filling that’s wrapped in a banana leaf.

Even if I know exactly what I’m going in for, I love to wander the aisles and look at the things I’m unfamiliar with. How exactly is sorghum used? What do fresh banana flowers taste like? What exactly is in this package with writing I can’t read? Do the chickens with black skin taste any different? Even if you don’t need anything, it’s always a fun shopping trip that warrants a bit of exploration. Ethnic markets are also a great place to stock up on cookwares, fuel for warming trays, or incense and trinkets for alters.


The SoCo Meat Co.

I first met Rian Rinn about 10 years ago, when we were both living in Healdsburg. I had my first place (and therefore a kitchen) without roommates, and was just learning to cook. Rian was peddling meat out of his garage in an ad-hoc CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I’d come home with random cuts every week or so, and then search my cookbooks and troll the internet on how to use this new-to-me piece of meat.

Just like my cooking, Rian’s meat providing has evolved over the years. Today, along with his partner Jenine, they run the Sonoma County Meat Company. This custom butcher shop, located at 35 Sebastopol Ave. in Santa Rosa, opened in Spring of 2014. Since then, they have been serving the people of Santa Rosa and surrounding communities with high-quality, locally raised and sustainable meats.

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I regularly turn to SCMC for whole chickens, assorted cuts of beef, rabbit, sausages and bacon. They do their own smoking and make their own sausage, and there is always a new flavor of something to try. The staff is always friendly and happy to cut something smaller, or piece out my chicken for me. I like asking for recommendations on how to use a particular cut I’m not familiar with. If they don’t have what you’re looking for in their case, make sure to ask if they have it in the back. If not, they are always happy to make a suggestion for something similar.

img_6686One thing that I love about the Meat Co is that they don’t shy away from nose to tail. If you’re looking for a head to make headcheese or blood to make blood sausage, or fat to render for lard, they won’t give you a blank stare and think you came from crazy-town. Try asking for something like that at Safeway. I haven’t yet mustered up the courage to make headcheese, but it’s on my list of culinary experiments, and I am glad to know where I can source such a thing.

In addition to providing meat for retail customers like me, people can bring in their livestock and game for processing. They are the county’s only USDA inspected facility, making it possible for small farms and ranches to have their animals processed and packaged for sale at their own farms. They also offer a meat CSA, providing customers a monthly allotment of locally sourced meats.

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Make sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for notifications of sales, classes and events. When you visit, check out the collection of knives on the wall, all procured from customers over the years in exchange for sausage. My vintage curved butcher’s knife is down there on bottom row.

There are plenty of places to visit them online, too.


Farm to Fermentation Festival

For the past 6 years, on a weekend in August, Santa Rosa has been the convening point of people all over to talk about, to learn about and to try, fermented foods.

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This past weekend was that time, and purveyors and lovers of all things fermented gathered to celebrate this ancient method of food preservation at the Farm to Fermentation Festival. I got a crash course in fermentation when attended a few years ago, which I wrote about here and this year was just as enjoyable.

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This year, I attended two of the many lectures offered. I learned about how to make yogurt from Janet Fletcher, local author of several books including her new book, Yogurt. I was surprised at how easy the process was- heat milk, add a bit of yogurt, and then rest at a certain temperature for a given length of time.

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In Lynda LeMole’s lecture “Fermented Medicine,” I learned more about the health benefits of fermented foods and how they interact with our bodies. She demonstrated how to make Fire Cider, and explained the dizzyingly long list of its benefits, ranging from being an anti-inflammatory to helping nausea. We all tried a sample of it, which burned my throat but I could easily see how it would kill any germs or illness. I was excited to take the recipe and make a batch myself at home.

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After leaving Lynda’s lecture, I sought out my husband, who was in the Libation Lounge. I’m not a big drinker, but he had already tried all the samples of beer and cider, and directed me to the ones he thought I’d like the best (so thoughtful, right?). I really enjoyed a strawberry saison from Woodfour and a pour Moonlight Brewing that was made with redwood instead of hops.

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Back in the vendor hall, we checked out samples of all things fermented- from cheese to pickles to bread to chocolate. I was excited that there were samples of natto, fermented soybeans that are very traditional in Japan. I had heard some horror stores about the dish, but wanted to try it. I found them quite delicious, and much different from other ferments like pickles or sauerkraut.

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The chocolate samples were of course very popular, both from companies Firefly and Cacoco. I really liked trying 4 different types of drinking chocolates, and came home with a box of Cacoco’s ‘Original’ to make some of my own at home.
Make sure to keep an eye on the Farm to Fermentation website for next year’s date, or follow them on Instagram at @farm2ferment- it’s an event not to be missed!

www.farmtofermentation.com