Mogok Rice Noodles with Stewed Chicken

Mogok Rice Noodles with Stewed Chicken, topped with Shan Preserved Mustard Leaves, or 'Burmese Kimchi.'

I just had the most amazing bowl of noodles in a long, long time. A bowl of noodles that’s actually timely and relevant, given that the country it hails from is now ‘unclenching its iron fist.’ Yes, I’m talking about Burma, that storied country of nascent political and economic reforms, and home to a legendary democratic activist whose house arrest has paved the way for today.

This food experience comes at the heels of a boat tour I took this past winter of Tonle Sap, Cambodia. Along the way I enjoyed a bowl of Khmer noodles, topped with cilantro and other indescribable deliciousness that has had me in sort of a daze.

Noodle vendor at Tonle Sap. Best noodles ever!

Certainly New York is a long way from Tonle Sap, and Burma too, for that matter. But one of the great perks of living in this megapolis is the sheer human diversity and the accessibility of wonderful cultures, especially culinary cultures, from Asia and otherwise.

Every year the Moegyo Humanitarian Foundation holds an annual Burmese Food Fair in Queens, the details of which I mined via the prolific Dave Cook of Eating in Translation. The weather has been lovely, so I ventured out to try Burmese food, not because I wanted to duplicate my Tonle Sap food experience, but I wanted to try something new, yet familiar.

It was my first time trying Burmese food, and under the friendly gaze of Burmese vendors, volunteers from the local community raising funds for humanitarian aid, I managed to make some very fine choices.

The very colorful Mogok Rice Noodles with Stewed Chicken (pictured way above) hit the spot. This was excellent, excellent stuff. The rice noodles were subtly chewy, and served as the neutral backdrop to the protein-rich flavors of the stewed chicken, the refreshing bites of cilantro, crushed nuts, and my favorite, the Shan Preserved Mustard Leaves, which the smiling lady who ladled my soup explained as “Burmese kimchi.” And like kimchi it was memorably spicy.

Upper Burmese Style Stewed Pork at Moegyo Burmese Food Fair New York

Next was the Upper Burmese Style Stewed Pork. I was starting to get the feeling the Burmese like their meat stewed, cooked until so soft the meat starts falling off the bone. We’re talking tender flesh braised in a barbecue sauce that I can best describe as possessing the flavors of the Thai sauce Nam Prik Pao. Sweet yet savory. And slightly addictive.

I know New York has more upscale food affairs than those to be found at the civic food fairs that enrich its local communities. But at 5 dollars per dish (at most!), and with a far-ranging array of Burmese, Vietnamese and Thai desserts to satisfy everyone, I have to say – I really look forward to next year’s food fair, and perhaps even having a go at the karaoke stage, that is if I learn some Burmese songs first. (And if do go on stage, I’m thinking some jungle wine wouldn’t hurt either.)