When I was in San Francisco last month, my cousin invited us to eat at Mandalay, one of two Burmese restaurants within a few blocks of each other in San Francisco. I knew nothing about Burmese food, but I was expecting something like Thai food. Burmese food, however, strikes me as less heavy on the chiles than Thai food and more about balance among the ingredients.
Mandalay is a small restaurant and seems to be popular, but we didn’t have to wait long for a table. The three of us squeezed around a table meant for two along one side of the restaurant.
Todd and I started with some frou-frou drinks: in his case, coconut juice sipped from a peeled coconut, and in my case, a refreshing nonalcoholic drink flavored with ginger and cilantro.
There were several dishes with tea leaves on the menu, including the Tea Leaf Salad. The three of us eventually settled on the Ginger Salad, which is similar. The pickled ginger is in the middle, surrounded by peanuts and jalapeños, soy nuts (the menu listed lentils), sesame seeds, fried garlic, and tomatoes. The server brought it to the table this way and mixed it for us. This dish doesn’t really match the American vision of a salad, but the ginger and peppers added a bit of garden freshness to the crunchiness of the other ingredients.At my cousin’s recommendation, we ordered the Mandalay Special Noodle with chicken, which you see here after it had been mixed (my apologies for the blurry BlackBerry photo). The chicken is hiding in the middle under the fried narrow noodles, surrounded by wide noodles, cilantro, onion, and yellow peas powder (at the bottom). It was delicious, but I tried not to hog it all for myself. Our final dish was the Smoked Tea Duck. I wanted to try at least one dish with tea leaves, since that seemed to be an important aspect of Burmese cuisine, and the duck was wonderfully tender and lightly smoked. But I have to admit I didn’t notice a distinct flavor of tea leaves. It was a little awkward to divide this entree among three people, but we managed.