Burmese Tea Leaf Salad With William Lue

Hello folks! Long time no post.  By my count it’s been about six months since my last entry and this time I really don’t have a good excuse for the long gap.  Ok, we did have a second kid back in April.  Does that count as a huge time suck? I’d say it does.   Allow me to make this a parenting blog for a minute. One kid: totally manageable – actually really fun especially as she gets older, more independent and comes into her own eccentric and goofy personality and allows each of the parents some much needed “me” time or even “us” time (date night, ya’ll!).  Two kids: forget it.  And an infant? Forget it even more – which you will with all the sleep you’re not getting. Gone are the days of two on one, tag-team parenting.  Now it’s one-on-one all the time and it’s not even fair. The three year old now has mad trantrum skills and the baby, well she’s a freakin’ baby whose cries can shatter the strongest of wills.  They. Are. Kicking. Our. Ass.  So long story short, I blame the kids for the lapse in deliciousting posts.  Well, it’s not all bad. After all, the new one can be pretty sweet:

We call her Momo because she’s such a little dumpling. Ok, ending parent blog now.

Back in August, our good friends from NYC, Donna and Anthony came to visit us in Oakland with their two kids.  A little back story on D & A:  they’re the ones I hold responsible – I mean to whom I’m forever grateful – for introducing me to Shef, my wife in life and food.  I’ll try to be brief. I met Donna a long time ago through a mutual friend in California.  Later, at the wedding of that mutual friend, I met Anthony, Donna’s date. This was a ten years ago. I was just about to move to NYC so I was glad to befriend Donna and Ant who proved to be welcoming and warm when I did land in NYC a month or two later.  Fast forward eight or nine months.  Summer in NYC.  I found myself happily single.  D & A (who at the time lived in Manhattan) invited me to this Hawaiian picnic in Central Park.  A friend of theirs had invited them  Now, Donna is somebody who always has a plan. And this occasion was no exception. She had also invited her good friend, Shefali, also single and ready to enjoy the summer, if you catch my drift.  And all credit to Donna and her machinations, this is where it all started.  Okay, if I was going to be 100% honest this was the second time we’d met. The first time we crossed paths was about six months prior, and let’s just say I wasn’t in the right head space to notice her charms – her charms at that point consisted of a lot of snot because she had head cold if I recall.  So for the sake of a good story, let’s count that Hawaiian picnic in Central Park as the starting point.  I was waiting for D & A at the entrance near Columbus circle when I spied this really cute -nay,  hot young woman walk by and enter the park.  Donna and Ant arrived a short time later and I walked into the park with them. As we approached the picnic, the woman whom I’d noticed earlier approached them and gave them each a hug. Stoked! “Do you remember Shefali?” asked Donna.  “Um, yeah…”  Though honestly, I had not recognized her from six months before, (like I said I was a little oblivious at the time and she was really snotty, so that first impression was obviously not so meaningful).  On this occasion, I was checked in and checking her out. Needless to say, I was bowled over by her beauty and sparkling personality.  But equally if not more importantly, I was impressed with her ability to eat. She was all about attacking the mountain of food that people had brought, going back for second helpings, thirds, fourths, etc.  I was like “who is this girl?” So, I got her number, followed up and the end, as they say, is history.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a photo of that fateful meeting:

Meeting and eating. This is where I met my future wife. I knew girl who liked spam musubi was the one for me.

Meeting and eating. Me holding up the spam musubi. Anthony in the middle and Shef looking funny.

Alright back to the original reason for this post.  Donna and Ant were visiting us here in Oakland (already been two years since we moved from BK!) with their two kids. Yup, we’re all grown up now – kind of. We needed to eat dinner. I’d been hearing great things about this Burmese grocery store (?) near our house that also served really authentic Burmese food.  What?! I did a little internet research, because I’m resourceful like that.  I found out the place was actually a fully functional Burmese restaurant called Grocery Cafe because it occupied an old corner grocery store on a residential street in Oakland’s working class Highland neighborhood.  That’s the cool thing about Oakland. Smack dab in in the middle of these unassuming and unpolished residential neighborhoods you can find these gems like Champa Gardens or Vientien Cafe. It had been well reviewed by locals and the local weekly. Good enough for us.  We called and ordered about five dishes which comprised most of the small menu. Ant and I headed over to pick up the food. Sure enough, it was an old corner store with a make-shift kitchen separated from the front of the house by one of those refrigerated display cases that might have contained old macaroni salad and deli meats back in the day. Now it housed stacks of containers of homemade spicy Burmese pickles. The front of the house was a mish mash of second hand tables (like dining room tables you’d find at Goodwill)  and most of the seats were old church pews.  This was my kind of place. As we waited for the food we struck up a conversation with Mr. William Lue, the owner proprietor and some time chef of the Grocery Cafe. It turns out he’s been in the Burmese restaurant game for a good 30 plus years and has had a hand in running or cooking for many of the more well known and well heeled Burmese spots in the SF Bay Area.  Currently, he’s running a few Burmese spots in the East and North Bay, but the Grocery Cafe is his baby. Soft spoken, but with a deep resonant voice, Mr. Lue was not shy about describing his ambitions for the restaurant.   But it was when he started talking about the different dishes he wanted to  serve, that his language became evocative and poetic.   After over thirty years in the restaurant business, his passion for and excitement about the possibilities of Burmese food – the different ingredients, the regional specialties, the traditional preparations – and introducing it to the masses are palpable. I thought it would be great to video him making one of those dishes.   A couple weeks later, I managed to carve out some time in his busy schedule to film him for about an hour before he opened for business.  In the interest of time, I had him prepare the ever popular Burmese tea leaf salad.  I don’t know if it’s something the lay person could necessarily throw together, unless said lay person has their own vat of seasoned and fermented green tea leaves. But it’s a great example of how simple ingredients can combine to produce really complex flavors and textures.  As prepared by Mr. Lue, it’s delicious – as was all the other food we ate with D&A.  Please enjoy.

 

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