Located in the heart of Philadelphia’s thriving Chinatown district, Rangoon Burmese Restaurant throws open Burma’s culinary borders to showcase a cuisine that is as rich and diverse as the country’s culture itself. The restaurant’s extensive menu offers the unique opportunity to savor authentic Burmese fare with a range of traditionally prepared meat, seafood, and vegetarian dishes featuring savory sauces and unique spice combinations. Rangoon also features the varied gastronomic influences of Burma’s geographic neighbors with tasty Indian curries, classic Chinese dishes, and a touch of Thai.Read More ...
Rangoon Burmese Restaurant was born out of friendship and a passion for food. Three Burmese expatriates, Christine Gyaw, Jenny Louie, and Meemee, were enjoying a traditional meal together when they were struck with the idea of sharing the cuisine of their motherland with their adopted home of Philadelphia. They have now been successfully achieving this dream since 1993. This foundation of friendship is extended to every diner who enters Rangoon with its welcoming atmosphere and attentive staff.
As my dining companion and I entered Rangoon, we immediately left the hustle and bustle of Chinatown’s streets behind. In its place we found a peaceful serenity reigning over the subdued dining room. This atmosphere seemed perfect for diners who take pleasure in fine food and relish the chance to converse with their dining companions. The soft grey walls of Rangoon’s interior were tastefully accented by crimson colored recesses adorned with gilt statues, teak carvings, and assorted pottery representing Burma’s culture and artistic traditions. My dining companion and I were seated beside one of three large windows that line the front wall of the restaurant and graced by the delicate blossom of an orchid that arced over our table from the windowsill. The pleasantly subdued nature of Rangoon even extends to the tables, which are adorned with graceful floral patterns reminiscent of henna tattoos.
The extensive and largely unfamiliar menu could have been daunting, but we resolved to approach it with openness and curiosity, confident that our adventuresome palates would be rewarded with new-found delicacies. We also quickly enlisted the aid of our waitress, Sue, who was happy to be our guide through the menu’s many offerings. To start with, she informed us that it was Burmese tradition to serve all the dishes at one time, in contrast to the Western tradition of staggering the meal into stages such as appetizers and entrees. Eating in the Burmese fashion allows diners to freely choose among the array of differing tastes and textures that each dish offers, making the meal altogether more enjoyable. So, feeling relaxed and unhurried, my dining companion and I set to work choosing the various dishes that would comprise the night’s feast, frequently consulting with Sue along the way.
Rangoon has a focused list of beer and wine as well as freshly made fruit juices to pair with its range of food options. My dining companion went with a recommendation from Sue, the Coconut Juice, and I chose the classic Thai lager, Singha. The Coconut Juice proved to be a refreshingly simple drink with thin triangles of tender coconut meat layered between chunks of ice and suspended in the sweet juice of a ripe coconut. The Singha was just as it always is, lightly malted, cold, and refreshing.
Our soup selections were the first to arrive: the Village Onion Pea Soup with yellow pea broth and fried onions and the Shrimp Lemon Grass Soup with mushrooms and kaffir lime leaves in a hot and sour chicken broth. The two soups proved to be pleasingly dissimilar to one another which had the positive effect of enhancing each one’s unique characteristics. The Village Onion Pea Soup was a rich and flavorful dish rounded out with a subtle hint of cardamom and accented with a spoonful of crispy fried onions easily floating on top of the thick broth. The Shrimp Lemon Grass Soup was true to its designation on the menu as being hot and spicy. The steam of the sharp, clear broth delivered the distinct aromatics of kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass straight to our noses , leaving our palates to savor the sweet shrimp and musty mushrooms swimming around the bowl.
While we innocently slurped our soups and traded them back and forth, Sue continued to quietly deliver the rest of our orders in efficient succession. The Rangoon Crab Meat Dumplings with cream cheese and coriander were fried to a deep golden brown and served piping hot. Accompanied by a mildly sweet, red chili dipping sauce, the dumplings served as an ideal casual interlude to the dishes yet to come.
Our two cold selections arrived next: the Asian Tea Leaf Salad and the Authentic Burmese Cold Noodle (Let Thoke). The Asian Tea Leaf Salad was the night’s culinary revelation. The dish is indispensable in Burma, where it is eaten at any time of the day and may serve as a snack, a stimulant, and even a peace offering. The fermented green tea leaves imparted a grassy, tannic bite to the salad while the mélange of cabbage, tomatoes, sesame, peanuts, lime juice, garlic, dried shrimp, and fried onions created a cornucopia of distinctive tastes and contrasting textures. The Authentic Burmese Cold Noodle (Let Thoke) featured rich, buttery round noodles glazed with a spicy sauce and coated with coriander, onions, steamed rice, besan, potatoes, dried shrimp, and tamarind.
Finally, Sue delivered the Crispy Fish Meat Thoke to our agreeably over-crowded table. Consisting of crispy fried fish with cabbage, green mango, carrots, coriander, onions, garlic, chili, and lime sauce, the dish was covered with a sweet and spicy bright green sauce and served with steamed white rice. The crispy fish was roused by the spicy, viscous green lime sauce and the occasional hints of tart green mango and shreds of sweet carrot. A fork full of fluffy rice nicely tempered the dish’s subtle kick.
Judging by our dish-strewn table, one would doubt if we had room for another bite, but we had spied the desserts when we made our initial menu selections and had made an effort to save room. We were ready when Sue asked if we were interested in trying any of Rangoon’s desserts and placed our order for the Burmese specialty, Farluda. Farluda is a fantastic concoction of various dessert staples combined into one: ice cream, pudding, tapioca, raisins, assorted jello, ice, and noodles all drizzled with pink rose syrup. Served in a tall, trumpet-shaped glass, Farluda requires a long-stemmed spoon to keep all the ingredients thoroughly mixed so that each bite has a taste of everything. This dessert was definitely made for sharing. To complement the Farluda, we both had the hot Burmese Tea. Typical of Burmese tea, this was a strong black tea fortified with both condensed and evaporated milk, which provided a robust, rich finish to a pleasantly fulfilling meal.
Rangoon Burmese Restaurant is a peaceful culinary oasis among the endless buzzing of commerce that characterizes Chinatown. In addition, Rangoon offers diners the only opportunity to taste authentic Burmese cuisine in Philadelphia’s entire Chinatown. The friendly, relaxed atmosphere provides the perfect spot for couples and larger groups alike to enjoy unique food, engage in pleasant conversation, and find respite from the sometimes hectic demands of everyday life. Moreover, the seemingly endless menu options beg the intrepid diner to return again and again in search of the many culinary discoveries Rangoon has to offer.
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