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March, 2005: Burma Restaurant

Before the MCI Center came along to encourage Legal Sea Foods and other chains to open in Chinatown, Burma was the first non-Chinese restaurant to thrive in the neighborhood. And that was despite its second-story dining room, which once housed a martial-arts school. It owes its success to the novelty of being one of the nation's very few Burmese restaurants—the opening of Mandalay in College Park gave the area an embarrassment of riches in this ethnic category—attracting patrons in search of an exotic dining experience. This is a fascinating cuisine that borrows products and condiments common to the pantries of China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia but combines them in a manner very much of its own.

It has the spiciness of Thailand and Szechuan, as well as the gentle delicacy of Vietnam. A few dishes that resemble those of other cuisines: Crisp and soft pan-fried rice noodles topped with a stir-fry of pork, chicken, and scallions could pass for Hong Kong chow mein. What keeps regulars coming back are such uniquely Burmese specialties as squid stir-fried with salty shreds of country ham; a salad of pickled green-tea leaves tossed with shrimp and crushed peanuts; vigorously spicy Burmese beef curry; bean curd simmered in tomato-curry sauce; and a spicy-sweet Burmese mango pork.

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