Long story short: A place so nice, they named it twice. Burma Burma is at the
very least worth a visit
“Yes”, said she.
“As in the stuff…with leaves?”
“The same”, she nodded sagely.
Scrunched eyebrows and ponderous gazes filled the next 2.67 seconds of my life, post which I had a response. “Ok. Let’s. At least I can sink my canines into something meaty while you do your best impression of a rabbit.”
The smile was quick to come and it lit up her face. “Ah, but that’s the thing. There is no meat on offer. It’s purely vegetarian fare.”
My left eye flickered a little as I grasped the enormity of this monstrosity.
“Trust me,” she went on. “You’ll love it. Treat it like a culinary escape, with your palate wandering off into unfamiliar territory.”
I was non-plussed and more than a little lost for words. Resigned to my fate, I turned the key in the ignition and smiled for the first time in the last few minutes as the sound of the engine roaring to life soundtracked my day.
Burma Burma it was going to be, so help me god.
Getting to Burma Burma was not much of a hassle, truth be told, even though I was driving down from a not-too-near Eastern suburb. As usual, Mumbai’s serpentine traffic served to slow down traffic as I neared my target, but get there we did. Us three musketeers, a smaller slice of the motley gang of fools called Gobblegangers, were keeping our fingers, eyes and laces crossed that we’d get a table at the notoriously popular Burma Burma, and we were lucky enough to have a few people cancel on them. Their loss was our gain, and we settled into Burma Burma rather nicely.
The place was done up with some quirky touches that I imagine are quite Burmese in nature. There are, for instance, prayer wheels in myriad colours decking the wall on one side. I haven’t a clue whether it’s purely ornamental or not, but it’s full of little touches like this.
The lettering on the wall and the paper parasols hanging off the ceiling are just two things I recall, but Burma Burma is pretty without ever being in your face with too many details. Why, they even have some tea baskets and wooden toys set up near the bar area that doubles up as a teahouse. That’s just as well, since they don’t have a license to thrill with some tipple.
Summer was pelting down in full force on us, so it comes as little surprise to see that we chose to get some respite from it by opting for a salad platter. A ménage à trois of some Raw Mango Salad, Tea Leaf Salad and some Grapefruit Salad, it was as disappointing as its human counterpart as attention simply got showed on one of the three participants (and it’s not the salad you’re thinking of). It’s safe to say that all three salads straddled three very different palates.
While the Grapefruit was all sweetness and sunshine, the raw mango had all the eye-popping tanginess of the fruit itself, making them both very true to their origins.
Of the three though, the Tea Salad was the unanimous choice of us three, given how quickly it was polished off by all of us. The eclectic bundle of flavours that went into it, such as fermented tea leaves tossed with fried garlic and with some nuts, peppers and tomatoes, made for an interesting combination that was slightly sour and strong, yet very tea like in that it had a certain delicate dryness to it.
Indian comparison #1: this tea leaf salad was perhaps most closely approximated by geela bhel.
Someone with a lisp had their way with naming the Pea Palata as it was. How else could you describe the name Palata in itself? It’s quite simply a paratha by any other name. Essentially a pasty pea curry perched atop bite-sized parathas, this was a dish that even Mr. Mildly Spiced himself had a hard time taking a shine to, and I don’t blame him for this. When you’re expecting Superman to land up and instead get the dawdling Clark Kent itself, you know things are not as you expect it to be. The fried onion atop the pea gravy itself lent only a texture to the entire dish without lending much flavor, and it was a dish I would not recommend unless you absolutely must have it.
Indian comparison #2: Think of a Marathi Usal doing a balancing act on a paratha.
You can rarely go wrong with fried starters. Think Spring Rolls, think Wontons, heck, think bhajias with chai. It’s really, truly hard to mess this up and so it was with the Sweet Corn Fritters too. These crunchy corn cakes, which is what you would call them if you were British and oh-so posh, saw us strike gold. My main issue with this though is the fact it perhaps wasn’t evolved enough and offbeat enough to warrant a must-have tag. Perhaps paired with a piquant Tomato and Avocado Salsa, it would be just that bit more fun. As it was, my inner child came out to play and had a whale of a time. It’s just that adult me frowned and sat in the corner, wondering why he loved it so when it was nothing all that special to write home about.
Indian comparison #3: You remember those bhajias you love devouring in the monsoon? Yeah…
I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of Tofu. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a vendetta against it, but I always conscientiously left this curd at the curb whenever ordering any dish off a given menu. My issue with Tofu is that it’s everything to everyone and always eager to please. I knew some girls like Tofu, which is to say that they had no personality of their own and became whatever they had to be to be liked. So Tofu is basically like Mystique from the X-Men except it’s not nearly as desirable or delicious.
Imagine then my surprise at actually enjoying the Chilly Tangy Chickpea Tofu on offer here. Like that kid at school that just wants to be your friend, this dish was so damn eager to please and I have to not-so-grudgingly admit that it did leave me quite a happy chappy. The Tofu’s natural malleability saw it absorb the tanginess of the sauce it came balanced in and take on its character, and that set off against the juicy crunch of the peppers saw this dish run out a winner for me.
Indian comparison #3: Boss, ek Chilly Paneer leke aana, extra paneer ke saath
As a college student, there are some certainties in life, and one of those sureties is that you’ll almost always be broke with little or no money left to your name. It says something then when a kid is broke and hungry all the time and yet refuses to eat a very specific something.
That kid was me, in case you were wondering, and that something was dabeli, in case you were still wondering.
As a nation, we are quite intrepid and this extends to our food as well.
Gujaratis are perhaps the most adaptive of the lot, and when they realized they couldn’t enjoy all the good of a burger, they went ahead and made a desi version of it. Behold the glory of spiced potatoes mixed with sweet, spicy, and sour chutneys. As if that weren’t enough, you have to go ahead and complete the abomination by mixing in fresh pomegranates and slathering it with butter.
Like many things in life at that time, this too made no sense whatsoever to me.
I am pleased to report, however, that many moons on I might not be as broke as I was then, but I still have the same tastes. The Brown Onion and Roasted Chilly Steamed Buns promised much, but like a tot taking its first steps, it fell flat on its face, much to my amusement. Like a joke without a punchline, the buns provided enough of a buildup, but the filling just failed to deliver whatsoever. It was a bland ending that saw this dish roundly failing to find even a bit of love from either of us. Dabeli is still a no-go zone for me.
Indian comparison # 4: I’ll pass on the dabeli.
By the time we got around to the mains, we were almost as stuffed as a Turkey at Thanksgiving and so we decided to just order for the one main course to be shared between the three of us. The honor of rounding things off came to the much-recommended Coconut Rice with Peanut Chutney.
With a blanket of stark red peanut chutney spread across the expanse of coconut rice, there was not much visual razzmatazz on offer really. Homely and heart-warming, this dish is like a child only its mother can love. The coconut was conspicuous by its absence, or it could be that the unending homogeneity of the peanut sauce had driven it away into hiding. If you love Peanuts (not the comic strip) more than life itself, this right here is manna for you. For the rest of us, it’s just a main course that holds much promise, most of it unfulfilled on the day.
Indian comparison # 4: Dahi bhaat with peanut chutney? Well, why not, what could go wrong?
As always, I played a staring match with the menu and lost, because of which I ordered my usual Classic Non-alcoholic Mojito. Refreshing, minty, zesty and relaxing…and that’s just the company on the day. The Mojito, much like it, was thoroughly enjoyable and relished every last drop of it like a broke alcoholic would a glass of his favorite tipple.
Yatin’s Kaffir Lime Cooler was a bit of a rock and roll style drink, for reasons I’ll quickly explain. A sip of it was enough for me to rock my head back in surprise with my eyes rolling back into their sockets thanks to the sensory over load. Jesus H Christ, you could have made it simpler and just handed us the damn Kaffir Lime to munch on instead. At least it wouldn’t have been like a citrusy gunshot to the senses.
Shravanika’s Cherry Blossom was pretty as a picture, all delicate daintiness. It was a drink I imagined was designed by ladies for ladies, and so it didn’t quite appeal to my inner Neanderthal. I mean, it had a solitary orchid petal on top of it. I was never going to give it a fair chance, was I? I have to admit that my brief lip-lock with it was quite a pleasant experience on the whole though.
I think I need to go get my head checked. I’m saying yes to far more pure vegetarian joints than is good for my health. I think I’m finally beginning to get unhinged as I become more and more of a geriatric mess, but I have to admit that Burma Burma was only just worth a visit. I’m not going to get on the hype train and insist you choo-choo-chew your way through everything on offer, but at about Rs. 1000 a head, I’d say you should certainly haul yourself over to Burma and check out what the big hullaballoo is all about.