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Burmese food finds its way to the Marina

Clockwise from top left: Myanmar lager beer, royal tea leaf salad, tay-tay lay tea with garlic shrimp, and crispy lentil fritters with coconut curry dip. Photo: NAOMI ROSE

San Francisco has always been home to Asian restaurants of every type due to our large Asian population and the cultural ties immigrants and their families have to their countries of origin. Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Indian; these are just some of the delectable cuisines found in eateries throughout the city. From sushi to pho to curry, you can find it within blocks of almost any location in the city.

One cuisine that’s on the rise here and throughout the United States is Burmese. Burma changed its name to Myanmar in 1989 following years of dramatic political, social, and economic change. The name Burma was imposed by British colonizers in 1886, but after a military junta took power in 1989, the country became Myanmar and the capital Rangoon was changed to Yangoon not only to be more inclusive but to rid the country of all English-sounding names.

A BURMESE FOOD PRIMER

Myanmar offers a wide variety of specialties that differ regionally, taking influences from neighboring countries including China and India. Dishes from the southern part of Burma tend to feature ingredients like lemongrass, fish paste, turmeric, chili, ginger, and tamarind — similar to Thai food — while dishes from the north tend to be hotter and spicier. Fish products are used extensively in all Burmese foods, including fish sauce and ngapi, a paste made from either fish or shrimp, considered a staple of Burmese cuisine. Rice, especially fermented rice, is a signature dish, and main dishes are usually served with a side like soup, boiled vegetables, or a flavorful salad. Variations of tea leaf salad are served all over Myanmar as well as most Burmese restaurants here. Burmese curries tend to be saucy, even soupy, using tomato curry and oil to make a rich curry “gravy” can be mixed into rice or spooned over vegetables. Noodle dishes are also very popular across the country, as are crispy chickpea fritters.

KARAWEIK BURMESE CUISINE

Karaweik Burmese Cuisine is owned and managed by Joe Sein and his Japanese wife Aya. Sein, who owned Sapphire Indian Cuisine in the Financial District for several years until it closed in 2018, wanted to bring traditional Burmese food to San Francisco, but “with a little bit of a modern twist,” he says. “We serve at least 20 tables a day, and so far, we’ve gotten good feedback. The Marina is a great neighborhood with a good environment and plenty of customers.” Sein says some of the most popular dishes at Karaweik are the tea leaf salad, eggplant curry, and the fritters. Read the tea leaves — better yet, eat them!

At Karaweik, the crispy lentil fritters served with a coconut curry dip ($9) take top billing among the appetizers, which also include keema paratha (a buttery bread) with a choice of chicken or lamb filling ($10/$12); and tay-tay lay tea with garlic shrimp, bite-sized tea leaves mixed with sesame seeds, cashews, and garlic shrimp ($10).

Karaweik serves three different tea leaf salads. The ginger and tea leaf salad combines assorted nuts, crispy garlic, and sesame seeds with tomatoes, jalapenos, and cabbage, all topped with a tea leaf dressing and pickled ginger ($13). Soups include a traditional mohinga, or fish chowder, featuring fresh fish cooked with lemongrass, ginger, shallots, garlic, turmeric, and other spices over rice vermicelli, garnished with cilantro, fried onion, and a boiled egg ($14). There are two vegetarian soups, including a lentil stew with vegetables ($14).

Rice and noodles are a key part of Karaweik’s menu, and are featured in seafood, meat, tofu, and vegetable combinations like street noodles mixed with coconut curry chicken, chili flakes, shallots, fried onions, and roasted bean powder ($14); and vegetable or shrimp fried rice ($12/$15). Beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork, seafood, and vegetables are served in a variety of ways, including curries with Burmese spices, pumpkin curries and stews, and other entrees like beef masala, slow-cooked beef with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, onion red chili paste, and masala spices ($17); and chili fish, lightly fried fish tossed with garlic, chili flakes, and fried shallots ($18).

The restaurant offers a small selection of wine, beer, and sake, and while no desserts are on the menu now, Sein says plans are in the works to add some soon.

If you already love Burmese food or you’ve been wanting to give it a try, this welcoming, warm spot on Steiner Street offers your fill of traditional and updated Burmese specialties at very reasonable prices for both lunch and dinner. The menu is also available for delivery through their website or DoorDash.

Karaweik Burmese Cuisine: 3317 Steiner Street, 415-922-1892, karaweikburmesecuisine.com; lunch Tuesday–Sunday 11:30 a.m.– 3 p.m., dinner Tuesday–Thursday 5–9 p.m., Friday 5– 9:30 p.m., Saturday 4:30– 9:30 p.m., Sunday 4:30–9 p.m.

Email: [email protected]

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