Calvin Trillin's American Fried: Adventures of a Happy Eater, published in 1974, details his tour of the United States in search of regional fare and set a standard for generations of adventurous eaters. He writes about visiting fried chicken shacks, barbecue joints and roadside diners, debunking the idea that “authenticity” should be the sole barometer for measuring the pleasures of food. To Trillin, it's more important that food tastes good.
At Daw Yee Myanmar Corner, the new Burmese restaurant stationed in Silver Lake, authenticity is a tired subject. Delyn Chow, the restaurant's proprietor, faces the burden of the authentic standard almost daily, as he fastidiously scours the Yelp reviews of his place. But authenticity in cuisine is often relative. Chow claims that mohinga, the catfish noodle soup regarded as Myanmar's national dish, is made in two dozen ways in Monterey Park alone, and wishes good luck to anyone who can get two Burmese to agree on which recipe is more genuine. Like Trillin, he instead prefers to judge food on a spectrum between delicious and displeasing.
Chow was born in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in Myanmar, and learned to cook by watching his mother at the stove. When he opened his first restaurant in Monterey Park in 2013, it was a simple choice to name it after her: Daw Yee. Authenticity was never really an issue; he was using his mother's recipes and, after all, most of his customers were local Burmese. DYM Cafe, as he now calls it, quickly became one of the two major strongholds for Burmese cuisine in the community, along with Yoma Myanmar down the street.
By the time Chow opened DYM Corner, his second venture, he'd started to wrestle with the challenge of providing authentic Burmese dishes to a much larger clientele. Should he use fish sauce in salads, which would require that servers warn every potential vegetarian — who are ubiquitous in Silver Lake— that they might encounter fishy funk? And how much of the menu would be approachable to a community unlikely to embrace “pork mix,” a celebrated Burmese dish composed entirely of pig offal?
Overall, Chow has tabled the authenticity debate, and Daw Yee Myanmar Corner has benefited. It has the potential to become one the most accessible Burmese restaurants in the United States — or at least west of the 710 in L.A. — and Chow hopes it will offer diners a good introduction to the cuisine.
The dishes that Chow chose to feature at Corner are very hard to dislike. The kima platha, a roti-like layered bread stuffed with lamb or chicken, is fried to a slight crunch and served alongside a tangy, spicy sauce – it's delicious.
Chow has an easy hand with oil, which is probably a good thing. As a result, his curries tend to be milder than what you might sample in Mandalay — they're rich, herbal and mostly tomato-based. An aromatic goat and lentil stew, related to the familiar Indian dal, is served alongside naan.
And there are noodles: the mohinga, of course, with a peppery broth and savory flavor that tastes distinctly Burmese, and Shan noodles served in a light chicken curry. Kyae oh noodles come in a mild Vietnamese-style broth, while tophu nwe noodles, layered with a custardy chickpea-flour mixture, are drizzled with enough chili oil to remind you of Sichuan. Chow hopes more Silver Lake customers order ohnoh, the noodle soup said to be the inspiration for northern Thailand's khao soi, because he thinks it will appeal to the city's ramen-philes.
Myanmar's food often is described as a cultural intersection of the countries with which it shares borders: a mix of southern China's delightfully hefty noodles, aromatic curries from northeastern India and fragrant salads from Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. That's certainly true to an extent — people in northern Myanmar, for example, share direct ethnic ties with those in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, and their food reflects that.
Myanmar's food often is described as a cultural intersection of the countries with which it shares borders: southern China's delightfully hefty noodles; aromatic curries from northeastern India; fragrant salads from Vietnam
However, as in Thailand or China, food in Myanmar varies considerably by region, to the point that Burmese won't refer to the food from Shan state or Kachin state as Burmese; they'll call it Shan food or Kachin food, respectively. Equating mohinga or tea leaf salad with Burmese food is much like equating the dish pad thai with Thai food. It's a good reference point to the national cuisine, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The reason that Burma changed its name in the first place was because Burma is a reference to the country's largest ethnic group, the Bamar, and the new name – Myanmar – is meant to be more inclusive of the nation's hundreds of other ethnic groups.
Chow is fiercely defensive of the integrity of traditional Burmese dishes, but he also has an air of sturdy practicality, attained while earning a business degree at UC Riverside. If a dish won't sell, it doesn't go on the menu. Chow's stand contrasts with that of Kris Yenbamroong, the chef of another Silver Lake restaurant, Night + Market Song, who stubbornly kept a dish of raw blood soup on the menu for months, despite predictably poor sales. Like Yenbamroong, Chow has become a de facto ambassador for an underappreciated cuisine. Ultimately, your first impressions of it may well depend on a willingness to chew a dish of pig intestine (which is absolutely wonderful, by the way).
The restaurant's salads could be its greatest attraction, arranged with the meticulous detail you'd recognize from Monterey Park. Some of them are noodle-based, like the khao shwe thoke, which is studded with the characteristic Burmese flavors of fried garlic and toasted sesame, and nan gyi thoke, served with chicken and punchy with chili oil. Lahpet thoke, the tea leaf salad that is perhaps Myanmar's most famous dish, is appropriately smoky and crunchy (Chow imports the tea leaves from Myanmar). And the gin thoke, a ginger salad, is so unabashedly good that a picky teenager might reconsider salads as a food group.
DYM Cafe veterans won't be surprised that Chow put some thought into the design of the restaurant space, which, while small, feels clean, modern and hip. Sure, it's a far cry from the plastic tables and grungy charm that some might consider a more authentic venue for a true Burmese meal, but, like Trillin, you'll ultimately conclude that it doesn't really matter: The food speaks for itself.
DAW YEE MYANMAR CORNER | 2831 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake | (213) 413-0568 | Mon.-Fri., 5-11 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. | Entrees $11-$30 | No alcohol | Lot and street parking