I went to the Burmese Food Fair with one goal in mind: to try as many noodle dishes as possible. It is not often the case that the eating goal you set out for yourself is exceeded by leaps and bounds, but on this day it was.
By the time the fair was over I had tried every single noodle offering. (For more extensive coverage, see our full recap.)
I wish I'd arrived an hour earlier. The fair was in full swing at two in the afternoon when I arrived, and in fact I missed out on a glutinous rice dessert that I desperately wanted to eat. Oh well, next year. The event was hosted at the Aviation High School in Long Island City, and I could smell the curries and hear the karaoke music from a block away. (Fine. Half a block away.)
Now, here's my two cents about food fairs: food fairs can't and shouldn't be judged solely for the merits of the food. If you go to a food fair expecting the same caliber and care as you'd find in a restaurant, then fie on you. Food fairs are first and foremost an eating sport rather than a sit-down meal. You show up with an empty stomach and as many friends as you can round up. Find an empty table. Then divide and conquer. Everyone brings back to the table two or three dishes to share, so that by the end you will have eaten anywhere between fifteen to twenty-five different dishes.
One of the charms of events like this are the vendors, who in this case were home cooks serving their own food. They couldn't be nicer at the fair: one of the stands selling coconut curry noodles was staffed by motherly Burmese ladies who seemed sincerely interested in my getting just the right hits of fish sauce, dried chilies, and lime. (Thanks, moms!)
Another charm: incredible variety. Some noodles were spicy, some were sweet with coconut milk, and others soothing with fishy or herbaceous broths. I didn't eat more than a few bites of everything I tried, but every bite was enjoyable. Some people were raving about a particular fish soup, featuring a complex and soothing broth. Dave Cook of Eating in Translation instructed me to "stand downwind" of the pot to get a real whiff of the broth's aroma. Naturally I followed his advice, and basked in currents of lemongrass and lime.
Cold rice noodles dressed with chili oil, cilantro, and chicken were long, thick, and cylindrical with a toothsome bite. Usually rice noodles are thin and round, or thick and flat. But round and thick? Now that's a combination I'd like to see more of.
Coconut curry soups all seemed quite similar, but came with different noodle varieties like egg and vermicelli. It's easy to appreciate coconut curry broths: the sweetness of coconut milk combined with savory broth of some kind, and hits of lime, and fish sauce. What's not to love? Being a Chinese kid, I have a huge weakness for prawn chips, and so welcome any and all opportunities to eat them. They sopped the broth right up.
The take-away message? This kind of diversity is best found at homespun community events, even more than at restaurants. And at the Burmese Food Fair, the quality is surprisingly high and the community vibe is welcoming. For a unique and impressive noodle experience, put it on your calendar for next year.
About the author: Born in Shanghai and raised in New Mexico, Chichi Wang currently resides in Manhattan, where she divides her time between writing, cooking, and tracking down the best noodles in the city. Visit her blog, Mostly Tripe.