I was there for the tea leaf salad.
That definitive Burmese salad, as reliably found on menus as mohinga, the fish soup that serves as Myanmar’s official national dish, was on my mind.
And at A Taste of Burma in Sterling, I got it. But the lightly bitter funk of fermented tea leaves mixed with cabbage, tomato, peanuts, sesame and garlic, though satisfying, wasn’t what seized my mind and heart when I brought takeout home from the tapestry-bedecked restaurant, hidden in the corner of a strip mall.
That designation belongs to a dish that I ordered as a curiosity, practically a throwaway. They’re called split yellow pea fritters on the menu, but that dry moniker does nothing to hint at the explosive deliciousness that awaits.
Anyone who has enjoyed a gram-flour-based vada, the fluffy doughnut-shaped fried snacks served with chutney in South Indian cuisine, will have a bit of an idea about what to expect of the fritters that I later learned are called baya kyaw in Myanmar. But so will diners who love falafel, which shares its crispy texture and nutty flavor with the fried appetizer. Burmese food is a fusion that combines flavors of Thailand, Bangladesh and China, all of which border Myanmar, but the resemblance to a dish from the Middle East is presumably just a coincidence.
The baya kyaw are sweetened with onions and are green with cilantro, but the fresh flavor is enhanced by a mint chutney that’s by turns sweet and sour and packs a wallop of heat. It’s a pity there are only four in an order, but that leaves room for further exploration.
At A Taste of Burma, that’s an endeavor well worth undertaking. Whether it’s nanji thoke, called Mandalay Chicken Noodle on the menu, a comforting dish of rice noodles with chicken-and-egg coconut curry or a piece of semolina cake that recalls a dense, poppyseed-speckled tres leches, “more” is a virtue at this tiny restaurant. // 126 Edds Lane, Sterling
For more of Dining Editor Alice Levitt’s top picks, subscribe to our weekly Food newsletter.