Matt Kyin already has a full menu of Burmese dishes for the restaurant he dreams of opening someday.
There’s just one problem: Most people he meets can’t find Myanmar on a map, let alone name a single recipe.
Eager to carve out a foothold for Burmese cooking in L.A., Kyin recently launched Myanmar101, a pop-up running Thursday through Saturday nights at 88 Monks, his Echo Park skatewear shop and art gallery.
“Filipino culture has blown up in L.A.,” Kyin says. “So I asked, ‘Why not Burmese food?’ Why don’t we have our own Burma Superstar or anything like NorCal?”
Amid a small Stormtrooper army, Street Fighter II machine and turntables, Kyin stands behind a makeshift counter covered in noodle-packed casserole dishes and two steel pots idling on a hot plate.
Rain is hammering L.A., so Kyin is making hot noodle soup.
He brings to the table a bowl of mixed rice noodles and spaghetti under a rich, dense pork broth. Fresh coriander, green onion and cucumber float on top, ready to pierce the richness of the mushroom-laden gravy.
It’s one of many recipes the graphic designer learned at his mother’s side during the two years he took a step back from his career to raise two boys.
He then sets down a cheerful bowl of bright yellow khao soi tousled with ribbons of lemon rind and mung bean fritters. It’s not as overtly sweet as its Northern Thai counterpart, sustaining a balanced interplay of citrus, dried chilies and fresh coconut. Kyin considers it an ideal entry point for Burmese novices familiar with Thai food.
“I’m mainly getting people who haven’t tried Burmese food before,” Kyin explains. “And that’s what I aim for. It’s an introduction.”
Myanmar101’s simple setup reminds Kyin of the food stalls he has eaten at during 25 years of visiting the country.
He beams recounting early morning oyster pancakes by Yangon’s waterways; the night markets he’d wander, lost in ecstasy, as a child; and Mandalay’s 1,000 pagodas.
The plan is to switch items up monthly at the pop-up. Myanmar’s national dish, the catfish noodle stew mohinga, is on deck for February, while warmer months will see the fermented tea leaf salad lahpet thoke.