These days, most of us could consider ourselves fairly well versed in South East Asian cuisine – Thai food has become a takeaway dinner staple, Bali’s now a favourite holiday destination, and even the fare of Laos and Cambodia has started making its way into Western hearts and bellies everywhere. But Burmese food…not so much. Even this diehard foodie could claim little knowledge of the cuisine, before sitting down to Burma Lane’s 19th Street degustation dinner. The stylish CBD eatery hosts a handful of banquets every year, each one designed to introduce diners to a different faucet of this delicious, yet underrepresented, cuisine.
On the wildest of Melbourne winter nights, this particular dinner proved the ultimate warmer: the food, the company and the wine all perfectly cosy distractions from the woolly weather outside. My +1 and I joined a table of about 15 other Burmese-curious diners, to enjoy friendly conversation and a veritable parade of dishes. Each one was carefully created by Executive Chef John McLeay to reflect the street food flavours of Myanmar’s, aka Burma’s, famous 19th Street precinct.
We discovered a style of food that celebrates earthy, warming flavours, and beautifully balanced ingredients. Touches of chilli heat popped up here and there, yet stopped short of the fiery punch you find in Thai or Vietnamese dishes.
Huge, spice-rubbed prawns left us licking every last bit from our fingers, as did the chargrilled quail, which was teamed with a ‘sausage’ of pork wrapped around sugarcane. Larger dishes included slow-cooked pork, swimming in dense, soy caramel sauce, and fish balls in a punchy turmeric gravy, teamed with lentil infused rice to soak up all the saucy goodness.
It was a hard task to fit in dessert as well, but even more difficult to skip out on the platter of sweet treats that landed in front of us – semolina cake drizzled in pineapple jam, fried banana atop condensed milk rice, a palm sugar tapioca pudding topped with sweet coconut custard and magic rice balls that tasted of sticky date pudding.
If you’re yet to sample the joys of this cuisine, Burma Lane is definitely the place to do it. Make a date tonight, or keep an eye out for the restaurant’s next banquet dinner, and fall in love with a new taste of South East Asia.
Libby Curran is a freelance writer, craft beer nut, and lover of all things food. She can usually be found eating and drinking her way around Melbourne, or writing about any deliciousness she’s recently encountered.
118 Little Collins St
Melbourne VIC 3000