Burmese dishes, flavored with herbs and thick with chickpea flour, have always been hard to come by in Seattle. Whispering networks have sprung up to source fermented leaves for laphet thoke, the country’s famous tea leaf salad, but no Burmese-owned restaurants have surfaced in Seattle despite the kitchen’s success in places like Portland and the Bay Area; often the only places to stock up on Burmese food were at the annual picnics hosted by the local Burmese immigrant community. But in October, a small shop started serving some of the kitchen’s best-known dishes in a quiet corner of Uptown.
Burmese food constitutes a segment of the “plus” in Kamino Sushi and more, which has taken over the former Pho Viet Anh space on Roy Street, but it’s chef Myat Feil’s indigenous cuisine. “I didn’t like cooking very much when I was young,” she says. Myat still learned a little how to do it by earning a hospitality degree in Myanmar, but it was when she moved to the US – and found herself craving Burmese food – that she really had to. to understand. She learned to love cooking in the process.
“Burmese food is a bit like Indian food, a bit like Chinese food,” she says, pointing to curry and stir-fry respectively. But there is also tea leaf salad, the star ingredient of which is unique and ubiquitous in the country and its cuisine. “The first thing when a guest comes to your house, you give them tea and tea leaves,” says Myat. “The tea leaves are still on the table.”
Tea leaf salad is one of three Burmese dishes currently on Kamino’s menu. There were more Burmese dishes when it opened, including the country’s style of samosas, fried tofu with chickpeas and mohinga, a fish noodle soup, but Myat reduced the menu during the winter months more slow. Myat plans to add more this summer or, if there is enough demand, even sooner. In the meantime, the menu focuses on the food she’s spent most of her professional career making: sushi.
Sushi bar staff in U.S. grocery stores tend to be heavily Burmese, an oddity that speaks to immigration dynamics and familiarity with seafood, Myat theorizes. Myat took a job when she immigrated to the United States at the age of 30, and better employment opportunities finally brought her to the Pacific Northwest about 15 years ago. She paid for her education by rolling sushi and earned a degree in product design. She hoped to find a job at Boeing, but that never happened.
Instead, she continued to work in sushi bars, including one in a casino where she met a colleague from another department, Bruce Feil. Together, the couple hatched a plan to open their own sushi wholesale business: Myat as chef and Bruce as owner, businessman and manager. They started looking for a commercial kitchen in early 2021, but couldn’t find an open space. After eight months, ready to give up, the restaurant space on rue Roy arrived on the market. They hadn’t planned on buying a restaurant, but when the kitchen space they needed came with a dining room, they started strategizing how to grow their original idea.
To make money in this corner of Uptown, Myat and Bruce had to get creative. The couple aim to build a strong catering business among nearby offices and hotels, and they have a take-out fridge for workers, as well as people looking for a quick bite before crossing the street to attend. at events at the Seattle Center. Currently, the menu includes a mix of Vietnamese and Thai noodle dishes and entrees, poke, teriyaki and, of course, sushi. They also recently added paninis to the menu as it worked well for corporate lunches.
But for Seattleites with experience dining in Burmese restaurants in Daly City, California, Top Burmese in Portland, or even traveling in Myanmar itself, Kamino holds promise in dishes that represent Myat’s heritage. As they were planning their restaurant, “We thought, why not add Burmese food,” says Myat. “I know how to cook it.” One of the hurdles was the difficulty of acquiring fermented tea leaves, which required tapping into their network back home and having them air-shipped; the effort, though costly, is worth it as it allows them to create a version of laphet thoke, or tea leaf salad, which they offer. Zesty with garlic, chili peppers and sesame oil, Myat’s salad features the traditional refried dried beans, peanuts and sesame seeds, along with its own additions of shredded cabbage and spring greens.
Kamino offers two Burmese noodle soups, two variations of chicken curry. The thick ohno khao soi gets its texture from chickpea paste mixed with chicken broth and coconut milk chicken curry and is topped with a hard-boiled egg and sharp raw onions to cut through the richness. The thinner Shan kauk soi gets its flavor from fermented soybeans and ground peanuts and features rice noodles.
Although she runs the kitchen of Seattle’s only Burmese restaurant, Myat remains hesitant about the reception of her cooking. She knows she would have more business with the Burmese community if she opened in Kent or Lynnwood, where most of the region’s Burmese immigrants live, but she also hopes that from the city center and thanks to the restoration, she might be able to expose people more to Burmese cuisine. “The goal is to reach as many people as possible, to reach more people,” she says.
But it hasn’t been easy: At the restaurant, she receives comments from customers that Burmese dishes have too much flavor or take too long to prepare. “People come for fast food. Burmese is slow,” she says. Yet Myat carries on Burmese traditions in the three courses on the menu now and in the first question asked of any customer who walks in: “Can I bring you some tea?”