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The Unlikely Success Story of Manhattan’s Solely Burmese Restaurant

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When 24-year-old Yun Naing, her mom Thidar Kyaw, and her father Tin Ko Naing first started mulling the potential of increasing their family-run eatery Yun Cafe, the place they serve Burmese dishes from a small bodega housed beneath floor in a Queens subway station, the concept felt dangerous.

Little Myanmar Portrait
Thidar Kyaw, who’s initially from Burma, is Little Myanmar’s principal chef. Images by Belle Morizio

As considered one of solely a handful of Burmese eating places in New York Metropolis, the tiny cafe presents a remarkably big selection of salads and soups which were extensively praised, from the laphet thoke, a salad manufactured from fermented tea leaves, shredded cabbage, tomatoes, roasted nuts, and dried shrimp; to the moninga, a fish noodle soup that includes aromatic lemongrass and crunchy chickpeas. However for Yun and her mother and father, taking their repertoire from the subterranean Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue/74th Road subway station to an above-ground spot in Manhattan would imply going through the island’s steep rents and accelerated tempo. Nonetheless, it could additionally deliver the chance to extend visibility and consciousness round Burmese delicacies, one thing Manhattan has been lacking because the Higher East Facet’s Cafe Mingala shuttered in 2016.

Little Myanmar Sign
Little Myanmar within the East Village is a spin-off of Yun Cafe in Jackson Heights. Images by Belle Morizio

So when Kyaw, who’s an actual property agent, discovered a small storefront in a main East Village location, the household determined to take the leap. The brand new institution, known as Little Myanmar, lately debuted with all of Yun Cafe’s beloved Burmese dishes and an expanded choice that features masala crab curry, mala skewers, cassava desserts, and papaya milkshakes. Kyaw remains to be the principle chef and cooks a lot of the dishes “the best way we prepare dinner it at residence,” says Yun. She herself manages the enterprise, placing the economics diploma she’s now finishing at Baruch Faculty into real-life apply.

Yun’s household opened Yun Cafe in 2020 amid the pandemic as a spot to promote espresso, sandwiches, and pastries. They didn’t suppose prospects can be inquisitive about Burmese meals, however determined to supply a few dishes anyway. Clients quickly started stopping by particularly to pattern flavors emblematic of the Southeast Asian nation. However the underground house didn’t present a full kitchen, nor was there ample air flow. “We actually wished floor stage,” says Yun. After they requested common prospects—a few of whom would make the journey from Manhattan—for recommendations about different neighborhoods to contemplate, many really useful the East Village.

Little Myanmar Original Tea Leaf Salad
Laphet thoke, or tea leaf salad, is likely one of the eatery’s best-loved dishes. Images by Belle Morizio

“Folks have been very welcoming and really receptive,” says Yun of their new residence. “It’s one thing that folks didn’t count on, a Burmese place. They had been pleasantly shocked.”

In contrast to the extra takeout-focused Yun Cafe, the bigger Little Myanmar presents in-restaurant eating—and a full kitchen for Yun’s mother and father to actually escape their culinary expertise. “We now have a mix of spicy, bitter, candy, and salty,” says Yun of Burmese meals. Within the restaurant’s mohinga, which is taken into account the nation’s nationwide dish, these eclectic and contrasting flavors are on full show: “How Thai individuals are pleased with their tom yum soup, or how Vietnamese individuals are pleased with their pho, that’s what mohinga is to us.”

Whereas close by eateries like Burmese Bites in Queens, Rangoon in Brooklyn, and Amayar Kitchen in Maywood, New Jersey, are additionally shining mild on Burmese delicacies, Little Myanmar is carrying the group in Manhattan. “Each considered one of us who has a Burmese restaurant right here feels the identical manner: we simply actually need it to work,” says Yun, “so that it’s going to open alternatives for different folks as nicely.”

“We’re simply very blissful that folks like our meals.”



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