A Burmese Jewel on Montreal’s St. Laurent
On a recent trip to Montreal, Peggy and I sampled culinary dishes from some of the city’s plethora of ethnic restaurants. We ate Egyptian, Indonesian, and Portuguese food. We were, however, especially drawn to Ruby Burma, an eatery that brought back memories of The Burma, the late Washington, DC restaurant that was our home away from home. Our experience made me realize how much there was to still discover about the flavors of a country that borders China, India, and Thailand.
The Ruby is located on Boulevard St. Laurent, the “Main,” not far from the old Jewish immigrant nesting ground that novelist Mordecai Richler chronicled (3685 St. Laurent, 514-885-9559). Two visits to the pretty restaurant, overseen by That Thet Tun, who has a degree in political science from the city’s Concordia University, awakened old memories. Thet had learned the restaurant business working in one of Rangoon’s most famous establishments.
The dining room is a bright, attractive space that opens onto the street. We noticed a photograph of the Burmese activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi. On the wall near our table was a painting of elephants moving teak logs. The elephant, an animal the Burmese revere, is prohibited from being eaten by Buddhists, our host told us.
I dug into a chicken and potato curry that had little resemblance to the Indian dish. It was a “delicate” creation, Ms. Thet Tun explained, suffused with the sour taste of the yogurt and tomato sauce in which the chicken was marinated. Cooked in a base of garlic, ginger, and onion, it was also seasoned with curry leaves that she described as “bitter.” A cucumber and chili relish complemented the flavor of the dish. Ms. Thet Tun called this condiment a “salad,” one of many such medleys that the Burmese are infatuated with. We were tempted by a creamy spring ginger salad, which had the crunch of peanuts and sesame seeds and the unexpected taste of tomatoes. Salads, Thet Tun told us, are no ordinary dish in Burma. Savoring a salad with a friend bought from a street vendor is a delightful social occasion.
The tang of tamarind was a hallmark of our meal. Chickpea fritters and tempura cauliflower and broccoli were both accompanied by a dipping sauce of tamarind and chili, flecked with coriander leaves. Thet Tun invited us to try her tamarind drink. The juice was sourer than the typical tamarindo refreshments sold in Washington’s Central American eateries. A sour note to cap a sweet evening.