They don’t call the open space above the Jackson Heights subway station Diversity Plaza for nothing folks. Upstairs there’s plenty of Tibetan, Indian, and Bangladeshi food to be had, in addition to the S & R Travel Agency, which predates the plaza itself, where one can book a passage to India. For a real gastronomic journey though, head down the subway stairs to Burma. Yes, Burma! Just past the Tibetan handicraft shop, the barbers and across from Jinme & Phuntsok of NYC, which sells lucky bamboo and candy, sits the newly opened Yun Café, surely New York City’s only Burmese restaurant located in a subway station.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting its opening for weeks, after all Burmese food is still a rarity, even in the World’s Borough. So when I first visited the cafe run by Yun Naing and her mother, Thidar Kyaw, I wanted to order everything. Somehow I restrained myself and settled on laphet tote, or fermented tea leaf salad and kaut swe tote, a melange of noodles, potatoes, and curried chicken. The tea leaf salad was a riot of textures and flavors—crunchy soybeans, teeny salty dried shrimp, fiery green chili, and pungent garlic—but what really caught my attention was the tea leaves themselves. For one thing there were plenty and they were plenty fermented too, calling to mind bleu cheese. The kaut swe tote, seasoned with chili powder and tamarind juice, was also excellent.
Despite my adventurous nature I’m somewhat skittish to eat in the subway so I took the rest of my order to go. This didn’t deter me from making a second visit a week later. When my new friends told me about pin le sar tote, a Burmese seafood salad, I immediately ordered it. For obvious reasons it’s the best Burmese seafood salad to be had within the confines of the New York City subway system. All kidding aside, it’s the best seafood salad I’ve eaten all summer. Shrimp, squid, flaked salmon, and plenty of shredded cabbage along with tomatoes all brightly seasoned with citrus and chili made for a refreshing lunch.
For further refreshment I had what the photo on the door calls “snow ice char char.” Known as yay ke tote in Burmese, it consists of shaved ice topped with rose syrup and a pantry’s worth of jellies and dried fruits, including shaved coconut and dried Chinese mulberries.
Yun Café & Asian Mart, 73-05 37th Rd., Store #2, 646-920-7551