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    Aye Aye Maw serves Burmese specialties at the Pacific Gateway Center. Visit takeabite.staradvertiserblogs.comfor a peek into the making of an episode of “Eden Eats.”

Last week’s arrival of Eden Grinshpan, host of the Cooking Channel program "Eden Eats," provided a good excuse to return to Pacific Gateway Center’s Lemongrass Café to see what’s new.

The premise of her show is that one doesn’t need a passport to enjoy global cuisine, as Grinshpan traverses the country looking for a taste of other nations. In Austin, Texas, home of barbecue and Tex-Mex, for instance, she samples Hungarian spaetzle and Lebanese pita.

Here in Honolulu she sampled malasadas from Agnes’ Portuguese Bake Shop and dropped in to Lemongrass Café on Thursday for a taste of Burmese cooking.

It’s a cuisine few of us know much about because the country has been shut off by its military government for so long. With recent reforms, the country is only now opening to tourists, and our own government has lightened up in recognizing the regime and its preferred name for the country, Myanmar.

The Honolulu episode of "Eden Eats" will air sometime in August, but you can get a taste of Aye Aye Maw’s Burmese cooking every Sunday during her Burmese pop-up dinners at the center.

Aye Aye arrived in this country as a refugee 13 years ago and was struck by a car three months after her arrival. Recovery was difficult, and, she said, "I had no job, no income."

Pacific Gateway Center offered her assistance, and to help her toward employment, staffers suggested that if she could cook, they would welcome her catering for their meetings and events.

The center, which among its many aims works to encourage immigrant entrepreneurs, provides the perfect incubator space through Lemongrass Café. There, aspiring restaurateurs are able to book dates to operate weekday lunch service — a different cuisine each day — and the new pop-up dinners.

Pacific Gateway Center Lemongrass Cafe, 83 N. King St. >> 851-7010

Food ****
Service ***
Ambience ***
Value ****
Hours: 6 p.m. Sundays beginning April 1
Cost: $20 per person

Ratings compare similar restaurants:
**** – excellent
*** – very good
** – average
* – below average

"I don’t know how to cook, but I try to make for them. I read books and recipes and everybody like it, and I thought, my Burmese food not bad."

It took some work, though. Recipes she found were often Western interpretations of Burmese cooking, and the flavors were "totally different," she said.

"My grandmother was a real good cook, and even though we had a cook, we all had to help in the kitchen. So I was not doing everything, but I observed with my eyes. When I started cooking here, my food was awful. Everything went wrong but I try again and again. Ten, 11 years later, I am here."

Her dream was to open a Burmese restaurant, but she knew it would be an uphill battle because many diners tend to fear the unknown, and there is no more unfamiliar cuisine than that of her motherland.

"I feel really bad no one knows Burma," she said. "Everybody knows about every country in the world, but 90 percent don’t know Burma. Even though it’s poor, it’s still a beautiful country in Asia."

Myanmar is bordered by India, China, Laos and Thailand, and the cuisine Aye Aye presented last week bears a few familiar elements of Thai and Laotian cooking.

Her dinners change every week, and because there is a large Chinese and Indian demo­graphic in Myanmar, with cuisine that varies greatly from local-style Chinese and Indian cuisine, she also plans to occasionally offer Burmese-style Chinese and Indian dishes.

Last week’s dinner started with a zesty ginger salad, a balanced mix of finely chopped cabbage, tomato, sesame seeds, fried garlic, roasted peanuts, fried mung and lima beans and dried shrimp.

A second cucumber salad reinforced the healthful aspects of the cuisine. In the Buddhist and Muslim traditions, beef and pork are avoided, respectively. Here, thin, spaghettilike strips of cucumber are tossed with onion, lemon juice, peanuts, dried shrimp, chili pepper and Thai basil, served over a cabbage leaf.

Next came shrimp fritters, shell and all dredged in tempura flour, deep-fried and served with a delicious tamarind-fish sauce with garlic, cilantro and chili pepper that many have asked Maw to bottle. The dish was also accompanied by a dark liquid that, sans instructions, was thought to be a dipping sauce for the shrimp. It turned out to be Burmese black tea that, with the strong scent of incense, was also a good palate-cleanser for the strong sauce.

Mohinga, traditionally a breakfast dish, appeared next. Aye Aye said she could eat this national dish every morning, every day of the year. Although billed as a soup that she ate with a spoon, breaking up the noodles into scoopable bits, the rest of us opted to treat it as pasta, twirling lengths of noodles around the tines of our forks. In Chinese culture, after all, it’s bad luck to cut noodles since the shortened strands symbolize a long life cut short.

The mohinga’s texture is stewlike, with roasted rice powder giving body to the fish, garlic, onion, lemongrass and ginger sauce. It was topped with thin slivers of fishcake. The dish is every bit as addicting as other comfort noodle dishes, like phó, ramen and saimin.

The meal concluded with Shwe Yin Aye, the Burmese equivalent to halo-halo, with layers of tapioca, agar agar, mochi rice, coconut milk and sugar rice flour. Where many Thai restaurants offer tapioca desserts, none is as elaborate or delicious as this.

This Saturday the center will welcome an Ethiopian pop-up with the potential of becoming another addition to the weekly lineup. I love diversity. Stay tuned.


Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at

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