food & drink

Food Dude

July 14, 2011 |

by Jim Duncan


Simply Asian: a liberating experience


Faluda is a lovely dessert at Simply Asian, 3811 Douglas Ave., 277-4494. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, 1 to 9 p.m.

"My only visit to Burma was restricted by a 24 hour visa." That was in 1968, and things have never really opened up except for a brief break from military dictatorship in 1988. Burmese cuisine has thus become a virtual ambassador for the indomitable spirit of people who refuse to be restrained in their love of life, food and freedom. Excellent Burmese restaurants have been popping up in Europe, New York and California the last few years. Now Hung Suan has opened central Iowa's first Burmese restaurant.

Simply Asian adds to a Douglas Avenue strip enriched by the city's most eclectic mix of food experiences. It's in a building that recently housed both Bosnian and soul food cafés. Across the street are Hawaiian and African food outlets. Iraqi, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Bosnian joints are within a few blocks. The diners I saw at Simply Asian were an equally eclectic mix. On my first visit I asked two ladies what they had tried.

"We don't have any idea. We're pretty sure, from the menu descriptions, that we didn't get anything that we ordered. But everything we did get was wonderful," they responded.

That day my waiter's command of English was challenged. He brought dishes I didn't order and threw away leftovers I had asked him to box up for taking home. Suan apologized and offered to make new dishes, and I never saw that waiter on subsequent visits. I did however see the ladies who had received incorrect orders. Good Burmese food is worth a little chaos.

Suan worked at the superb Thai restaurant The King & I before setting off on her own. She picked up a few good recipes there: haumacs (marinated fish steamed in banana leaf boats), Thai curries and Rama showers (spinach and meat with peanut sauce). Her Burmese menu was even more interesting. One salad included pork tripe, heart, kidney, stomach, garlic and chili. Another mixed pig ears with lettuce, cilantro, tomato and chilies. Tempura included gourd and chickpeas. Fish cakes and Thai toast (with shrimp and pork) had textures of French toast. Beef salad balanced five flavors, plus warm and cold, with cucumber, mint, chilies, lemon grass and a lemon/fish sauce.

Tom yam gai was based on a deep flavored chicken stock with lots of galangal, lemongrass and mushrooms. A Burmese style glass noodle soup included black fungi and enoki mushrooms plus divine tofu skins. Bar kut teh was a rare mushroom soup with lychees and pork ribs, or viscera. I tried two of three different green papaya salads: Thai style brought raw peanuts and sweet lemon sauce while Burmese style included noodles that mellowed the usual sourness.

Burmese curry was more Indian than Thai, with more tomato and less coconut milk than others. "Sampa" shrimp featured both fresh and dried shrimp in a buttery paste of ginger and chilies. Frog legs were the most disappointing dish I tried, too small to eat easily and sauced in a thick flavorless brown gravy. Tender "drunken squid" swam in much more interesting sauce. Faluda made a photogenic dessert of rice balls, gelatins, fruits and coconut milk. Mok lon ye bor was a simpler dessert of large sweet rice balls in homemade syrup.

Bottom line — Burmese cuisine symbolizes freedom, from boring food as well as tyranny. Simply Asian is a liberating experience.

Side Dishes


The former Timothy's Steakhouse space on Douglas Avenue is being converted into Wasabi Chi with Japanese, Chinese and Thai cuisines… W Chinese Buffet was scheduled to open by press time in Park Fair Mall… This year's Wing Ding will benefit Very Special Arts Iowa. Jethro's (3100 Forest Avenue) hosts on July 23, 4 p.m. - 11 p.m. CV