In San Francisco, Burmese food is the next big thing among Asian cuisines. But in Portland, the cuisine has been mostly without a home, though it's an occasional feather on the fedora of restaurants like Naomi Pomeroy's Expatriate—which serves a lovely tea leaf salad augmented by nontraditional green papaya—and Tasty N Sons, which has sported a Burmese red-curry pork.
That's changing with Killingsworth cart Burmasphere, open only Friday through Sunday at the Piedmont cart pod. Its cook, Tommy Schopp, is not a Myanmar emigrant but a fan of the cuisine: He first had the fiery, fermented mix of Indian and Thai food cultures that characterizes Myanmar while eating in San Francisco.
Schopp's take on tea leaf salad ($8), the Burmese national dish, involves a mountainous wealth of cabbage, and he retains the Burmese habit of letting eaters mix in their own tomato, nuts and seeds. The fermented tea leaves are chopped up as herb rather than served whole leaf, making the tea more accent than centerpiece. Still, the dominant notes of sesame, fish sauce and bitter leaf mix admirably with the crunch of cabbage and a hint of citrus. The fatal flaw is its generous size: The salad grows monotone, and would be better offered as a side.
Otherwise, there's a spicy carrot-cabbage salad (also $8), fried chickpeas and a pair of scratch-made curries each blended with an absolute wealth of rice and red and green bell peppers. Both are also topped with the satisfying crunch of fried scallions. The prawn curry ($10) is a bit stewy, but the turmeric-heavy, silky chicken curry ($8) is a rewarding meal, with the spice blended satisfyingly into the rice.
But watch out for that ghost-pepper ice cream dessert ($3). By the third bite your mouth feels like a sore. "It's like divorce," said my dining partner. "The pain lasts forever."
EAT: Burmasphere, 625 NE Killingsworth St., 503-998-1095, burmasphere.com. Noon-8 pm Friday-Sunday.