The Search For Umami Pt. 2: Rangoon


In today’s edition of our ongoing series, The Search For Umami, Collin and Shola visit Rangoon. One of the most overlooked restaurants in the city, Rangoon has been the city’s only spot for Burmese food in the metro area for many years. Extreme deliciousness and badass photography follow the jump. Get in it.

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When we talked about what stop number 2 would be, my dining companion said ‘Rangoon’ without any hesitation. ‘They’re fantastic. Have you eaten there?’ was the inquiry posed. Before he could finish the words, fond memories of coconut milk rice and shrimp filled my foodrolodex from dinners past. My disgraceful absence from this wonderful eatery for over 2 years was about to come to an end, and I got all Pavlovian until the day of our meal.

As mentioned in my first post, asian food is chock full of deliciousness in the form of our elusive buddy umami. UMAMIIIIIIIIII! I love yelling that word. It’s almost a culinary battlecry. While I quite enjoyed our jaunt to Tastee D’s, the meal ahead of me was one hell of a flavortextureexperience that pushed Rangoon into my top 5 restaurants in Philly. That’s right.

The stunningly gorgeous Papaya Salad came out first, raising expectations way high for the rest of the meal. Julienned veggies and serious burn from a tamarind sauce sat atop fried watercress and razor thin pieces of papaya created a sensory explosion so bright and bubbly, so sadly seasonal. Everyone is on the hunt for the best burger/wings/hoagie in the city. Sometimes I go on a hunt for the best salad around, and lo, it’s right here. Crunchy with left turn flavors and a smooth finish added to aesthetic beauty makes a serious fucking dish.

Shola ordered every plate for us, barely opening the menu. While that first dish wasn’t supremely umami, it was a hell of a way to start. He knew the strengths of the kitchen, speaking in reverence outside the establishment of what was to come.

“The Lentil Fritters are amazing. They’re a textural tour-de-force. A simple bar snack that would kill in any restaurant outside of Chinatown and put them on the map’. The little deep fried lumps of ugly beauty arrived next, crumbly and toothsome at the same time, dense yet light. The dipping sauce sidecar of sweet and savory was almost unnecessary, but added depth to the flavor. Umami! The hint and breath of mint ground into the filling of the fritter really lifted the whole dish from ‘on fire’ to ‘sweet heat’. Word of warning, if you ask for it hot, you’re getting it with a searing quality that’ll slap the shit out of your tongue and step on it with a stiletto heel.

 The deconstructed Pork Fried Rice is possibly the best rendition of fried rice in town. Separated by sections on your plate, the egg, vegetables, pork, and rice are to be blended after delivered to your table. It keeps the veggies crisp, mixmaster your elements. Build your own adventure. The deconstruction also allows you to really taste flavor layering in it’s simplest form. Grilled and fried, the pork has a burnt bitter crisp edge housing almost rare and exceedingly juicy flesh inside. The eggs add the fatty slickness, and the rice was teeming with fish sauce creating an umami layering concept that should be tasted by all evangelists of the fried rice persuasion. I’m on that team, I’m the starting shortstop. 

Lastly, we got in with the Kung Pao Chicken. Yes, seemingly a safe choice done a million times, this one was different. The slivers of chicken were browned beyond belief, a deep and rich color I hadn’t seen in any other Kung Pao chicken before.

‘That’s what makes all the flavors sing here’, Shola mentions, ‘they caramelize and candy the chicken which pushes the savory elements to the front’. He was right, The dish was spot on perfect, so comforting. A gift basket full of puppies kind of comfort, a hot fudge sundae. A spectacular rendition of Kung Pao chicken with ginger and dried chilies that are cooked up separate and then added later to seep flavor through the poultry while the meat rests.

As the hunt for umami continues, our stop at Rangoon was quite special. I always fashioned myself a Chinatown Obsessive, and will not make the same mistake of being absent for 2 years from this savory kingdom. The depth of flavor and variety in the menu is truly special and seldom found with this much consistency.

Rangoon, 112 N 9th St  (215) 829-8939

  • Jamie

    I love Rangoon! The Burmese tofu and whole fish here are also must haves.

  • danya

    Not sure on that “badass photography” part. These images all need some major white balancing…

  • tips

    Is it Asshole Day on Phoodie comments?

  • Marty B.

    I’m not sure about white balancing, but my lay eye sees there’s definitely some blurring problems around the edges of the plate, in most instances actually obscuring your subject matter. I’m pretty sure that’s not “badass.” The claim invites the criticism.

    That said, the text did get me re-thinking my “once and never again” assessment of Rangoon a few years ago where I left thinking Burma/Myamar may be the one country in Southeast Asia with crappy food.

  • danya

    Nope, not asshole day. Not really even close.

    And the “blurring” is an on-purpose effect, achieved with short depth of field.

    Food experience sounds great, by the way. Thanks for posting.

    I enjoy this series. Should have made that clear.

  • sirius videman

    “That said, the text did get me re-thinking my “once and never again” assessment of Rangoon a few years ago where I left thinking Burma/Myamar may be the one country in Southeast Asia with crappy food.”

    Now that is logic from someone who knows a lot about food and should be taken seriously.
    Pay one visit to a restaurant 10,000 miles away from the country of origin and declare that the entire nation has crappy food.
    Brilliant !
    What other words of wisdom does Marty B want to share with us.

  • Marty B.

    sirius, I know folks born on the autism spectrum often have cognitive difficulties when faced with rhetorical devices and modes such as hyperbole and flippancy. Reading anything but the most technical information can lead to emotional responses well off a common-sensically detereminted “appropriate” baseline. Generally, sufferers can be coached to negotiate their problems and generally “pass” in life, sometimes even becoming incredibly productive members of society. I’m saying you too can learn to read in time.

    danya, so you’re saying the photographer intentionally blurs out some of the stuff on the plate, making it look like the subject of the photo is suffering from some sort of encroaching haze or that there was a gas leak in the building?

  • sirius videman

    Say what?
    reads like a sarah palin speech.
    I can see a thesaurus from my window.

  • Josh A

    So you hate people with autism?

  • Marty B.

    Josh, no hating, just acknowledging the well-documented inability of many on the autism-spectrum to take full advantage of contextual markers, including (as seen in this instance) language expressions in online environments. Rather than belittle, I’m actually very impressed with the efforts many affected by autism have made to develop social integration skills; and I was strongly encouraging sirius to seek the professional help he evidently needs.

    On the other hand, sirius’s rejoinder to my encouragement (likening my writing to Sarah Palin’s speechwriter or using a thesaurus in a casual forum) smacks of what may simply be functional illiteracy. That is, he or she can put the words together and decipher elementary meaning, but that rudimentary comprehension just misses a lot in any expression beyond the level of the tweet.

  • stone bologna

    Poor marty b. doesn’t have a girlfriend.

  • Marty B.

    You come a week late to the party and that’s what you bring, bologna? Man, I’m glad my spouse snatched me up when she did. With your punctuality coupled with your ad hominem wit, you’re a keeper despite your petrified, unfeeling, low-grade processed sausage. Ladies, get on this!

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