“No lady likes to snuggle and dine accompanied by a porcupine.”
“He lit a match to check gas tank. They call him skinless Frank.”
“A man, a miss, a car, a curve. He kissed the miss and missed the curve.”
“Within this vale of toil and sin, your head goes bald but not your chin.”
“Henry the Eighth sure had trouble. Short-term wives, long-term stubble.”
Some of the more seasoned among us might remember that one of the best ways to break up the drudgery of traveling long distances on monotonous two-lane highways was to look for Burma Shave billboards. Humorous five-line poems adorned red signs one line at a time, each line in white capitalized blocked letters about 100-feet apart. The last line of each poem was the much anticipated punchline followed by a sign bearing the obligatory name of the then-popular shaving cream. New Mexico was one of a handful of states not to benefit from this highly visible and very successful advertising medium. Apparently our highways and byways were deemed to have insufficient road traffic to warrant the billboards.
As a precocious child yet to revel in hours-long explorations of the family encyclopedias, my limited knowledge of “Burma” came from my dad, the smartest man I’ve ever been blessed to know. Even he couldn’t tell me if the shaving cream he himself used was actually developed in Burma. In fact, he knew very little about the Southeast Asian country bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. No one in my then limited circle knew much about Burma either (remember this was long before the internet was a glimmer in Al Gore’s eyes, back when the only “Google” was spelled “googol” and represented the number one followed by a hundred zeroes.
Over the years, of course, my knowledge of Burma (much like my waistline) has increased. Burma was on the world stage in 1989 when a ruling and violent military regime changed its name from Burma to Myanmar and its capital city from Rangoon to Yangon. Though the United Nations officially recognized the name change, the United States and the United Kingdom still have not (although during his 2012 visit President Obama did refer to the country as Myanmar on at least one occasion). While the despotic military junta was dissolved and a nominally civilian government was formed in 2010, a large-scale ethnic cleansing campaign triggered a massive human rights and humanitarian crisis in 2017.
My culinary knowledge of Burmese cuisine, however, has long been lacking. I’ve always assumed that Burmese cuisine is similar to the cuisine of its bordering nations, perhaps with some country-specific nuances thrown in. Immediately obvious from the time my culinary explanations began in earnest (circa 1977 Massachusetts), was that Crab Rangoon (despite its name) was not created in the Burmese capital. So, despite having consumed a fair share of Crab Rangoon over the years, until my inaugural visit to 528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine on 4th Street (thank you Beth Porter), my taste buds were strangers to the diverse and flavorful foods of the storied nation.
528 Sushi & Asian Food is (to my knowledge) the first Duke City restaurant to offer even a modicum of Burmese food. Some of that can be attributed to the country’s long seclusion from the world community (film maker Robert Liebermanhe once described Burma as the “second most isolated country in the world after North Korea.)” As its name declares, the restaurant serves both sushi and Asian food. The latter is a rather broad umbrella, but it’s readily apparent from scanning the menu over the counter that the umbrella includes Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and of course, Japanese sushi. My eyes targeted dishes prefaced with “Myanmar style.”
You’ve probably surmised that the name “528” has nothing to do with Highway 528 which runs through Rio Rancho. The significance of the number 528 is borne from Buddha’s teachings of “metta” or loving-kindness. “528” is used to symbolize the love within a family while the number “ 1500” symbolizes love between partners. That’s the way a very friendly, very shy young lady behind the counter explained it to me. She also did her best to explain the Burmese dishes on the menu, going so far as warning me that not everyone likes the strong Indian curry used in the first dish that caught my fancy.
That would be the Myanmar style pork and pickled mango curry. Perhaps the last dish to surprise me as much because of its sheer uniqueness was the Tortillas Florales with Indian Butter from Eloisa in Santa Fe. Talk about a pleasant surprise! After recently being subjected to a cavalcade of cloying curry dishes, I’d expected pretty much the same. Instead, this was the most unique curry dish I’ve had in years, a melding of culinary cultures and techniques: pungent Indian curry, piquant Asian red chili, aromatic cilantro, potatoes reminiscent of those on Mussaman curry and of course, the sweet and mostly sour mango, all served with rice. Every element was complementary, every bite delicious.
Just as unique is the Myanmar style spicy vegetables stuffed fish cake appetizer, another theretofore new to me surprise. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Surprises abounded, starting from the piquant-citrus fragrance wafting from the dish, a bouquet very reminiscent of my favorite papaya salad from An Hy Quan. The fish cakes were the color of scallops and were split in half butterfly style. They weren’t so much stuffed as “vegetables” (mostly julienne carrots, cabbage and cilantro) inserted into the butterflied center of each fish cake and tossed with a piquant citrus sauce. Texturally, the fish cakes somewhere between marshmallow soft and chewy. Altogether, this is a terrific dish, one which must be experienced to be appreciated.
Sadly, my inquiry as to which of the listed desserts to try was met with the disappointing news that all were discontinued because they weren’t being ordered by guests. If they were as surprisingly delicious as the entree and appetizer, they would have been glorious. Future visits warrant exploring sushi dishes as well as other Asian specialties, but first there are other Myanmar treasures to sample. 528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine is set in a Lilliputian storefront with seating for no more than four people. During my brief visit, only one additional guest stopped by and that was to pick up an order of Chinese dishes. This little gem is too good to remain a hidden secret!
528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine
5312 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 13 April 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Spicy Vegetables Stuffed Fish Cake, Myanmar Style Pork and Pickled Mango Curry