“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.
13 April 2018: 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.
13 April 2018: 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.
18 April 2018: It’s always thrilling to run into culinary kindred spirits at restaurants you recommend. John and Zelma Baldwin, globetrotters and gastronomes who have actually set food in Burma, not only visited 528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine because they read about it on Gil’s Thrilling…, they actually ordered what I recommended. It made me very happy to see them enjoy dishes new to them and even moreso watching them study the menu as they planned what to order their next visit or five. 528 is the type of restaurant which inspires return visits. One visit is certainly not enough when the menu is as diverse and delicious as this one.
18 April 2018: My introduction to the many of the foods of the exotic Indian subcontinent actually took place in England where our discoveries included chicken tiki masala (a dish actually invented in Scotland) and samosas. Samosas are so beloved in England that one of the wealthiest women in the country got her start making and selling samosas from her home. We contributed greatly to her wealth. Samosas, triangular pastries stuffed with sundry items, are wonderful hand-held appetizers offered at many an Indian and East African restaurant. 528’s rendition is stuffed with potatoes, onions and cilantro served with a sweet-piquant chili sauce. At five to an order, you’ll delight in biting through the crisp pastry to get to the soft potatoes-onions.
18 April 2018: After recently experiencing a cloying Thai curry dish redolent with coconut milk made even sweeter thanks to the probable addition of a spoonful or ten of sugar, 528’s Myanmar-style coconut soup with noodles (chicken, fish cake, egg, onion, coconut cream, noodles, crunchy noodles) redeemed my faith in savory coconut dishes. Even without the curry of my cravings, this is a fabulous soup, reminiscent in some respect of ramen soups (courtesy of the hard-boiled eggs and slurp-worthy noodles). While coconut milk is the basis for Thai curries, this Myanmar-style paragon of deliciousness is made with coconut curry which is much thicker and richer. Sweet notes did emanate from the soup, but not dessert-sweet as some Thai curries tend to be.
20 April 2018: Beth Porter describes the egg drop soup with noodle as “one of the best dishes in a long time. Ultimate Comfort food with great flavor.” After prompting my first, second and third visits, Beth could recommend a brackish bowl of muddy water and I’d try it. Thankfully the spicy and sour egg drop soup is much better than muddy water. It’s better, in fact, than every variation of hot and soup soup in New Mexico save for perhaps the one served at the Pop-Up Dumpling House. Served piping hot and redolent with sour notes, it’s a superb soup. It’s also a rarity in that it combines delicate, subtle egg drop with assertive, in-your-face spicy-and-sour and it works well. 528 offers everything from egg drop soup to Tom Yum Soup, all priced well south of a ten-spot.
20 April 2018: Perhaps the only lamentable aspect of my visits to 528 has been seeing all the menu items crossed off the menu because they’re just weren’t moving. The ten item appetizer section of the menu includes several items bearing Malcom’s last name (X). One of the remaining items is pork balls (not pictured), eight pork meatballs served with a piquant sauce. Each about the size of a small jawbreaker candy, they’re tinged with five spice, perhaps the most harmonious quitumvirate of spices available with notes of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and Szechwan peppercorns.
20 April 2018: Save for the Chinese sausage fried rice at Ming Dynasty, I long ago gave up on finding great fried rice in the Duke City area. Fortunately my friend Bill Resnik doesn’t give up as easily. With Marco Polo-like passion, he persists in his search for a fabulous fried rice. He found two at 528: the Indian-style fried rice and the spicy fried rice. The latter is in rarefied air, right up there with Ming Dynasty’s transformative Chinese sausage fried rice. It’s got most of the same components (rice, egg, onion, garlic, tomato, bok-choy, carrot, green peas, pepper) of other fried rice dishes we’ve had, but unlike others, it’s not clumpy, gummy and starchy. Every grain is impregnated with stir-fried deliciousness, every ingredient in perfect proportion to the others. You’ll want to eat a mountain of this stuff!
20 April 2018: 528’s inventory of Myanmar-style dishes is fairly limited and not all of them are prefaced with the term “Myanmar-style” so it pays to ask. The quaintly named Ka-Chin Style Spicy Chicken may trigger recollections of the sound of a mechanical cash register when an amount is rung up popularized in Wayne’s World, but Ka-Chin is actually the northernmost state of Myanmar, a region inhabited by a confederation of ethnic groups. If all their cuisine is as delicious as 528’s Ka Chin-style spicy chicken, I may just have to move there. My friend Bill described this dish best–“intensely flavored.” In this case “spicy” doesn’t mean “piquant” though there’s a bit of heat in this dish. There are also savory, tart, pungent and sweet notes with the tart-pungent combination taking it to the nth degree. This beauteous dish is made with tender, thin slices of chicken breast, red pepper, jalapeño, Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander and tamarind and it’s served with rice which takes some of the oomph out of its flavor bombardment qualities.
20 April 2018: If you want a dish that’s not nearly as intensive and every bit as delicious as the Ka-Chin style spicy chicken, 528’s spicy chicken basil (chicken, onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, green beans, baby corn, Thai basil) is your hook-up. Thai basil (horapa) adds a subtle anise-licorice flavor and perfume to every dish in which it’s used. Those qualities are exemplified on this absolutely mouth-watering dish. You’ll appreciate the crisp, fresh vegetables as much as you will the thin ribbons of breast meat chicken. You’ll want to bathe every morsel of rice in the sweet-savory sauce. Heck, you might want to dab a little of it on the back of your neck to hold onto it a bit longer.
20 April 2018: The affable owner (and shame on me for not knowing his name after three visits) learned how to make sushi in Pennsylvania and honed his skills in Oregon. He’s been living in Albuquerque for twelve years now and believes he’ll stay. He actually rented the space which currently houses his restaurant so he’d have the kitchen space to prepare sushi for his clients. For year’s he had the sushi concession at Kirtland AFB’s commissary and now prepares sushi for the cafes at UNM’s north campus. He operates 528 with his wife and father-in-law, allowing him to keep his prices ridiculously (and I do mean ridiculously) low. Sushi at 528 will cost you about half what you’d pay at other sushi restaurants in the city–and it’s good stuff!
At his recommendation, my first uramaki roll at 528 was the New Mexico roll (green chile, cucumber, avocado). As often seems to be the case, Bill and I wondered how sushi restaurants manage to prepare green chile better than so many New Mexican restaurants do. 528’s green chile has the alluring roasted flavor aficionados love and enough piquancy so that you won’t need wasabi. The vinegared rice wrap lends a sweet contrast to the piquancy of the green chile. At ten individual pieces of sushi for under six dollars, this value-priced sushi is better than sushi twice its price.
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. 528 Sushi & Asian Cuisine is set in a Lilliputian storefront with seating for no more than four people. 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: 20 April 2018
1st VISIT: 13 April 2018
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Spicy Vegetables Stuffed Fish Cake, Myanmar Style Pork and Pickled Mango Curry, Samosas, Myanmar Style Coconut Soup with Noodles