Shan tofu, named for its origins in the eastern Shan State of Myanmar, has little kinship with its better-known East Asian cousin. At Rangoon Spoon in Gravesend, Brooklyn, it’s made not with soybeans but with chickpea flour that’s soaked overnight, drained and soaked again, then simmered, requiring constant churning until it turns into a dense congee.
Once chilled, it takes on a texture somewhere between bean curd and Chinese liang fen (mung bean noodles), with more spring than slip. Amy Tun, the chef, cuts it into strips and glosses it with tamarind paste, garlic oil and fish sauce. Kaffir lime leaves gleam, dark as jade, shredded down to the width of pine needles.
If you ask for it, this salad — such a harmless word — will come armed with enough chile to annihilate conversation. Under the heat, the tofu itself is confoundingly cool.
Ms. Tun, 28, grew up in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), then the capital of Myanmar, and moved to Brooklyn in 2005, when a change in the United States’ immigration policy enabled greater numbers of Burmese to find sanctuary here from their country’s repressive government.
Still, New York’s Burmese population remains small. And as of a year and a half ago, there were no Burmese restaurants in the city: The last holdout, Cafe Mingala on the Upper East Side, which for more than two decades quietly made a case for the flavors of Myanmar — a play of light and dark, earth and brine, sourness and heat — shuttered in the fall of 2016.
You could still find Burmese dishes, hidden on menus at otherwise staunchly Chinese restaurants, sold at the Queens Night Market and at erratic pop-ups in Brooklyn, or delivered by immigrant cooks running low-profile catering companies out of their homes. But you had to be committed; you had to hunt.
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So a stand-alone Burmese restaurant is cause for jubilation. First to fill the absence, last March, was Together in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where the chef hedged his bets by offering sushi. Then, in October, Ms. Tun opened Rangoon Spoon in neighboring Gravesend, with a menu wholly devoted to Burmese cuisine.
Here, house-made fish cakes laced with lemongrass come in spongy blocks as orange as carrots. They could well be called fish tofu for their texture and their benign, unobtrusive character, which makes them an ideal backdrop for a squeeze of lime, cilantro and gently sweated onions, covered in a film of their own sugars. Hoops of green chile lie like discarded earrings, seeds still clinging.
Laphet thoke is a tangle of fermented tea leaves (shipped from Myanmar by Ms. Tun’s eldest sister) and cabbage still crisp, freshness set against the profundity of age. A crowd of ingredients — pumpkin seeds, fried garlic, cashews, curls of dried shrimp and too many others to list — bring crackle and tang to each mouthful.
Contrast is essential, as in a plate of shwe taung noodles with kinks of crispy noodles heaped over chewy ones. A cloud of coconut cream rests in one corner and loose chickpea powder in another, waiting to be mixed into a luxurious, musty velvet.
Ms. Tun cooks alongside her husband, Danny Aung, and Winnie Catungal, her older sister. In the beginning, her mother and brother also pitched in: Ms. Tun had never run a restaurant before, and she was five months pregnant. (Now her mother babysits.)