In Southern California, there are probably thousands of Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. But if you want Burmese food, from the country now known as Myanmar, you only have five choices in L.A. County. At one of these, the owner uses her expertise as a scientist — in the kitchen. Off-Ramp contributor CJ Greenspon reports.
La Puente's Golden Owl restaurant adds a new layer to an already integrated cuisine. Owner Shwe Lynn Chin, who came to the United States in 1995 and settled in Silver Lake, says Burmese food is a fusion of Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian food. Chin prides herself on providing light, healthy varieties of street food from her native Burma. And to the praise of many La Puente/West Covina residents, she offers a number of vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Shwe is a vegetarian herself and told us Golden Owl is one of the only places to find a vegetarian version of mohinga outside a Buddhist monastery. For the unfamiliar, mohinga is a catfish chowder, served with rice noodles, vegetables, fritters, seeds and sliced banana tree stems. This meal is so widely eaten in her homeland that it may be called the "National Dish of Myanmar."
Prior to opening the Golden Owl, Shwe Lynn Chin worked with a biological research team at City of Hope, but family issues kept her from going further and pursuing her education. However, Chin always had a passion for cooking her homeland's cuisine, and to a high standard.
The flavors of Burmese food are subtler that you might expect, compared to neighbor Thailand's vibrant tastes. Chin says it's important to her to keep seasoning simple, pairing minimal spices and sauces in balanced recipes to showcase the natural flavors and freshness of her ingredients.
And Chin stays true to her medical background by baking and braising rather than frying. She pointed out the danger of overheating refined cooking oil. The resulting spoiled oil is toxic, she says, and can stress human cells, which reduces their ability to fight free radicals and reactive intermediates.
So what exactly is the Golden Owl cooking up besides the beloved mohinga chowder? There are chicken, pork and tofu varieties of the savory garlic noodle bowl, along with the south Asian standard, coconut chicken noodle.
Perhaps the most visually striking offering is the rainbow salad. It's a noodle salad, topped with purple cabbage, cucumbers, caramelized and red onions, carrots, tofu and potatoes, dressed in zesty soy sauce. There are also sandwiches and rice bowls for those looking for something familiar.
Looking to the future, Shwe Lynn Chin admitted she is still solidifying her recipe for lahpet, a pickled tea leaf salad that is distinct to Burma. She says it’s almost there.
The Golden Owl is at 16423 Maplegrove St., La Puente, CA 91744, (626) 917-1135