Published in AVL Today - June 7, 2022, In both WNC and across the Southeast, Burmese food is quite elusive — in fact, based on our research, Asheville’s closest Burmese restaurant is all the way over in Carrboro (about a 3.5-hour drive).
This phenomenon is something Chef Yunanda Wilson, a recent graduate of A-B Tech’s culinary arts program hopes to change. In late May, she launched aThoke Ly a new Burmese food series that features playful spins on traditional dishes, plus special tea pairings from Hunter Strickland of High Climate Tea
The concept of “aThoke Lay” — which translates to “little salad” — expands far beyond traditional American assortments of ingredients like lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes. “It simply means a mixture of things,” Yunanda explains. “From noodles to potato curry to tea leaves.”
The fermented tea leaf salad is one of the most quintessential dishes that Yunanda prepares. In ancient times, the tea leaves were used as a peace symbol or offering between warring kingdoms — and today, they’re shared as a common expression of hospitality.
The base of the salad is made from the young, fresh-picked leaves of green or oolong tea, which are then fermented underground in clay or bamboo pots for months, re-emerging as an earthy, tangy concoction. Yunanda’s take on the traditional dish includes fried garlic chips, bonito flakes, and scallions — all encased in a tomato — with a base of pureed purple cabbage and sticky coconut rice balls.
Yunanda, who moved from Burma to the US as a six-year-old, also has a special mohinga recipe from her mother. The chowder-like rice noodle and fish soup, which simmers catfish in a lemongrass broth, comes served with a split-pea fritter that balances the dish with a gentle crunch.