I had occasion to spend the weekend in Fort Wayne; I managed to take a few hours to check out a couple of the businesses catering to the Burmese population (at 3000 people, the largest settlement in the US
Fort Wayne is not a big city, nor a dense one, so my hopes of finding something like LA's Koreatown, or even Argyle Street, were not to be satisfied. (For reference, Chicago's Vietnamese population is > 14,000 as of the 2000 census.) Furthermore, one ill-informed web review indicated that the Little Burma grocery store was closed. Not only was that not true, but a short walk from that shop was True Friend Tea House, an actual Burmese (or in their parlance, "Burmese-style") restaurant. Both businesses lie on the moderately busy S. Calhoun Street, recently dubbed the Mama Reese Memorial Parkway
. I can't think of any streets in Chicago that have quite the same mix of commercial and residential activity as S. Calhoun. The houses tend to be a bit run down, and the store fronts are a mix of in- and out-of-business; there are a couple of mexican restaurants, an antique shop, a defunct movie theater (that is being restored), the offices of Frost Illustrated... but none of that was why I was there.
I actually parked across the street from Saigon Market, but decided to defer a visit until I'd seen some other things. Before I found Little Burma, I also discovered a Laotian Grocery and Gift shop, but it was totally defunct. A few blocks further along, I found Little Burma, clearly still in business, and actually kind of bustling. It's a small and fairly spartan shop, with stock mostly from Thailand, Vietnam, and China. The only products I could find clearly exported from Myanmar were a few varieties of pickled tea leaves. Most of these appeared to be (industrially) packaged as mini-bundles of pickled tea leaves as well as several varieties of dried legumes, so that you could lay out the entire spread. (One cheaper package looked like it might just be tea leaves.) While the packages illustrate a platter with a center dish of tea leaves surrounded by dishes of each of the other kinds of snack, the woman at the counter assured me that young people these days just eat them all mixed together...
I bought one package of pickled tea leaves, as well as a bit too much of other kinds of snacks that, while not Burmese, mostly looked unfamiliar based on my occasional visits to Chicago asian markets. I also noted some sausages that were marked "keep refrigerated" but which weren't, despite the fact that there were also produce coolers and freezers. I opted not to purchase those. (I'll save the full rundown on snacks for some future post.)
Not much further north on Calhoun Street was a substantially larger store simply named "Asian Market." This didn't have the pickled tea leaves (as far as I saw) but had substantially more other stuff from SE Asia, as well as some South Asian spices and sauces. I bought yet more snacks, and then headed up the street, concerned that the big rain which was already going in Chicago would hit before I got home.
A few blocks further, past the abandoned Rialto theater and a vibrantly colored house was "True Friend Tea House," which I'd found written up in the News-Sentinel online
. (Another link found while writing this post...
) While the article indicates that the menu changes daily, I was given a two-sided laminated menu which didn't look as though it did change. There was also a marker board covered in Burmese writing, about which I know nothing.
I was travelling alone, as my brother was indisposed, so my ordering power was woefully limited. Still, the prices were low (menu scans below) so I went ahead and ordered a starter of samusar. Samusar as, are the name suggests, part of the tradition of stuffed dumplings across the Indian Ocean. While described on the menu as "burmese style egg roll," they were much more like Indian samosas, although the rice paper wrapping was a nice light alternative to typically dense samosas. The shape was actually more like Ethiopian sambusa, but with more interesting spicing, as probably befits the geography. They came with a sweetish hot sauce which was totally superfluous, but they were friend perfectly and very delicious.
For my main dish, I had fried noodles which, while not what I thought I was ordering, turned out to be very tasty. The dish was not entirely unlike pad thai, although the noodle size and general seasoning reminded me more of singapore noodles (also not surprising given the geography.) While the noodles were not spicy at all, they were accompanied by a simple cabbage salad which was spicy, and which actually was my favorite single dish. There was also a clear cabbage soup which was uninteresting, especially since I was dining alone and already had too much to eat. (It all warmed up nicely for lunch the next day.)
The staff were extremely friendly, and there were two or three tables occupied by other Burmese. There were two TVs playing the same program, an exceedingly strange variety show which looked like it was taking place on a temple stage and featured more than one singing drag queen.
After lunch I walked back to the car, snapping a few more shots of neighborhood spots like the South Side Cafe, which looked like it might be cut from the Patty's Diner
mold (then again, it could be totally routine) and the Yacht Club location of a mid-size local beverage chain, Belmont Beverage. I liked the sign, but it didn't look like it merited a stop inside.
It's probably not worth the full-on detour from the Indiana Toll Road, but should you find yourself in the vicinity of Fort Wayne, it's definitely worth dropping by.
Pictures (as always, click for Flickr page, where larger sizes can be seen...)Saigon MarketLaotian Grocery and GiftLaotian Grocery interior.Little Burma GroceryRialto TheaterAsian MarketColorful HouseTrue Friend Tea HouseSamusar ("Burmese style egg roll")Fried noodles, cabbage salad and cabbage soup. South Side CafeYacht ClubSpruced upTrue Friend Tea House menu, p. 1True Friend Tea House menu, p. 2True Friend Tea House menu, p. 3True Friend Tea House menu, p. 4
True Friend Tea House
2310 S. Calhoun St.
Ft. Wayne, IN 46807
2615 S Calhoun St
Fort Wayne, IN
Little Burma Grocery
3230 S. Calhoun
Ft. Wayne, IN
Belmont Beverage: Yacht Club Location
2915 S Calhoun St
Fort Wayne, IN
South Side Cafe
3028 S Calhoun St
Fort Wayne, IN
3610 S Calhoun St
Fort Wayne, IN
"Whatever may be wrong with the world, at least it has some good things to eat." -- Cowboy Jack Clement