regular readers maybe be aware, i’m a midwest transplant, but i’ve taken the midwest to heart. part of taking it to heart is learning to love all that it has to offer, and exploring in great detail. one methods is my annual rust belt birthday tour. previous victims have been grand rapids, flint, kalamazoo, and cleveland. to that end this year was selected to be ft. wayne. not really someplace that most folks would want to visit, but it had a couple of things i was very interested in; johnny appleseed’s gravesite and burmese food.
i became pretty obsessed with johnny appleseed, or john chapman as most folks knew him while he was alive, though michael pollan’s entertaining book , the botany of desire. that so much of chapman’s work took place so close by, and that his alleged grave was in ft. wayne seemed enough reason for a trip.
chapman unlike most american folk heros was real, though some aspects of his life were likely exaggerated, and some details are fussy. the majority, even the most bizarre aspects of his life appear to be true. he did plant apple seeds though out the midwest, appealing to western settlers need for fruit trees, while not undermining his religious opposition to grafted fruit trees. he did wear rags, though not likely a tin pot. he did go shoeless most of the time, and he was beardy and very tall.
and he was buried in ft. wayne.
maybe. its up for debate – but i just dare you to argue with someone from ft. wayne. if chapman is buried here or not is really not the point. my trip was meant more to pay tribute to one of america’s most celebrated of all wingnuts, and one that brought so much fruit to the midwest.
but standing on a snowy slope on a balmy february day was not the only reason for a visit to ft. wayne, my stomach was still becking me toward something tasty.
strangely, ft. wayne is one of the largest population centers of burmese people, and where there are burmese people there is sure to be tasty burmese food.
we weren’t traveling alone, friends patrick and dawn, whose family have a farm about 30 miles outside of ft. wayne had invited us to stay at their place, and patrick had done his homework and found mahnin restaurant
it’s in an old service station which adds to the charm. the menu is pretty short and a mix of burmese and thai dishes (not surprising since thailand is myanmar’s neighbor). they get busy about the time we arrive, and the wait staff seems a little confused, having to wash plates for us and taking a long time to bring silverware. but we didn’t come for the service, we came for the food. they were out of several of the dishes we wanted causing some anxiety while ordering, but we still managed to get a well-rounded sampling of offers.
i neglected to snap a photo until the plates mostly had only the carnage that remained after the initial onslaught of eating. we ate with gusto only slowed down by the intensity of the heat. all of the dishes had some kick to them, and a couple were smoking hot, full of little red chillies, and pickled chile sauce. the food was similar to thai, but with thinner, lighter, fresher sauces. most of the usual suspects in flavors and textures. a chicken dish served with ginger coconut sticky rice, and fermented soy bean paste. a papaya salad that was full of chillies and cashews, served with chicken wings, and sticky rice that did nothing to temper the heat. a cooked seafood salad with lots of mint and citrus. a big noodle salad with hard-boiled egg, and crispy tofu bits. shrimp rolls with seaweed and cellophane noodles. and samosas made stuffed with potato, cabbage, and the occasional pea.
once my mouth recovered we took a trip to the grocery store across the street, which we noticed was getting a good amount of foot traffic.
filled with as many unusual ingredients as just about any store i’ve been too, i spent considerable time trying to figure out what was in the various pickled vegetables that the shelves were well stocked in.
most of them will remain a mystery to me, at least for now. i was to chicken to purchase some to take home with me. on described its contents as “rhizome”, but which rhizome is it, i demand to know.
i’m a pretty open-minded guy, but the sight of a package of beef bile did take me aback.
i’m sure it’s good, i’ve just always been taught that the four humors were something to balance not eat.
in addition the store was packed full of great looking produce and the obligatory entire aisle of ramen noodles.
we left with only a few treats, some tamarind and chili candy, some coconut filled buns, and some crab chips (made with 20% real crab) that were a late night hit when served with chili.