Do-Ahead Skewers and Sides Make This the Easiest Barbecue Menu of the Summer
Here’s how to throw your own Yangon-style barbecue party.
On Thursday nights when the weather’s good, the back patio of The Dutchess, a restaurant in the sleepy country town of Ojai, transforms into a smoky, slightly raucous Southern California version of 19th Street in Myanmar’s capital city of Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon. 19th Street is Yangon’s legendary barbecue row (immortalized for American foodies in episode one of the late Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown), where stall after stall serves countless varieties of skewers of meat, fish, vegetables, and lots of beer. The skewers sing with ginger, garlic, turmeric, soy, and masala spices, a simple yet highly addictive flavor combination that channels the influences of Myanmar’s Indian and Chinese populations and is just the kind of thing you want to eat on a hot summer night.
Bringing this experience to California had long been a dream of The Dutchess’s Burmese-born chef, Saw Naing, who for the past year has been sparking up his binchotan-fueled grills so local diners can partake in the simple delights of ginger chicken wings dipped in tangy tamarind sauce and washed down with an ice-cold glass of beer—albeit a Ventura-brewed Beachscape Pilsner instead of a Myanmar Lager. There’s live music. People dance. Naing cooks and smiles.
Naing, who moved to California from Myanmar in his early twenties and worked for Thomas Keller and the legendary Los Angeles chefs Joachim Splichal and Jeremy Fox, oversees the savory side of the menu at The Dutchess. Here you can get flaky croissants and fresh-baked breads and croques-madames and cocktails and natural wine and amaro flights and a Burmese menu with classics like tea leaf salad and the fish stew mohinga. Naing’s take on Burmese cooking is distinctly Californian. He only cooks with local produce and meats, so dishes that might always be available at a Burmese takeout spot cycle in and out: Pixie tangerines augment grapefruit salad, Santa Barbara rockfish stands in for catfish in mohinga, and lamb comes from a herd that grazes the local hills for fire abatement. The exactingly prepared, wide-ranging menu and come-as-you-are atmosphere of The Dutchess make it the all-day restaurant of our dreams, and Naing’s Rangoon-style skewer nights make us love it even more.
Which is how we found ourselves taking a crash course in Burmese grilling as Naing prepared a celebratory meal for his friends and co-workers, including Dutchess assistant general manager and beverage director Brittany, who is also Naing’s wife. Burmese barbecue is unfussy but full of flavor and perfect for a summer party. The trick for a successful skewer night is all about the prep. To take the pressure off party day, be sure to shop and make the sauces the day before. Thread and season your skewers in the morning. Make your rice and the salad in the afternoon: Because the salad is made with sturdy kale and cabbage, it’ll stay crisp all night long.
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