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Chaophya Thai and Burma Restaurant
By M. D¹Sterbal

Burmese food? Thai food? Golden Triangle cuisine by any other name is just as tasty.

Chaophya Thai and Burma Restaurant
48 Wangfujing Street, Ground Floor of the Holiday Inn Crown Plaza
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Tel: 6513-3388 x1166/1176
Hours: Daily 9:00 am to 4:00 am
Food: *** Ambience: * Service: ** Cost: ¥¥¥

How many times have you said to yourself ³I could go for some Burmese food right about now, but where can I find some in Beijing?² I¹m still looking, but when I saw the sign on Wangfujing street which read ³Chaophya Thai and Burma Restaurant² I couldn¹t resist the temptation to take a dine on the wild side. Sadly, I soon found out that there was not much in the way of actual Burmese cuisine on the menu. However, the Thai half of the sign proved to be more than true to its word, and Chaophya may well provide you with yet another of Beijing¹s geometrically-expanding excuses to leave the cooking to someone else.

The decor of the Chaophya leaves a little to be desired. A few nods to the cultures of these two-thirds-of-the-Golden-Triangle nations are placed here and there, but for the most part the look is a little too much like a cross between a Dennys and a high class airport sports bar. True, the cozy dining room features quiet traditional music playing in the background, but the four televisions tuned into a (thankfully muted) movie starring basketball star Shaquille O¹Neal detract from the overall ambience.

Perusing the menu, I see very few dishes that I can identify as being Burmese, so I ask the manager, Johnson Peng of Taipei, what the difference is between Burmese and Thai cuisine. ³Animals used in Burmese dishes are slowly oppressed to death!² he says with a maniacal laugh. No, he didn¹t really say that. I just made it up. I¹m sorry, it won¹t happen again.

What he actually tells me is that Thai dishes tend to emphasize a more spicy and sour flavor, while Burmese dishes are more savory. ³Actually,² Johnson adds almost apologetically, ³We don¹t have that many Burmese dishes yet. We¹re planning to add some in the future.² So in reality the Chaophya restaurant is more of a Thai restaurant holding the hope of future Burmese fare. But even so, it succeeds in proffering a steady stream of enticing Thai dishes.

Appetizers are, wellŠ appetizing. Snugly wrapped in pandan leaves, the aptly named Pandan Chicken is like a little gift that is fun to unwrap. The meat is delicately spiced and quite tasty. Deep-Fried Prawn Cakes are also excellent‹crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, and not the least bit greasy. The Spicy Papaya Salad is passable, but having just returned from Thailand (where the dish is prepared with an amount of chili pepper that would be considered a felony assault in many countries) I find it somewhat bland.

Being a soup freak, I make an uncouth dive for the Tom Yum soup as soon as it is put on the table. A spicy and sour soup made with fish, shrimp and vegetables, Tom Yum soup will definitely be on the meal menu if the hangman ever takes me out for a final dance. And the Tom Yum at Chaophya was about as good as good gets, seducing the taste buds with a slow, sneaky spiciness‹a welcome change from the ³bludgeon the tongue with chili² approach sometimes associated with this dish.

By the time that the main courses arrive, I¹ve already forgotten about Burma. The Green Curry Chicken in Coconut Cream Sauce is excellent. Being accustomed to Beijing cuisine, I am pleasantly surprised by the bone-fragment-free meat. The curry is spicy, but as with the Tom Yum soup, it is a sneak attack on the palette rather than a full frontal assault. We are slightly disappointed by the Whole Fish in Thai Sauce, as the dish itself is a bit too heavily-loaded with cilantro and onion. Not bad tasting, but the delicate fish is eclipsed by the herbs, making it a good choice for the member of our group who eats fish for health reasons but doesn¹t actually like the taste.

Obviously, no trip to a Thai (or Thai/Burmese) restaurant is complete without Spicy Thai Rice Noodles (Pad Thai). Phad Thai is a dish that many people who can¹t find Thailand on a map can enjoy and even pronounce. However, on the night that our crew descends on Chaophya, they are fresh out of rice noodles, a crucial ingredient for Phad Thai. This is very upsetting, as every restaurant needs to have at least one dish that our friends with unadventurous palettes (or a history of bleeding stomach ulcers) can enjoy. Luckily, there are other options for those that can¹t take the heat, and delicious options indeed.

The Shrimp Paste Fried Rice, served with an omelette, fresh green onion and slices of Chinese sausage, is delicious and I can¹t get enough of it. Pork Satay with peanut sauce is also mild with a sweet aftertaste. The meat is very tender, suggesting that it has been cooked slowly under a low yet oppressive heat. Perhaps this is the one authentically Burmese dish.

Service at Chaophya starts a little slow, but picks up as the meal progresses. The shot-sized water glasses are insufficient to douse the flames produced by a mouthful of the spicier items on the menu, but they do give the waitress a good excuse to hang around our table with a pitcher. Most entrées are priced between ¥38-48, and portions are generous. Overall, Chaophya is a decent place to get some very good Thai cuisine. If you keep coming back long enough, you may also get a taste of Burma.

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