It was a visit to a Burmese restaurant in San Francisco that started Tommy Schopp’s (pronounced: shòp) adventure. He so enjoyed the experience, it inspired him to try and recreate the dish in his own kitchen back home in Portland.

The Piedmont Station food cart pod which is home to Burmasphere

Except for one thing, when he tried to find a Burmese restaurant in PDX to test how accomplished was his recreation, there were none. Not one. Apparently Portland had not a single restaurant specializing Burmese cuisine. Which brings us to the beginning of Burmasphere.

The Burmasphere food cart

With no formal training in cooking (much less Burmese cooking), Tommy took on the challenge of bringing a Burmese restaurant to the Rose City. Two years of research and practicing Burmese cooking has resulted in the Burmasphere food cart. Although, the journey was not without its potholes (after all, it is Portland).

The tea leaf salad from Burmasphere before the ingredients are mixed together

Here’s today’s lesson. When you see an opportunity (such as no Burmese restaurants in Portland), act on it. Find a way (as Tommy did) to fill that empty niche. Even if you’ve got only the barest of ideas and experience to accomplish the task. Tommy did wisely seek the council of those who had gone before.

You’d think that two people, both with experience (and one an architect no less), in building food carts, advising Tommy to not build his own cart would have persuaded him to have his cart made by a food-cart-building company. Nope. With the same singular focus that brought about Burmapshere’s cuisine, Tommy took on the job of building his food cart himself.

The coconut chicken curry from Burmasphere

To give you an idea how confident Tommy was about Burmasphere, he launched his cart on Friday the 13th in May of 2016. The cart opened its window at the Piedmont Station food cart pod in NE Portland. Piedmont Station is found at 625 NE Killingsworth just a couple blocks east of Martin Luther King Boulevard. The cart is open Friday through Sunday, 11 AM till 7 PM.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering what is Burmese cuisine? Burma (also known as Myanmar) is bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, and Laos. The food has influences from all of those cultures with the cooking styles of local tribal cultures having their pull as well. At Burmasphere you’ll find the menu also has a Northwest twist.

The coconut chicken curry and the tea leaf salad from Burmasphere together on the same plate

The Burmasphere menu is best represented by two dishes. The Coconut Chicken Curry (Ohn-no Kyet Tar Hin), is a savory, moderately spicy chicken curry over jasmine rice that has been infused and perfumed with turmeric and coconut. The other is the national dish of Burma, Tea Leaf Salad (Lahpet Thok). Shredded cabbage tossed with a pickled tea leaf dressing and topped with chopped tomato, green pepper and crunchy bits.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can finish your meal with the Ghost Chili ice cream. While not really a Burmese dish, this coconut-based ice cream, made with palm sugar syrup and Ghost chilies, has been described as very tasty, especially for those among us who are Spicochists.

Listen now as Steven Shomler and Ken Wilson talk with Tommy Schopp (pronounced: shòp) of Burmasphere about his two-year journey to bring Burmese cuisine to Portland.