Interstate 285 runs right behind the modest house in Clarkston where Yapar Shel lives with his wife, Roi San, in the shadow of an old oak tree. The couple and their two daughters have been here only since 2019, and in that time, they’ve not just made the house a home—they’ve also used it to launch a takeout business that’s gained a devoted following. Open two days a week in a residential neighborhood just inside the Perimeter, Two Fish Myanmar serves the intriguing, highly pleasurable cuisine of the country of Yapar and Roi’s birth and offers nostalgic comfort to Clarkston’s many Burmese residents.
In Atlanta over the years, just a few, mostly short-lived restaurants have dedicated themselves to Burmese cooking—notably the beloved Royal Myanmar, which closed in 2018. I’ve been passionate about the cuisine since first encountering it in Oakland, California, more than three decades ago. Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Malay influences show up in the Burmese pantry, with pungent dried fish and shrimp paste, fresh hot peppers, and sambals joining locally unique ingredients such as fermented tea leaves and tofu made with chickpea flour instead of soy. Noodles are central, from assertively seasoned rice noodles tossed with chili and shrimp paste to thin vermicelli boiled into mohinga, a catfish soup with mashed chickpeas, fish cakes, lentil fritters, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh coriander leaves. Mohinga is a quintessential preparation, often referred to as Myanmar’s national dish and typically eaten for breakfast.
In recent years, Clarkston has become home to hundreds of natives of Myanmar, many of them refugees fleeing ethnic persecution. (The country has also been known as Burma, the name given to it by British colonists in 1886 when it was first established as a political entity—initially as a province of India. Burma achieved independence from Britain in 1948.) Yapar, now in his early 40s, left Myanmar at age 19 amid a worsening economic crisis, seeking opportunities in Malaysia, where he had an uncle. Eventually, he scored a job as a “restaurant helper,” and when his Malay language skills improved, he graduated to server, then bartender. And he met Roi, another Myanmar native, who was also working in Malaysia in restaurants.
“I always meant to go back to Myanmar,” Yapar says. But the situation there continued to deteriorate; in Malaysia, meanwhile, he and Roi found themselves treated like second-class citizens. The road to the U.S. was a long one for the couple, who were placed in Clarkston roughly five years ago by a resettlement agency. Yapar and Roi moved into their current house a year and a half ago and launched a business to serve their fellow Burmese.
Yapar and Roi are both responsible for cooking, but it’s affable Yapar who brings the food out onto a small patio with a wooden picnic table, opening boxes to explain what each entree is, always asking if customers eat everything or have a peanut allergy. When Two Fish Myanmar is closed, Yapar—who grew up Buddhist but converted to Christianity—caters meals for birthdays, weddings, and funerals at his church and drives a van that delivers inspirational books.
Roi and Yapar come from different parts of Myanmar and tend to cook and eat differently. She, a northerner, fixes mostly noodles and salads. He grew up 60 miles from Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and does all the grilling, including the city’s iconic street food, pork skewers called wet thar dote htoe. On a menu that changes weekly, Two Fish Myanmar offers those dishes and more, including massive plates of chicken biryani, shrimp sauteed with silky broad wheat noodles, grilled pork offal (liver, tripe, pig ears), and delicate ginger and meat salads that make me wildly happy.
Many dishes come with a cup of clear ginger- or coconut-flavored broth; few cost more than six dollars. (One exception is whole fish marinated in soy—still a steal at $12.) Beguiling garnishes pop up all over the place: mango pickles here, dried fish there, cardamom pods, raw cashews, hidden slivers of bird’s-eye peppers, fluffy bits of dumpling, even quail eggs. And the milk-based desserts are ravishing, packed with jellies, freshly grated coconut, clusters of sago pearls, and, in the case of the enchanting pink falooda (iced sweetened milk, rose syrup, basil seeds, grass jelly, and egg pudding), a huge ball of vanilla ice cream.
What’s most enticing to me about the food is how homey it feels—though the couple hopes to make the leap soon to an actual restaurant, and are looking for commercial space for rent on Memorial Drive. Until then, Two Fish Myanmar is open only for takeout on Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Search for the restaurant’s name online to find its Facebook page and preorder your meal.
This article appears in our August 2021 issue.