Protect Your Saturdays! Starting with Wa Ma Ma at MyLan

Content in this post happened exactly 21 days ago, which means the publication of this post is considered already ancient. That was also my last full Yangon weekend untainted with work responsibilities – a trend that has accelerated since the announcement of a deal back in October 2014, which is also reflected in the declining number of posts ever since.

This has to change.

No matter how crazy work gets, I am going to have to draw my line at sacred Saturdays, to practice the art of doing nothing. Idling. Staying in my PJs and not brushing my teeth till 5 o’clock in the evening. To remember still how to write, a skill that has grown rusty since joining the corporate world. Hang out at my hammock. Send obscene WhatsApp texts to faraway friends. You know.

Therefore, I can hardly think of a better way to consummate this new personal campaign – “Protect Saturdays!” – than this post on discovering a new Wa Restaurant in Yangon.

Yangon has changed dramatically in the two years I have been back. This was my first time tasting Wa cuisine, which was made possible only because I had been wandering around in MyLan Food Fair (What is that?! This was unheard of circa 2012!). The moment we saw the sign “Wa Ma Ma Restaurant,” we knew we had to try, and I’ll tell you why.

Wa people make a distinct cultural and ethnic group residing in the mountainous Northern part of Shan State, Myanmar, with their own autonomous territory. Rumor has it Wa people practice cannibalism. Back in my middle school days, a new student supposedly the son of some big shot in the Wa administration joined our class, which sparked mixtures of wonder, awe and terror in the minds of 12-year-old Yangonites. In Pascal Khoo Thwe’s memoir, “From the Land of Green Ghosts,” he wrote about how Wa interrogators will force information out of captured spies with threats of … eating them! Efficient.

The best value deal is the “Daung Lan” to share, priced at 10,000 MMK (US$10) for a group of four or five, depending on their eating capacities. Daung Lans are a rare thing now, seen only at the National Museum and now Wa Ma Ma Restaurant. It is said that back in our ancestors’ day in 1800s, families eat together from one gigantic single plate, undeterred by the probability of spreading germs even in the days when penicillin was unheard of. Can you even imagine?

Wa Ma Ma, however, has a modern twist, asking us to wear plastic gloves and giving us individual plates to eat out of the larger Daung Lan. An order of Daung Lan comes with jasmine rice, brown glutinous rice, grilled pork neck, chicken with basil, bamboo shoots, and cucumber salad. If you are scared of hot and spicy food, this is not for you.

I make zero commission from this post, but book a table now at 09 49 44 55 22!

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Daung Lan

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Eating with hands a must…

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Two ladies from “Wa Ma Ma”

Phnom Penh Nights

It’s a very live-able city.

Food is cheap. And there is a variety to it. Modern conveniences are there. Rent is affordable. Job opportunities abound if you know where to look. Spas offer amazingly cheap rates. The best, fresh coconut costs merely 50 cents. People I have come across are interesting. And if you are a heterosexual young male, gender ratio among expats definitely favors you. The only down side is that there is a lack of green space, which is made up for by the river front view.

My trip to Phnom Penh was long due. I hadn’t been out of Yangon for already three months. If you count only trips you take for yourself – and not for business, social obligations or relationships – it was since March that I hadn’t taken a break for myself. This was a much needed reset. I had thought I was going out of my mind.

My very first meal in Cambodia was ironically a semi-Japanese place, a quick five minutes away from my hotel near the Russian Market, chosen by my very thoughtful college buddy John who drove all the way to the southern tip of the city from his office up north so that I wouldn’t need to get around on a tuk tuk.

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“Cozy” is one of those words you use when you try to be sanguine about some unfortunate situation, much like the usage of the term “interesting.” If you are like most guys, you would rather disappear into thin air than be described as “nice” or “sweet” by a girl they fancy.

But when I think of this place, “cozy” is the word I use in the most genuine and blissful way. I felt cozy. And comfortable. In the most relaxed and carefree way. Without the need to worry about running into anyone or be engaged in any obligatory small talk. Generally, people, noises and spot lights are what I crave, but not when I am in Phnom Penh. Anonymity is calming.

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Just when I thought the ambiance couldn’t get any better, I studied the menu while waiting for John and Wes, sipping my passion fruit mint shake, listening to their tracks and watching staff get busy with noodles in the open kitchen in their “Noodle me please…” shirts.

And look! They have only two items as the main fare. The beautiful thing about this menu is that there is nothing to be studied. You make so many decisions and choices every day, it’s sometimes best to not have that luxury. This could be an urban legend but Obama is said to have the same shirts so as not to waste any of his presidential brain space on fashion every morning. Decision fatigue, some people say.

Which is why this noodle place is extra charming. You show up hungry and they feed you. That’s the best kind of menu, and a wonderful break from the many new presumptuously low quality dining establishments in Yangon.

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Sesame Noodle Bar
Street 460, between 135 and 155
Toul Tom Poung
http://www.sesamenoodlebar.com/