When I first moved to Yangon in 2015, I worked in an office on one of the busiest streets in the heart of downtown. I lived about half a mile down the road so walked the 10 minutes to and from work each day. I walked past hardware stores, hairdressers, shops selling sewing machines, sequins and sacks of rubber bands, flowers, padlocks…goldfish. Past the same rotund lady on the same corner doing the same gentle hip-tilt exercise from side to side, the same tiny little bird of a child sitting at a stool in her astonishingly crisp white school shirt finishing her homework, and the same pair of toddlers comparing worms.
Most mornings, I stopped for breakfast at a Shan noodle teashop just round the corner from the office. Shan Noodles are sticky rice noodles with a smokey, sweet tomato sauce, usually made with pork, chillis, garlic and pickles. It’s served with a peppery soup which you either pour on top, or slurp alongside. I was happy as a Burmese clam sitting on a teeny tiny plastic chairs, at a child-sized plastic tables, in the incongruous smart clothes required by my corporate job, chowing down on my noodles.
Noodles which sum up everything I loved and love about Yangon: they were warming, sweet, a little bit sour. They were thrown together from all sorts of ingredients from countless colourful plastic tubs: coriander, mustard seeds, chilli, beans and spices, light sauces, dark sauces, unidentifiable powders. Pounded, battered and all deftly mixed together with drained noodles, the work of under 60 seconds. No frills. Announced ready with a holler, handed over without ceremony, totally delicious, entirely underrated.
I have attempted to recreate them endlessly. My ones are ok. Flavourful, good-looking, crunchy peanut topping. They aren’t the same. They can’t be without the wandering street dogs, the kindly man at the next door table in his smart velvet flip flops, the honking buses on the main road or the rising heat of the morning.
But luckily, my Burmese marble pestle and mortar, my acacia wood chopping board, my brass bowl and my glass made of recycled Yangon bottles give me a mental ticket back to my tiny chair. Little pieces of Burma to help transport me back to that breakfast. To those noodles. To that magical, magical city.