Spreading the NooDi Love for Kaw Yay Noodles

By Lwin Mar Htun 23 May 2019

YANGON—Ma Myat Phoo Wai, founder of NooDi café, is a young woman looking to introduce a little-known local dish kaw yay khouk swel, or kaw yay sticky noodles, to more people around the world with the aim of making it as popular as mohinga.

The kaw yay noodles are served with glutinous chicken soup with different toppings and meats added. The dish is rarely found in local shops—except at NooDi.

Most restaurants serve only Shan noodles and kaw yay noodles might feature only as a side dish.

“I realized that fact and wondered why people don’t sell this kaw yay noodle dish even though the taste is great,” Ma Myat Phoo Wai told The Irrawaddy.

Chicken sticky noodle soup with other toppings. / NooDi

Before opening NooDi she wasn’t much of a fan of the sticky noodle dish, but once she had it with ngapi (a salty, spicy fermented fish paste) in Yangon’s Chinatown area, she fell in love with the combined taste and got an idea to serve the dish in a new shop concept. She quickly started learning how to cook kaw yay noodles with glutinous chicken soup by herself.

“Firstly, I wanted to see kaw yay noodles not as a side dish. That’s why I decided to start my business with only these noodles on the menu. I have always had a passion for cooking and was always curious about what kinds of ingredients are included in the dishes I eat. I was always making food at home with my family and friends,” she said.

“After creating my own recipe of sticky chicken soup, I invited my friends to taste it. They gave me suggestions about the flavors I needed to add and I practiced cooking it more to get the best taste.”

She started her noodle business four years ago, initially selling the dish online.

Minced meat sticky rice. / NooDi

“The thing I struggled with the most was that I don’t have any [food and beverage] background. I couldn’t get any feedback from my family as they wanted me to continue the family business. But I’m not interested in making clothes, so I have to do all the things by myself and asked for suggestions from friends,” she said.

Ma Myat Phoo Wai aims to attract customers with different packaging styles.

“We used paper bags as packaging. Sticky chicken soup still needs to be put in a plastic box which we packed in a paper bag. We shot good photos and started attracting customers with the packaging style and photos,” she said, explaining how she started to run her own business.

At the beginning, in 2015, they didn’t even have their own Facebook page. Instead, they just promoted the product in local food groups and participated in food festivals. She sold one portion of sticky noodles for 1,300 kyats.

Sticky noodle salad. / NooDi

She collected the orders on weekdays and sold the noodles every Saturday.

“That’s only four times per month. Even though it wasn’t an easy time, I was so happy. I drove the car and delivered the food by myself with a delivery fee of 1,000 kyats to every township because I needed customers. Another important thing is that sticky noodles are only good to eat while they’re warm. If the delivery company is not careful, the noodles will be ruined and customers will be disappointed,” said Ma Myat Phoo Wai.

She added, “The feedback was really good and it encouraged me to achieve today’s NooDi,” she said.

After using this method to sell the food for three months, she stopped business for two months in order to recreate the business strategy.

“Then we chose the name, hired kitchen helpers and began selling online every day. We collected the orders but we also prepared 20 extra noodle boxes,” she said.

Eight months later, she expanded her business further by opening the NooDi restaurant on Insein Road in Yangon’s Kyimyindine Township.

Deep fried wontons at NooDi. / NooDi

The unique thing about NooDi is that customers can choose any topping, soup base and type of noodles they like. NooDi is the first restaurant to serve kaw yay noodles in that style. Other places serve the dish with everything already mixed together. Customers only get to choose whether to order chicken or pork.

“Customers can get their customized kaw yay bowls at our shop and I have created kaw yay noodle salad for those who don’t like to eat it with sticky chicken soup. That’s my own creation,” she said proudly.

She added, “We ordered raw ngapi from Myeik and I re-created the taste by myself. Even though the spicy fish paste is the best match for kaw yay noodles, foreigners don’t like it because of its strong smell, so we have to prepare a chilli sauce for them.

NooDi also has its own creation menu from which customers can order steamed pork intestine sticky rice. Everything on the special menu is made with sticky gravy.

“When people hear the word NooDi I hope they can also think about our other main ingredients of sticky gravy and sticky chicken soup,” Ma Myat Phoo Wai said.

Busy staff at NooDi restaurant. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

During these four years, NooDi has become fairly popular among both foreigners and locals. Recently, she won the KBZ Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the Myanmore Awards 2019. Now she’s planning to open a new branch of NooDi.

“My best friends still help me with many things. And my staff are really good girls, even though some of them aren’t educated. They try so hard and are polite. Winning the KBZ award is also a blessing and they still help me with many things,” she said.

“I started this business out of my own craziness but I wouldn’t have been able to reach today’s success without the help from them. If you want to do something new, just try it. Don’t be afraid. If you won’t try, you can’t know whether it will work or not,” she said.

In the future, she wants to open more branches of NooDi in other regions and make it a franchise business. She will keep promoting these Burmese kaw yay noodles to people from around the world.