Mali Papahtay is from a small town in southern Myanmar called Palaw, a medium sized town punctuated with temples and fringed by mountains. The region is known for its sweet and chewy pork sausage and fried rice noodles.
Currently, Mali is Chef de Partie at Craft Restaurant in New York City, recently ranked the Big Apple’s 17th best restaurant.
What circumstances led to you leaving Myanmar?
I came to New York to be with my husband, who I met while working as a chef in Thailand.
When and where did you first travel abroad?
Around August of 2000, I traveled to Thailand, where I stayed for 13 years. I originally worked for World Vision Thailand as a translator and office assistant.
What were your first impressions?
I thought Thailand was very comfortable, I was able to earn money because I had a nice job, and I was able to buy what I wanted. None of which I could do in Myanmar.
What is it like living and working in New York?
I like it here in New York very much, so much that I don’t want to return home. What I like most is that there are so many opportunities to learn and advance here. I like how people obey laws and generally things are very organized, which I feel is different from home. I enjoy shopping for fashion and cosmetics very much here.
How do people react when you tell them you are from Myanmar?
They seem surprised that I was able to come here as they believe it is difficult to emmigrate to the USA.
Have you met many other Myanmar people in New York, and what do they do?
I have met a few people from Myanmar, most of them are in the sushi industry here in New York. One of them is a cashier at a Japanese market here in New York.
When you return to Myanmar, what are some of the changes you see?
I see a lot of new roads, and so many cars. Many new restaurants, hotels, banks, and ATM machines.
What are your hopes / fears for the future of Myanmar?
I’m hoping people will listen to the law, stop fighting, and that everyone will help each other.
Do you see yourself returning one day?
I don’t think so. I don’t think Myanmar will ever become like New York. I really like how everyone listens to the law here in New York.