We hear a LOT about our name - from everyone. Kids giggling as they pronounce it and order a boba soft serve, Yelp trolls, you name it. When we ordered a freezer from China, our representative from the freezer company told us our name made him laugh. We can’t blame them - naming a restaurant ‘Mamahuhu’ is objectively odd. It’s a little “if you know, you know”.
The word 'mamahuhu', or 马马虎虎, literally means “horse horse tiger tiger”. It’s one of many 4-word Chinese idioms, called chengyu (成语). These idioms (of which there are thousands) typically have a colloquial meaning rooted in some interesting piece of history or folklore. The tale behind ‘mamahuhu’ is a little bit squirrelly, but its everyday usage in Mandarin has become ubiquitous.
It’s a commonly used Chinese phrase that can be translated to "so-so" or "just okay" - even “careless”. You may use it to describe something that isn’t that bad, but isn’t particularly good either. Many of us know the Spanish equivalent as “mas o menos”. In American English, it’s very similar to “meh”. Lukewarm. And admittedly: a very odd thing to name a restaurant that spends a lot of time talking about all the care we put into our food.
According to Mamahuhu co-founder Ben Moore, “it was kind of a joke at first”, admitting “we know it’s objectively a strange thing to name a restaurant … but it’s self deprecating, and it shows that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We wanted something that was casual and approachable.” Our goal is to create Chinese-American food that is cross-cultural and accessible to everyone - and that started with our name. ‘Mamahuhu’ is also super easy to pronounce for the non-speaker, so much so that Ben recalls it as a favorite of students in intro-level Mandarin classes. .
*fun fact: Ben is that token white guy co-founder - he’s fluent in Chinese and lived in Shanghai for over ten years.
@eatmamahuhu Ever wondered how our restaurant was named? 🐴🐴🐯🐯 *AKA: why we named our (really good) restaurant “so-so good”.* #mamahuhu #sfrestaurants #sfeats #sffoodie ♬ original sound - Mamahuhu
Of course, in the context of serving food, aligning with carelessness or mediocrity in any way might be kind of surprising - but we like to be a little tongue in cheek. At Mamahuhu, we take our food and our role in the food industry VERY seriously - carefully sourcing every ingredient we use in our restaurants and our frozen potstickers, and always adhering to our five values in food preparation and hospitality. But we don’t take OURSELVES too seriously. For us, ‘mamahuhu’ captures the spirit of bucking the trend towards perfection and impossibly high standards that can suck the fun and quirkiness out of life. (Recommended read: Forget About Perfection. Embrace Mamahuhu) It reminds us of the spirit of play that often opens the door to new and exciting things. It feels right to hold yourself to a very high standard and to do your best, but to not worry too much about it in the end. Mamahuhu: It’s so-so good.