Published in the October edition of My Magical Myanmar
Although Yangon offers the option of a few truly swanky bars, anyone seeking a relaxed, open air drink and barbecue combo should head for Chinatown’s 19th Street.
Also known as “Beer Street” by locals and expats, this popular al fresco dining destination between Maha Bandoola and Anawratha streets is largely free of vehicles – a rarity in Yangon.
It’s a pleasant experience to stroll this lane, where eateries spill out on to the road, and soak up the frenetic atmosphere, which includes hawkers selling anything from fried crickets to foam toys – as well as a handful of incredibly talented street performance singers. If you’ve opted for an outside table, be sure to look up at the charming yet decaying traditional Chinese shophouses lining the street. Sticks of incense jostle for dominance over the barbecue grills, while cats forage for fishy treats from customers…along with the fat rats that occasionally dart out from the gutters.
It’s not a street steeped in history and culture, though for better or worse, no attempt has been made to sanitise the experience. Chinatown is, of course, busy at any time of the day – but as soon as the sun starts to dip, people begin arriving at 19th Street in droves. Although Yangon has never been considered as a city that doesn’t sleep, it’s possible to booze on here past midnight – at the very least.
The two most popular venues among at least a dozen are Kosan and Kaung Myat, which are conveniently located side-by-side, about half way along the street. Kosan is a Japanese-owned franchise, with another at Hledan Junction (on a street often frequented by Yangon’s punks – it’s rather similar to Camden in London). It’s possible to order food from both places regardless of where you’re seated, as long as you pay the bill up front.
Kosan is somewhat upmarket in comparison to its neighbour, but the prices will still appeal to those travelling or living on a budget. Arguably its most popular drink, a mojito, is just K800 – and it’s a decent serve of rum with the fresh lime. There’s air-conditioning inside as well as a few tables outside on the street. Kosan also has an an upstairs area that is ideal for groups of about 20 (although you sacrifice on atmosphere). Its hyper-efficient waitresses dart back and forth in their trademark “Route 99”-styled Kosan T-shirts and black denim hot-pants. The Mexican grub is excellent, if not something of a speciality.
There’s nothing that makes Kaung Myat stand out from its other competitors in terms of appearance and its barbecued fare is largely the same as that at other 19th Street eateries. Nevertheless, for expats at least, it is a favourite meeting place on the street. Stay in Yangon for a few months and you’re bound to spot a familiar face there during your evening. A glass of Myanmar Beer is K600 and the barbecue is buffet style – you can pick out a selection using tongs and a pink plastic basket.
As well as snacking on lotus root, liver, tandoori chicken sticks, squid, broccoli (happily, the list is too long to complete), Kaung Myat also serves enormous steamed or grilled fish with mouth-watering sauces. Alerted to its popularity, US celebrity foodie Anthony Bourdain was filmed drinking and eating there – and he waxed lyrical about both. Surely there could be no stronger endorsement for a venue than that.