19 street photo

Have you gotten over the kissey-face noises? Those tight puckers that signal to the restaurant staff that you’re ready for some attention? It’s a taboo sound where I come from, but for here the noise means service. There’s no shouting, wild gesturing, or fruitless “excuse me”, “nong krup”, “mingalaba” or “hello!”. 19th Street Chinatown is filled with these noises and rightfully so. Tables are spilling over with people, food and beer, while the staff are playing WWF wrestling in the street. With that kiss in the air, there’s the pounce. Your wish, is their service. Yeah, they might forget an order or three, but having someone insisting on pouring your beer, lighting your cigarette, and serving food plates with the double handed Burmese-respect is really an original experience.

Tourists come for that experience, locals come for the whisky, and expats come for business, networking and unwinding. Each group is surrounded by BBQ plates of all kinds of seafood and local staples. Tables are quickly littered with Mojitos and Beer-awaddys, Ruby Red cigarettes ‘ta bwey’ and fortresses of empty mugs. If there’s a desire that your restaurant doesn’t provide, just order it from next-door and they’ll deliver.

The street life oozes with activity. Walking ware-hockers, rolling lottery venders, human balloon dispensers and the seasonal bags of giant grasshoppers balanced on the top of heads, all maneuver through the street. It’s the Cheers bar of Yangon, the BBQ Street where everyone knows your face and wants you to come join them. Staff welcome you into their seats while buskers enjoy their Broadway. The regular beggars are bested by the kids that bang out bamboo beats on the street, and that one woman with her daughter who belt out such beautiful songs.

The BBQ skewer stands are there for you to walk up and choose your meal. If that doesn’t interest you, ask for a menu. For the health nut, the deep fried ribs or soft-shell crab are incredible, but need to be shared as a full plate probably equals one heart attack. Grilled fish with a side of crispy Japanese beancurd works wonders for those looking for a break from the oily Myanmar food. For an explanation on why ‘mutton’ is always on the menu, and not sheep, in Myanmar it actually means goat. It’s delicious, and has scaled my taste metre to join the top contenders of the world’s tastiest animal. Order it with some quail egg, Shan potatoes and skewers of garlic. Toss on a bunch of veggie options for the making of a hot salad and you have a tasty and cheap meal. Mix and match your plates, skewers, beer and cigarettes to fit your own personal tastes. Find a cozy spot on a plastic chair and enjoy the life.

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