Burma Bazaar – Chennai, India - Atlas Obscura

Burma Bazaar

A gray market run by Burmese Indians offers a portal to a forgotten period in history. 

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Right outside Chennai Beach railway station, in the city’s historic George Town neighborhood, rows of small shops sell a variety of goods from toys, perfumes, and chocolates to various electronics. This congested, seemingly nondescript market, known as Burma Bazaar, was started in the late 1960s by Burmese refugees.

The first generation of shopkeepers migrated to Burma (now Myanmar) at a time when it was still a province of British India. Following the 1962 military coup d’état, many Burmese Indians fled Burma, returning to their cities and towns of origin across India. Upon arriving at the Chennai Beach station, many began selling the items they’d brought with them to earn a little extra money. Soon, the area developed into a bustling market that had gained a reputation for trading in smuggled goods.

Just down the street from the main road on Second Line Beach Road, you’ll find a number of Burmese street food stalls. They open for business in the evenings, generally after 5 p.m., and remain open late into the night. Dishes such as atho (Burmese-inspired noodle salad dish) and mohinga (Burmese rice noodle and fish-based soup) are popular.

In the same area, you’ll find spectacular examples of the colonial-era Indo-Saracenic architecture that Chennai is famous for, including the Madras High Court building complex and the General Post Office. Fort St. George, the first English fortress in India completed in 1644, is less than a ten-minute drive from Burma Bazaar.