Feb 3, 2011 9:14:23 AM
World’s best Chinatowns
The world will be partying with the Chinese this week, as they see in the Year of the Rabbit. Chinatowns around the world will host parties, parades and fireworks to mark the New Year.
The bustling atmosphere and top-notch food on offer make Chinatowns worth a visit at any time of year. Here are some of the best:
More than 150,000 Chinese-speaking residents live in cramped tenements and crowded apartments in this neighborhood, the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. Strolling its streets will bring you endless exotic moments – the sight of whole roasted pigs hanging in butcher-shop windows, the whiff of fresh fish and ripe persimmons, and the twangs of Cantonese and Vietnamese rising over the calls of fake-watch hawkers along Canal St. You’ll have opportunities to buy not only knockoff Prada bags, but also a brass gong, lacquered chopsticks, rice-paper lanterns, silk Chinese slippers, ice-cream and a jar of Lee Kum Kee sparerib sauce, if you wish.
Immediately north of Leicester Sq – but a world away in atmosphere – are Lisle and Gerrard Streets, the focal point for London’s Chinese community. This is a lively quarter with fake oriental gates, Chinese street signs, red lanterns, many, many restaurants and great Asian supermarkets. To see it at its effervescent best, time your visit for Chinese New Year. Do be aware that the quality of food here varies enormously – many places are mediocre establishments aimed squarely at the tourist market but several good-quality restaurants have opened up in recent years such as Haozhan and Royal Dragon.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is the urban explorer’s equivalent of the Amazon Basin. The highlights here are a rather complicated web of tiny alleyways, crowded markets and delicious street stalls. Unlike other Chinatowns around the world, Bangkok’s is defiantly ungentrified, and getting lost in it is probably the best thing that could happen to you. The neighbourhood dates back to 1782 and relatively little has changed since then. You can still catch conversations in various Chinese dialects, buy Chinese herbal cures or taste Chinese dishes not available elsewhere in Thailand. Getting in and out of Chinatown is hindered by horrendous traffic but the area is a brief walk from Hualamphong Metro station.
‘May you live in interesting times’ goes the legendary Chinese curse, and the 41 alleys packed into 22 square blocks of San Francisco‘s Chinatown have lived through 150 very interesting years. In these narrow streets, San Francisco grew up too fast, surviving booms, bootleggers, bigotry and trials by fire to reach a wise old age. These days, in the evenings you’ll hear the shuffling of mahjong tiles in Spofford Alley, where Sun Yat-sen plotted the overthrow of China’s last dynasty. Society swells once sauntered down Nob Hill to smoke opium and gamble on Ross Alley, while sailors stumbled up from the port to Commercial St brothels for 25-cent recreation. Today fortunes are still made on Ross Alley at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, while Commercial’s main enticements are happy hour at EZ5 and the city’s best dim sum at City View. For the full experience, book a walking tour with Chinatown Alleyway Tours.
With a discordant soundtrack of blaring Canto pop, Dixon St is the heart and soul of Chinatown: a narrow, shady pedestrian mall with a string of restaurants and their urgently attendant spruikers. The ornate dragon gates at either end are topped with fake bamboo tiles, golden Chinese calligraphy (with English translations), ornamental lions to keep evil spirits at bay, and a fair amount of pigeon poo. This is actually Sydney’s third Chinatown, dating from the 1920s. The first was in The Rocks in the late 19th century before it moved to the Darling Harbour end of Market St.
Circuitous streets and cramped chaos create a pressure-cooker of sights and sounds in Kuala Lumpur‘s Chinatown. Jln Petaling is a bustling street market selling souvenirs, such as ‘authentic’ Levis and cheap Crocs; it opens around 10am and shuts late at night. Chinese coffee shops are along Jln Panggong and Jln Balai Polis. You’ll spot temples and shophouses in the side streets – check out KL’s principal Hindu temple, Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Chinatown is reached on the Putra LRT to Pasar Seni station or on the KL Monorail to Maharajalela station.
Toronto’s principal Chinatown is right in the city centre, milling around the junction of Spadina Ave and Dundas St W. The whole area looks more like Little Saigon or Bangkok every year, as Vietnamese and Southeast Asian immigrants continue to arrive. Like its counterparts around the world, Chinatown is a culturally immersive experience. Forget you’re in the middle of North America and swim into a graphically overloaded sea of foot-reflexology practitioners, Canto-pop twang, $4 haircuts, cheap restaurants (for eats, try Bright Pearl or Dumpling House), lousy digitally accompanied buskers, people sucking on coconuts and traditional medical shops selling ginseng, shriveled squid and dried chilli by the bucketful.
Up for partying across the world? A Year of Festivals is your guide to where to go when.