Chinese culture, history, and food can be appreciated all around the world thanks to the fact that there is a Chinatown in almost every major city. But which of these are the best Chinatowns? With the help of fellow bloggers, we’ve put together this compilation of top Chinatowns around the world. We hope that they’ll inspire a future trip!
My favorite Chinatown is the one in my hometown, Milan, because it was one of the first places that made me curious about travelling when I was a little girl. Milan Chinatown is located in a really cool area, near Parco Sempione (the coolest park in town!) and close to some nice street art hot spots. It’s actually a very old Chinatown, as Chinese families from the Shenzhen area started settling in Milan over one hundred years ago to trade fabric made in the silk factories near Lake Como. Nowadays Milan Chinatown is full in equal measure of wholesale clothes shops and delicious restaurants! My fave is Ravioleria Sarpi, a yummy hole in the wall place that makes the best dumplings and Chinese crepes! It’s so good that it was number one in my best street food in Milan post! Actually, I think I’ll go and have a crepe right now!
When in Kuala Lumpur, be sure to head to Petaling Street. This part of town is also known as the center of Chinatown. At the start of the 20th century large crowds of Cantonese and Hakka men flocked to Kuala Lumpur to work in mines. Today, KL Chinatown is one of the largest outside of China and a hub for some of the most authentic Chinese streetfood in the city. It’s also a major hotspot for night shopping where haggling is rule #1. The best time to visit is in the early evening hours to try your way through the endless selection of food stalls and buy some souvenirs to take back home. During the day, you can visit beautiful Chinese temples in all corners of the district. I love Petaling Street because it is a multicultural Chinatown with Indians, Malays and Chinese creating a unique atmosphere any visitor will find dazzling.
Chinatown in London is located right in the middle of the centre. It is about 5 minutes away from Piccadilly Circus. It is the area around Gerrard Street. Visitors can find many Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, souvenir shops, bakeries and Chinese-run businesses. The present Chinatown started to be established in this area around the 1970ies. The first Chinese restaurant opened on Lisle Street parallel to Gerrard Street and spread gradually. Today, it has about 80 restaurants and it has some of London’s finest and most authentic Asian cuisine. The Chinatown has a beautifully decorated large gate at the entrance and it has many large, red lampions hanging from above.
Located on the northern edge of Center City, Philadelphia’s Chinatown has enjoyed a renaissance that has propelled its offerings beyond typical Cantonese food. Spanning the Asian globe, the small but dense neighborhood now features cuisines like Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese in addition to the myriad of Chinese specialties. Don’t get us wrong, we have long loved this foodie enclave flanked by the colorful Friendship Gate so much that we held our wedding rehearsal dinner at Sang Kee nine years ago. While we’ll always have a soft spot for Sang Kee and its roast duck and pork, we also love newer restaurants serving Lanzhou style hand drawn noodles, Shanghai style dim sum and Japanese onigiri. Several New York eateries have set up Philly outposts, adding to the food focused fun.
Washington, DC’s Chinatown has undergone serious gentrification of late and it is becoming increasing more difficult to find “authentic” Chinese places here. The Friendship Arch is the largest single span archway in the world and is well worth a visit and photo, in spite of it being surrounded by chain restaurants. Old school Chinese stores and restaurants do still exist in DC and I encourage you to support them.
Singapore’s bustling Chinatown gets my vote for favorite Chinatown as it is an interesting mix of old and new. Traditional shops are found alongside trendy cafes and narrow alleyways filled with low buildings are in sharp contrast to the nearby modern skyscrapers. Most noteworthy for me, Singapore’s Chinatown is home to both Chinese temples and Hindu temples. Food lovers flock here for the restaurants, hawker stalls and especially Maxwell Food Centre, one of the best known hawker centers in Singapore. If you’re one of those people who need to be connected at all times, the free Wi-fi available throughout is a nice bonus.
Walking around Manhattan you cross an invisible border, and you find yourself in Chinatown, a neighborhood that does not seem to be New York anymore. At first this colorful chaos and decadent atmosphere might seem strange, but it’s worth spending some time in this authentic neighborhood. Chinatown is situated in the Southeast of Manhattan, just next to (the much less authentic) Little Italy. The most authentic street is probably Canal Street that is filled with local shops and people selling goods on the street. Here you can find basically everything from fake bags and watches to spices and other delicacies. In most places you can haggle to get a better price. Finally, if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of these crowded streets, you can visit Columbus Park (our favorite place), which is like an island of peace in the middle of Chinatown. Mostly elderly people play cards and board games here, while some of them even play instruments and sing.
We love exploring Chinatowns around the world and one of the best in our opinion is in Kobe, Japan. It’s known as Nankin-machi and while it’s fairly compact it packs a lot in into the space. The first time we visited we entered through the Changan gate on the eastern side and I made it less than 15 metres before ordering my first piping hot dumpling. In my defence we timed our visit for Chinese New Year and the enticing aromas floating around would have been a challenge for anyone to resist. Food is always a big part of a visit to a Chinatown and with over 100 permanent restaurants plus the food stalls representing many different regions of China it’s never going to disappoint.
As one of 3 official Chinatowns in Japan (the other two are in Yokohama and Nagasaki) it’s a great place to head at any time but especially for a festival. Chinese New Year is the big one with the lion and dragon dancing, children performing and the central stage constantly alive with shows. Other festivals to watch out for if you are going to be near Kobe are the Mid-autumn Festival and the Lantern Festival.
Considered one of the largest Chinatowns in North America, the Toronto Chinatown runs north-south along Spadina Avenue and east-west along Dundas Street West. Anyone visiting Toronto should definitely pay this area a visit. There are plenty of places to eat yummy and authentic Chinese food (dumplings!) and also great places to shop for everything from spices to souvenirs. We loved how bright and colorful it was, with a constant flow of people wandering the streets.
So what do you think of our list of best Chinatowns around the world? Where is your favorite Chinatown? We’d love to read your comments below! 🙂
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