One of the most accessible areas of Chinese culture for many around the world is the Chinatown neighborhood in their city. A long tradition of Chinese travellers moving to far-flung countries and regions has meant that almost every major city in the world now has a Chinatown of some sort.
These areas have now become tourist attractions in their own right. Visitors flock to these locations for the food, or to try to understand the betting odds in the bookmakers. But they are also important centers for Chinese culture and traditions. Whether it is in America, Europe, or even in other parts of Asia, Chinatowns have become respected and well-loved areas. Here are five of our favorites.
San Francisco, USA
One of the biggest Chinatowns in the world, this area of San Francisco between Stockton Street and Grant Avenue has been integral to the city ever since the gold rush days of the 1840s. The picturesque green roofs identify the area – as well as the ornate Dragon Gate that welcomes you to the neighborhood.
Grant Avenue is the main touristy part but, as with all Chinatowns, this is a living, breathing community and center of Chinese culture. Anyone visiting should step off the main thoroughfare and explore the smaller side streets for a glimpse into life in one of the oldest Chinese centers in the world outside Asia.
The original Chinatown in London was actually in the East End, but it was largely destroyed by bombing during WW2. Now the most famous Chinese cultural area in England can be found near Soho and the Theatreland district in the West End. It is not incredibly big by global standards but has been a well-loved fixture of the city since the 1950s.
A huge Chinatown Gate welcomes you to the area on Gerard Street and there are souvenir shops, bakeries and food markets to explore among the paper lanterns and even pagoda-style phone boxes. But the main attraction is the restaurants. There are over 80 crammed into the small area, serving up all kinds of Chinese delicacies.
Home to the biggest Chinese community in South America, Lima’s Barrio Chino is the center of the action – and has been ever since the 1850s. The descendants of around 100,000 Cantonese immigrants who came here for mining and plantation jobs now enjoy a fusion of styles in a two-block area.
Although there are traditional Chinese food markets and other businesses, it is the way that Peruvian culture has mixed with its Chinese counterpart that has seen an exciting restaurant scene blossom. These chifas can be found everywhere and have been at the forefront of the neighborhood’s revival since the 1990s.
Melbourne is the home to the oldest Chinatown in the southern hemisphere and first welcomed Chinese immigrants in the gold rush of the 1850s. Stretching from Little Bourke Street to Spring Street, there are all the usual markets and restaurants as well as the Museum of Chinese Australian History to educate visitors about the traditions and cultures so visible on the streets.
This Chinatown is extremely accessible, right next to the central business district (CBD) in Melbourne, and is packed at a weekend especially, when locals and visitors pack the bars and restaurants. As with other Chinatowns, the area is more pan-Asian these days and is home to many different cultures all living and working side by side.
The Binondo District of Manila is actually the oldest Chinatown in the world, first becoming a home for Catholic Chinese way back in the 1590s. Although it is a cultural melting pot these days, there is a distinct southern Hokkien-speaking style that gives this area a unique Filipino-Chinese flavor.
That flavor is particularly to be found in the restaurants, where seafood is prevalent – alongside a fusion with Spanish staples, such as empanadas. The colorful friendship arch welcomes visitors – but this is one of the most authentic Chinatowns in the world, with a much less touristy vibe than some others.