Header Image courtesy of Amanda Dalbjorn (Via Unsplash)
Nowadays, it’s the norm to find a Chinatown in all parts of the world, thanks to the 50-million-plus ethnic Chinese people residing overseas. Many of them ended up in these enclaves in major cities around the world due to the proliferation of international trade and other economic opportunities. While these ethnic hubs used to be synonymous with seediness and the working class, Chinatowns now have taken on very different reputations as foodie magnets and cultural hotspots.
Of the thousands of Chinatowns in the world, here are the nine best. Get ready to shop for little trinkets, eat a medley of delectable foods, and take Instagrammable photos.
Chinese immigrants began to trickle into Vancouver throughout the 1880s, due to the British Columbia gold rush and the employment opportunities as a result of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. During the 1980s, China's open-door policy prompted an influx of immigrants from Hong Kong, and Vancouver's Chinatown began to blossom even more with a variety of beautification and cultural marking projects.
Nowadays, you can find a variety of Asian speciality stores, dim sum restaurants, and also a sprinkle of modern boutique stores created by local young entrepreneurs. Check out Erin Templeton, a unique store that sells recycled leather handbags.
A must-see spot is Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, with its jade green pond and koi fish—this garden is a great spot to learn and be immersed in Chinese culture. Another spot to visit is the famous New Town Bakery and Restaurant, for authentic Chinese pastries or delicacies like the egg tart or steam buns. Offering both a sit-down meal or to-go style food, New Town has something to offer for all customers.
Britain and China have been trading since the 17th century, with many Chinese sailors reaching London as early as 1782. Through the years, the British developed a love for Chinese food, which led to the proliferation of Chinese restaurants in the Chinatown area on Gerrard Street.
London's Chinatown, bordered by Soho and Covent Garden, is one of the most bustling and energetic parts of London. With a hodgepodge of restaurants, supermarkets, and small businesses—representing many different cultures spanning from Northern China to Myanmar—this Chinatown is one to see.
Bubblewrap Waffle is the one to check out for some Hong Kong inspired snacks. Famous for its egg waffle, ice cream, and toppings combinations, this is supposedly the first of its kind in the UK. You might have to queue up for a cone, but after the first bite into this delectable treat, you'll agree that it will be well worth it.
The first Chinese immigrants to California mainly came from Taishan and Zhongshan regions, to try their luck at finding gold during the Gold Rush. The second wave of Chinese immigrants occurred after the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 was passed, which did away with immigration quota restrictions based on race.
San Francisco's Chinatown has grown to become a 24-block “city within a city “. The famous Dragon Gate, a gift from the Republic of China, welcomes tourists and locals in, and the three entryways form a trio of lion statues that is meant to ward off evil.
If you want to check out an authentic SF Chinatown store, the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is a must-see location. Founded in 1962, everything is still done by hand—the factory still produces 20,000 cookies a day, supplying to hundreds of local restaurants. Stop by this factory and discover your fortune!
New York City's Chinatown is nicely positioned to the right of Little Italy, and is one of the largest ethnic Chinese communities in America. Covering a roughly 55-block area, New York's Chinatown offers a bazaar-like atmosphere where you can bargain with vendors, look for little trinkets, and scout for the perfect knockoff designer purse.
Check out Peachy’s, a dimly lit bar that uses Asian fruits and uncommon ingredients to make aesthetically pleasing cocktails, perfect for social media snaps. If the yummy drinks are not enough to tempt you to go, the candlelit space with its purple neon dragon and cherry blossom decorations will.
Singapore's Chinatown first came into being when the local government allocated a piece of land for a Chinese settlement, also known as Chinese Campong—a Malay word for village. The idea was for this land to be divided into designated zones for different dialect groups, namely the Cantonese, Hokkiens, and Teochews. Different trades were also confined to specific areas, so each street has its own identity and function. Currently, the area consists of four districts, including a small community of Indians, each retaining remnants of a colourful past.
The Thian Hick Keng Temple is one of the oldest Chinese temples in Singapore, showcasing a variety of southern Chinese architecture. The original temple was located along the coastline as a place for new immigrants entering Singapore to pray for a smooth trip.
Nothing screams Singapore like going to a hawker centre, and one of the favourites for both locals and tourists is Maxwell Food Centre. Walk through the array of hawker stands and stalls and you will find cheap and delicious food from all cultures around Asia.
Similar to the settlers in California during the Goldrush, the discovery of gold in 1851 in Australia brought about a huge wave of Chinese immigrants to Melbourne. Initially, Little Bourke Street was a haven for many diggers, as the area offered lodging and healthcare. Soon after, stores and other businesses started opening up to serve the community. Nowadays, Little Bourke Street is still bustling with activity. Whether you want to visit Asian restaurants, cafes, or meet an eclectic group of Chinese Aussies, this Chinatown is a must-visit.
Make sure to check out East End Theatre District, home to six historic theatres all in the vicinity of one another. Watch local plays and other live performances before grabbing a late-night bite at one of the many eateries that are still open after dark—a rarity in the city. Chef David is one such place, filled with neon signs, strobe lights, and multiple TV screens, serving Sichuan hot pot with a twist. Patrons can choose from eight different soup flavours, inspired by flavours hailing from all across Asia.
One of the largest Chinatowns in the world, Bangkok's Chinatown is rich in history, seafood, and beautiful temples. It started as a rural area outside the city walls, populated by Teochew Chinese fleeing from famine and persecution in present-day Chaozhou. When Bangkok became the country's capital, they shifted locations to where it stands today. While it is no longer the commercial hub it was during the 19th to early 20th century, Yaowarat Raod and its vicinity still hum with activity, though now more with restaurants, food stalls, and more recently, hip bars.
Wat Traimit is a spot to visit if you want the see the world’s largest gold statue, surrounded by other impressive Thai architecture. On the third floor, there is a museum where you can learn about the history of the temple and the golden buddha.
Yokohama’s Chinatown was established in 1859 when the area became a treaty port for Chinese immigrants from Canton and Hong Kong. When the PRC and Japan officially established diplomatic relations in 1972, interest in the area grew and has since become one of the most recognized landmarks in the city.
A unique part of the Yokohama Chinatown is the four colourful gates at the entrances of the Chinatown, named after the four directions in Chinese tradition. According to the principles of Feng Shui, guardian deities are enshrined at each gate, meant to bring prosperity.
There are over 250 restaurants and shops, but the area is most known for the large steamed buns. These huge steamed buns, known as nikuman (肉まん) and anman (くるみ入り自社特製あん使用のあんまん), are filled with various ingredients such as pork, red bean paste, and walnuts. You can find them in restaurants, grocery stores, and food stalls on the streets.
The first Chinese people in Los Angeles were mostly male, working as laundrymen and manual labourers, industries that Chinese Americans have since dominated. There have been different versions of Chinatown since then—previous iterations had been either demolished or burnt down. The New Chinatown that exists now came about through the efforts of an American-born Chinese named Peter Soo-Hoo, debuting with the opening of Central Plaza in 1938. Recent openings of hip restaurants and bars in the area have brought about the inevitable tide of gentrification, but the original flavours are still there, if you know where to look.
A must-eat spot is the Far East Plaza food mall in the heart of Chinatown, where you can find a perfect blend of old and new style Asian food. Many would recommend nibbling on a pork bun from Baohaus, an eatery by Fresh off the Boat author Eddie Huang. Whether you want fries, rice bowls, or drinks, this is the place to check out.
If you wish to learn more about Chinese American history, head to the Chinese American Museum on Olvera Street. Garnier building, where the museum is housed, is the oldest surviving Chinese building in Southern California and was founded to share the story of and contributions by Chinese Americans.