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Hit-Or-Miss Tastemade/Snapchat

The 5 Best Chinatowns in the World

Throughout the world, every metropolitan area hosts cultural enclaves like Little Italy or Japantown, but none of these miniature countries holds a candle to the prevalence of Chinatowns. A uniform aesthetic and self-sustainability sets Chinatowns apart because, especially when done well, non-Chinese people should feel like foreigners.

No matter where you are, a Chinatown should pull you across oceans and land masses to an authentic Chinese marketplace. It should be loud, cramped, and there’s no reason you should leave without getting everything you wanted. These aren’t the Chinatowns that only shine during Chinese New Year; these are the sprawling embassies you need to know.

 

London

PHOTO: GEOFF TOMPKINSON

Tiny Gerrard Street is actually home to London’s second Chinatown, but a city’s worth of Chinese restaurants, market stalls, and businesses are crammed into the two and a half blocks. A disorienting culture shock from the neighboring SoHo, Gerrard Street explodes with color and culture.

Best Dim Sum: New World

Shady Backroom: Experimental Cocktail Club, an attic bar with an unmarked entrance.

Languages Spoken: Mandarin, Cantonese, English

Phrase to Know: Nǎ lái de zōngsè mén? (Where is the brown door?)

 

Havana

PHOTO: VISITARCUBA.ORG

Once one of Latin America’s largest and most vibrant Chinatowns, Havana’s Barrio Chino currently spans one cramped alleyway. Though the Chinese population has dwindled and their descendants carry distinctly Cuban features, a drive remains to keep the barrio as authentic as possible.

Best Dim Sum: Tien-Tan (do yourself a favor and sit inside)

Shady Backroom: No room required; Cuba’s extensive black market make this street and the nearby city centre popular areas to find illegal wares.

Languages Spoken: Spanish, Mandarin, English

Phrase to Know: Lejos de los mosquitos por favor (Away from the mosquitos, please)

 

San Francisco

PHOTO: SAVVY CALIFORNIA

Be sure to pack your hiking boots because traversing this Chinatown makes Mount Everest look like a cakewalk. Major streets detract from the character-laden alleys set at 45 degree angles.

Best Dim Sum: New Asia

Shady Backroom: The network of tunnels beneath San Francisco is the worst kept secret of the Bay Area, but, if you’re into mazes and darkness, there are various tours you can take of bomb shelters and Prohibition passages.

Languages Spoken: Mandarin, Cantonese, English

Phrase to Know: Zhè shì sùshí zhǔyì zhě? (Is this vegetarian?)

 

Bangkok

PHOTO: ALYONA TRAVELS

This area is the bane of any Thai taxi driver’s existence. Many streets hold several names and most maps of the area lack any cardinal directions. Instead, follow the noise and smells; you’ll likely end up in capable Chinese hands.

Best Dim Sum: Hong Kong Noodle

Shady Backroom: Plaeng Nam Road houses an ancient Chinese pharmacy and temple on one of Chinatown’s tiniest streets.

Languages Spoken: Thai, Cantonese, Mandarin, English

Phrase to Know: Sụ̀ng wiṭhī thī̀ ca… (Which way to…)

New York

PHOTO: BOOMSBEAT

New York’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia, yet it still manages to make you feel like a canned sardine. In an amoeba-like fashion, the neighborhood engulfed many streets that used to belong to Little Italy, but preservationists have stilled the borders in recent years.

Best Dim Sum: Joy Luck Palace

Shady Backroom: Follow anyone whispering designer brand names at you to a backroom/basement and you’ll find yourself surrounded by knockoffs. Or, you know, wake up without your right kidney.

Languages Spoken: Mandarin, English, Cantonese, Spanish, Italian, Ukranian

Phrase to Know: Zuìzhōng bàojià (Final offer)

Categories
Adventures Features Restaurants

These Photos Prove Not All Cuban Food Sucks

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Photo: Guillaume Baviere

We heard it dozens of times before we left for Cuba: a very general praise of the country, followed by a crazy-specific dig at one aspect of it.

“Beautiful place—food is awful.”

“Cuban people are great, but they really don’t know how to cook.”

“It’s a trap. They don’t even have Cuban sandwiches!”

These accounts were surprising, because Cuban food in the US is delicious. Anyone who’s been to Versailles or El Rincon in L.A.—two of my staples when it comes to group dinners—can back me up here. In Miami, even the dirt-cheap Cuban food is worthwhile. And my New York brethren will tell you how often I used to suggest Café Habana for weekend lunches. You know how everyone has that one friend who over-recommends a place so badly that you can’t think of the place without thinking of the person, and vice versa? That was me with Café Habana. (Seriously, get a Cubano there next time you have a chance).

It was hard to ignore the warnings we got ahead of time. How could a country’s cuisine be so good outside that country, and so poor in it? Apparently, many a Googler wonders this very thing.

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The Government

It turns out there’s a pretty valid answer to that question, and it rhymes with “Nommunism.” According to locals, the government’s grip on Cuban goods has a stunting effect on fresh-cooked restaurant food.

You see, in the U.S. and much of the modern world, restaurants are free to source ingredients from wherever they find them. In those places, competition incentivizes restaurants to find higher-quality, rare ingredients to dazzle customers and beat out the next restaurateur. Great kitchens are constantly on the hunt for a fresher meat source or an unexpected spice.

In Cuba, however, the government controls the supply of food, and it makes the same limited list of ingredients available to all buyers. For my food TV junkies, the Cuban food game is like a Top Chef challenge, where everyone has to compete from an equal ingredient set.

Location, Location, Location

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On top of the restricted access to food, it’s not as though anyone with some chops in the kitchen and seed money can freely lease a storefront and start serving food to customers. The best eateries in Cuba are extensions of owners’ homes. Most of these used to be humble paladares—home kitchens where a government-mandated maximum of 12 guests were allowed to dine at once.

Since Raúl Castro took over in recent years, that cap has lifted, and well-reputed restaurants are beginning to expand in capacity. Still, new businesses are subjected to a rigorous business application process. The fact that some restaurants still manage to serve delicious food is a minor miracle.

My Experience

Now, I’m personally more of the “I’m eating because I’m traveling (and therefore need to continue subsisting)” type rather than a “I’m traveling in order to eat” person. In other words, I don’t need to eat super amazing food wherever I go in the world. My general criteria for traveling is that I ate well if I didn’t eat anything that put me in a hospital room.

That said, the forewarnings spooked us enough that we did what gringos do best—took our anxieties to the Internet and did a buttload worth of research to find the good restaurants. Out of our 20 meals or so in the greater Havana area, about seven of them were by reservation, with a few others having been recommended by our guide books.

I can’t tell you everyone is wrong about Cuban food being pretty blandito. But I can say this: we didn’t have a bad meal in Havana. Average? Sure. But we also had some freaking fantastic food. And let me just settle something—while Cubanos reportedly originated in Miami, they do have them in Cuba.

In lieu of being able to transmit flavors through the Internet, I invite you to feast your eyes on some porno de food Cubano.

Garlic Shrimp Plate @ Rio Mar

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Smoked Marlin Tacos with Rum Essence, Capers, and Mayonnaise @ Paladar La Guarida

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Roasted Chicken with Corn and Lemon @ Paladar La Guarida

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Rabbit Paté with Mango, Tamarind, and Cotton @ Paladar La Guarida

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Unless otherwise noted, all pictures are courtesy of Asher Rumack.