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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)

By J. Fergus

J. is an overbearing pizza snob who loves putting as much sugar as possible in cupcakes and coffee. They eagerly awaits diabetes.

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