Looking for ethnic charms of China outside China? Well, Chinatown, London, is the right place for a wide range of experiences!
Imagine delicious Chinese food such as dim sum, hot pot, and chow mein, among others, served outside of China! You may also find the most popular street food in this part of the city.
Now, how about traditional Chinese lanterns? Or, perhaps Chinese artisanal crafts are more your style?
Essentially, Chinatown is a term associated with areas with a concentrated Chinese population outside of Greater China. These areas can be distinguished by distinct features, such as:
- Chinese restaurants,
- cultural heritage,
- festivals and celebrations,
- Chinese businesses,
- temples, among others.
Chinatowns can be found all over the world. However, the areas in New York, Sydney, Singapore, Melbourne, and London are some of the most popular sites.
These lovely neighbourhoods do more than serve as a sight for splendid time spending. These Chinatowns help in:
- preserving Chinese culture,
- cross-cultural exchange, among others.
However, how did they come into being? Let us attempt to comprehend some of its past.
The History of Chinatown
It all began with Chinese immigration. These natives travelled to different parts of the world, such as other Asian countries or Western countries. This was done mostly to ensure better economic opportunities.
It is often when you settle into a new place you seek familiarity with the life you left behind.
The immigrants were similarly looking for that connection wherever they’d settled. At a slow pace, they clustered together to form a community.
It is also important to keep in mind that these immigrants, most of whom were Chinese workers, faced severe racism.
That was another reason for them to cluster together in a single place.
These Chinese communities would be the earliest form of what would later become Chinatown.
Despite hardships, these communities witnessed growth and expansion. In the mid-20th century, somewhere after World War II, the policies changed.
An influx of Chinese immigrants made it necessary for a sense of inclusiveness. These places have recently seen an increase in interest and investment.
With continued tourism and maintenance, these communities continue to thrive as beautiful culinary experiences and cultural festivals.
Now, let’s discuss our main focus: Chinatown in London!
London’s Chinatown is similar to others in that it is both a vibrant and bustling neighbourhood. Rupert Street, Leicester Square, Charing Cross Road, and Shaftesbury Avenue are all close to Chinatown.
Chinatown is part of London’s West End; Gerrard Street runs through it. Although older, the current Chinatown took shape somewhere after the Second World War.
It was around this time that Chinese businesses and restaurants started making a presence in Gerrard Street.
It is easy to recognize, too!
All you have to do is reach the Soho district in Central London, near Leicester Square. The entrance to the community will be obvious by its decorative red and green arches at the entrance.
These serve as symbolic gateways to the area. What services are available in Chinatown, London?
Well, in addition to the amazing culture and the friendly behaviour of Chinese people, you can find:
- shops and supermarkets,
- street decorations,
- restaurants serving delicious Chinese food,
- cultural institutions,
- community institutions,
- entertainment, such as karaoke bars and theatres, among others.
Although all Chinatowns have similar services, it is also important to remember that the services may vary according to the place. London’s Chinatown comes with its own benefits.
You can also visit more bustling areas around London’s Chinatown. Some of them are given below. Distance for each may vary, but they mostly are at a reasonable walking distance:
- Covent Garden,
- Trafalgar Square,
- Regent Street,
- British Museum.
Let’s dive into Chinatown more.
1. Shops And Supermarkets In Chinatown, London
What are the best shops and supermarkets to buy from? Here are three of our favourite picks!
1.1. Loon Fung Supermarket
The tagline reads, “For the Chinese in you.” True to its tagline, this Chinatown-based supermarket is a one-stop destination for all your Asian shopping.
Loon Fung has 5 stores across London, and one of them is located in Chinatown. It offers oriental dishes and its own exclusive brands like Lee Kum, Lee Yeos and Amoy.
Fresh food like fruits and vegetables are available.
Numerous cuisines are catered to by this supermarket. From Japanese snacks to Vietnamese sauces, you will find a diverse range of choices to make!
You can find items such as:
- dim sum,
- seafood, like braised udon,
- kitchenware, among others.
1.2. SeWoo Supermarket
This well-stocked supermarket delivers a wide range of Asian ingredients, such as fresh seafood and sauces. It has introduced indigenous Chinese ingredients in London.
Exotic fruits and vegetables and seafood such as lobsters and crabs are available.
Below is a list of some of the items you can find here:
- cooking equipment,
- health and beauty,
- herbs and spices,
- dim sum,
- green tea, among others.
1.3. Tian Tian Market
Recently opened, Tian Tian Market is a supermarket with a vast selection of traditional and authentic street foods. It includes a range of East and South East Asian items, such as
- the popular Japanese mochi,
- rice balls,
- famous brown sugar bubble tea,
- beer, among others.
The supermarket is a hub for grocery and lifestyle items, in addition to foods and beverages.
Additionally, you can join a loyalty program to receive additional benefits. Click here to view it!
2. Chinese Restaurants and Cafes in London’s Chinatown
Now, what are the best authentic Chinese restaurants to eat your next hefty meal? Here are the top 4 eateries and coffee shops, in our opinion! You can hope to find the real taste of Chinese cuisine and more in these restaurants.
2.1. Four Seasons Restaurant In Chinatown, London
Four Seasons is a great spot for your next big meal. Located in Gerrard Street, this restaurant serves both Chinese and varied Asian cuisines. It is also notable that it’s vegetarian-friendly!
With services such as in-room dining and lounges, the restaurant focuses on providing an authentic Chinese cuisine experience.
Although it offers an extensive menu, its roast duck is the most popular among its customers. Among its menu, you will find:
- seaweed salad,
- vegetable spring rolls,
- Szechuan crispy chicken,
- creamy corn soup, and others.
For vegetarians, the menu is quite extensive, too. You will be able to choose from:
- mango, cucumber, avocado,
- vegetarian maki,
- kung pao tofu,
- shanghai aubergine,
- seasonal vegetable fried rice,
- stir-fried vermicelli, among others.
2.2. Jinli Restaurant in Chinatown, London
Compared to Four Seasons, Jinli Restaurant is pretty new. Opened in 2015, this business promises to bring authentic Chinese Sichuan food to London. It has since won numerous awards.
This not only helps in carrying the culture beyond the borders but also helps non-natives experience the taste of Sichuan cuisine.
The restaurant has four branches across London.
The cuisine here is a little broad; it includes shredded pig’s ears, pork lungs, and prawn toast, among others.
Although these may seem somewhat unusual to your usual expectations, you can check them out! Besides these, you will also find:
- gyoza dumplings,
- prawn chow mein,
- hairy crab, among others.
While customer reviews vary, you can give Jinli a try. The Newport Street branch is near, and the estimated time depends on different modes of transportation.
2.3. Candy Cafe in Chinatown, London
Located on Macclesfield Street, this Cafe is popular for its Asian desserts and Bubble Tea. They provide a variety of delectable alternatives on their menu, including:
- Aiyu Jelly drink,
- Kiwi Smoothie,
- Bubur Chacha,
- Taro Sweet soup,
- Matcha-flavoured desserts,
- a wide variety of bubble teas and beverages, among others.
Known for its small but aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, the cafe is a little difficult to find. One missed glance, and you might walk right past it without noticing! However, the service is smooth, and the desserts are to die for.
It offers free wifi, too! Make sure to visit Candy Cafe; maybe you will find your favourite K-pop group’s songs playing in the background!
2.4. Rasa Sayang in Chinatown, London
Similarly to Candy Cafe, Rasa Sayang is located on Macclesfield Street. Known for its authentic Malaysian cuisine, you may also find popular Malaysian street food here! It successfully showcases rich flavours and unique dishes of the Malaysian diet.
What are these? We have listed some for you:
- nasi lemak,
- Singapore chilli crabs,
- char kway teow,
- mee goreng,
- ribeye beef horfun, among others.
Famous for its BBQ, you will also eat grilled chicken satay, grilled tiger prawns, and grilled chicken wings here! They also serve vegetarian dishes.
Takeouts and digital payments are available. Visit their official website to reserve a table.
3. London Chinatown And its Celebrations
Already known for its vibrant colours and beautiful decorations, London’s Chinatown experiences splendid celebrations year-round. These are particularly held during Chinese festivals and holidays.
3.1. Chinese New Year in Chinatown, London
Considering the large Chinese community in London’s Chinatown area, Chinese New Year is the biggest event in the neighbourhood.
It usually happens towards the end of January or the start of February. The occasion in 2023 happened in January.
You are expected to witness colourful parades, lion-dragon dances, and fireworks and eat delicious street foods.
Lanterns and red decorations, symbolizing good luck and prosperity, decorate the streets of Chinatown, London.
3.2. Lantern Festival in Chinatown, London
The Lantern Festival takes place 14 days after the Chinese New Year, which is exactly on the 15th day.
Since the Chinese New Year was celebrated on 22 January this year, the Lantern Festival was held on 5 February.
As the name suggests, the centre of attention is the traditional lanterns, oftentimes red in colour. This colour represents happiness, hope, and good fortune; you can write riddles on them or wishes.
The lanterns being set free stands for letting go of the past to make a place for new beginnings. The streets are similarly decorated, and you will find street food on every corner of the neighbourhood.
The lanterns are hung down the streets. Like the New Year celebrations, this festival also features fireworks and dragon and lion dances.
It is simple to keep a watch on the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of every Chinese New Year!
3.3. Qingming Festival in Chinatown, London
Qingming Festival is the time to honour ancestors. It’s a festival where the Chinese pay respect to their ancestors; elderly Chinese people and loved ones are given attention, too.
Giving respect to elders is an important aspect of Asian culture. It serves as a celebration of spring and hence falls on either the 4th, 5th, or 6th of every April.
Chinese people visit the gravestones of their ancestors and make traditional offerings. These offerings typically consist of traditional foods as well as the burning of paper and joss sticks.
Although the Qingming Festival is not like the other festivals discussed in the list, the day observes the exciting tradition of kite flying.
These can be qingtuan, sticky green rice balls, and peach blossom porridge, among others.
The festival will give you a reason to reflect on both your past and present relationships.
3.4. Duanwu Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu, is a customary celebration that takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Consequently, sometime in late May or early June.
To honour Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese poet, both during his lifetime and after his passing, many traditions are observed.
With its roots in the history of Chinese culture, Zongzi is a celebrated dish during this time. During Duanwu, a variety of Zongzi will be present.
Similarly, dragon boat races have roots in the history of Chinese culture. You can expect to find cultural performances, martial arts demonstrations, traditional music, and dance shows. Overall, it’s a lively festival.
It will be celebrated on 22 June this year. Make sure to visit Chinatown, London, for this amazing experience!
3.5. Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown, London
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Mooncake Festival, is the second most well-known Chinese holiday after Chinese New Year. It is observed on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month in the Chinese calendar.
Hence, somewhere between mid-September and early October. As its nickname suggests, mooncakes are the highlight of this festival.
Additionally, you will find streets decorated with colourful lanterns and traditional Chinese ornaments.
The three concepts generally observed are thanksgiving, meeting, and praying.
Since it is considered an auspicious day, you may hear gossip about matchmaking, too!
Along with mooncakes and colourful lanterns, there is a range of delectable cuisines and traditional drinks to choose from! Below is a list of what can you expect to find in London’s Chinatown:
- Cassia wine,
- skewered meats,
- fish dishes,
- egg lotus taiyaki,
- taro, among others.
Make sure to schedule some time to attend this joyous and fortunate holiday.
4. Gerrard Street and Other Places to Visit Near Chinatown, London
Now, what else can you do near Chinatown, London?
Gerrard Street offers:
- streets adorned with lanterns,
- authentic restaurants,
- grocery stores, among others.
For starters, Leicester Square forms a gateway to Chinatown. You will observe traditional architecture more and more as you walk.
The red lanterns will welcome you with their swath of bright and vibrant colours.
In Leicester Street, you will find restaurants and eateries to tend to your appetite. You can trust this because it also offers you the popular roast duck!
Rupert Street is where you can find traditional herbs and delicate porcelain, among others.
Wardour Street is the place where you will find the great fusion of all things East and West. Traditional performances, music, dance, and theatre.
Essentially, Chinatown in London offers a variety of entertainment and enjoyment. The only way of experiencing them is through several visits. Keep your mind open, and Chinatown may surprise you in an unforgettable way!
For the Chinese lover in you, Chinatown in London is the perfect spot to visit. Witness the heart of Chinese culture and traditions at the Chinese festivals organized here. Bring your friends and family along for an unforgettable cultural experience.