Chinatown's Best: A Primer

Chinese New Year in New York's Chinatown. Photo Credit: Global Jet

The Spring Festival also known as the Chinese New Year is the biggest event to take place in the Chinese calendar. Outside China, there is no better place to welcome the dawn of the lunar new year than from Chinatown. Expect to see an impressive spread of decorations in red, enormous multi-course feasts and extravagant events like dragon dances and fireworks display. But there's no need to wait for January or February to enjoy the fragrances, flavors and feistiness of Chinatown.

Chinatown is a year-round destination, a slice of China sought for its shopping, dining and cultural offerings. Typical stores and peddlers sell trinkets, jewelry, medicinal herbs, Chinese videos and books. Tea houses and restaurants are brimming with authentic regional cuisine beyond noodles and dim sum. Think fresh seafood, Peking duck, barbecued pork and some dishes you probably wouldn't think would exist. Architectural touches like red arch gateways, lion statues, temples and signs in Chinese calligraphy give a distinct sense of place and atmosphere.

Petaling Street. Photo Credit: Auswandern Malaysia


Check out: A bustling market in Petaling Street. At night, the street becomes ablazed with lights and stalls selling different specialty goods like bags, clothes, watches, clothes and souvenirs at bargain prices.
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Sunset at Yaowarat. Photo Credit: Heiko S


Check out: Wat Traimit Temple at the end of Chinatown's (Yaowarat) road, whrere the world's largest golden seated Buddha resides. The temple also contains the Chinese Museum which preserves the history of Chinese in Thailand. Bangkok's Chinatown night market is well-known for its food bazaar that range from street stalls to the finest Chinese restaurants. Also on sale: a vast array of clothes, shoes, bags, accessories, second hand collections, antiques, flowers and vegetables.
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Binondo Church. Photo Credit: Ace Bonita.


Check out: The world's oldest Chinatown with four hundred years of history. Find Binondo Church, a 16th century Baroque cathedral. Stop at restaurants like President Grand Palace and shop delicacies in Ongpin Street.
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Singapore Chinatown Food Street. Photo Credit: Kimon Berlin


Check out: Chinatown complex, Singapore's largest food center with a wet market selling the freshest bargain of fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish plus local favorites like century egg, black chicken and a wide array of spices and desserts. Singapore's Chinatown is packed with stalls from end to end selling hot buns, pastries, ready-made clogs, traditional and herbal medicines, religious products and even lingerie. The enclave also houses the Clan Associations which exist to preserve the roots of the Chinese community living in Singapore and also support them.

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Montreal Chinatown. Photo Credit: rlonpine


Check out: A brick-paved pedestrian mall lined with Asian businesses, restaurants and food markets and decorated with ornate street lights and engraved bronze paving stones that bedeck Rue de La Gauchetiere. Also note-worthy, the park commemorating Sun Yat-Sen and the pagoda-topped hotel.
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Toronto Chinatown Mural. Photo Credit: DaMongMan


Check out:  Its back alleys lined with graffiti murals, commissioned by the buildings' owners and even the city of Toronto themselves. The neighborhood has evolved from a working-class Jewish market into a working-class bohemian market and one of Canada's largest Chinese communities. Despite outside influence brought by waves of immigrant settlements, there is not a McDonald's or Starbucks to be seen.
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United Commercial Bank in San Francisco Chinatown. Photo Credit: Saopaulo1


Check out: The Fortune Cookie Factory, producing tasty treats and prophecies since 1962. While not originally from China, these cookies enjoy popularity in Chinese restaurants all over the world. San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest of its kind outside of Asia, a "City within a City". Pagoda-topped buildings like United Commercial Bank (formerly Bank of Canton) and the Sing Chong Building hold some historical significance. The United Commercial Bank was once the Chinese Telephone Exchange building, operating telephone switchboards. Sing Chong Building is the first building to be erected after the 1906 earthquake.San Francisco's oldest cathedral, St. Mary's Church, is also found here.
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Canal Street. Photo credit: Sergio Calleja


Check out: Canal Street, which is always chock full of tourists looking for discounts on luxury items like watches, handbags, jewelry and perfumes. The Mahayana Buddhist Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple on the Eastern Coast, stands here. Visit Mott and Mulberry Streets for dim sum, almond cookies, vegetables, peking duck, fresh seafood and groceries. Chatham Square is Chinatown's Times Square, an intersection connecting seven streets. It is also home to the Kimlau War Memorial for Chinese Americans who died in World War II. Restaurants from food carts to tea parlors are integral to Chinatown's economy and number to over 300. Many affordable restaurants are found at Doyers Street, also the site of New York's first Chinese theater.
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