Chinese New Year is on Feb 14 this year, and down in Chinatown the shops are already crammed full of kitsch curios in preparation for the main event.
Chinatowns are one of my favourite places to visit in any city, because they’re normally so vibrant and full of interesting things to see, so I decided to go and have a wander round London’s offering on Tuesday.
Chinatown’s main strip is along Gerrard Street, with a couple of smaller streets running off it. Here you’ll find tons of Chinese restaurants, a medicine shop/apothecary and a couple of Chinese supermarkets, amongst other things.
The supermarkets themselves are definitely worth a look, with weird and wonderful fruit and veg on display outside, enticing you in to see what else is on offer.
Aisles full of noodles, tea and sweets are intermingled with freezers full of dim sum ready to be steamed, and crockery sets – mainly adorned with fish patterns – chopsticks and bamboo steamers.
Head down some of the smaller streets and you’ll find large shops with plenty of things to go rummaging about in, including cheung-sams (traditional silk dresses), Chinese slippers, swords and everything you might need to celebrate the upcoming New Year celebrations.
Red and gold are very symbolic in China, so you’ll find gold cats waving their arms at you, Buddhas, and, as 2010 is the year of the Tiger, lots of red and gold soft tiger toys. If you’re planning to go to the celebrations on Feb 21, stock up on firecrackers and paper dragon fans, and you’ll fit right in.
There are over 75 restaurants in Chinatown, ranging from all-you-can-eats to fine dining. For cheap fodder, sample the dim sum at the New World restaurant at 1 Gerrard Street, where carts of a variety of dumplings are brought to your table to choose from.
Or try a few different things from the starter menu, such as spring rolls or pak choi. There are a couple of stalls outside some of the shops selling food, which is another cheap option.
Chinatown is not for the fainthearted, though – be prepared to see roast duck and various other meats hanging in the windows of some of the restaurants!
Streets paved with gold?
Although London’s Chinatown is small compared to other cities (New York’s is like someone actually picked up a small piece of China and put it in the middle of Manhattan), it’s definitely worth a look if you’ve not been before. There are lots of interesting things to see and shops to explore, and of course the food is worth a trip in itself.
I will be heading to the Chinese New Year celebrations in a few weeks’ time, and would encourage you to head down for the parade as they’re always a fun, loud and vibrant place to see.
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