Kung hei fat choi! Happy New Year of the Monkey! Visit every major city in the world and you’ll find a Chinatown. And just as eclectic as the range of nations in which China’s migrant population has settled over the years, are the vibrant, individual neighborhoods that they have established. Each Chinatown is diverse but you’re always guaranteed to find a combination of bustling commerce, culture and authentic cuisine on any visit. From Europe to the United States, Latin America to Africa, here are our picks for the 10 best Chinatowns in the world (outside of Asia).
1. Melbourne, Australia
A foodie city itself, Melbourne was always likely to have a Chinatown whose restaurants make for its biggest attraction. From Little Bourke Street to Spring Street, the Chinatown strip mixes the newer breed of authentic North Chinese and Sichuan restaurants with the more common Cantonese dumpling joints. Lured by the 19th-century Australian gold boom, Melbourne’s Chinatown community has been bustling since the 1850s.
2. Toronto, Canada
If you’re meeting buddies in Chinatown in Toronto then best make sure you specify which one – because there are six of them. The city’s central Chinatown is the largest and between Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue Downtown is where you’ll find its array of restaurants, stalls, herbalists and bars, in full effect, all day, everyday. Visit on a weekend and make sure you pick up a newspaper to accompany your lazy dim sum lunch – Hong Kong style.
3. London, England
London’s first Chinatown was once located in Limehouse, a bustling riverside enclave in the east of the city. The area was immortalized in the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – a favorite sojourn for fictional Sherlock Holmes when he was in need of something a little bit ‘stronger’ for his pipe! London’s modern Chinatown -- complete with a grand new gate -- is now firmly established in the West End, a large contributor to the allure of Soho. Traditionally Cantonese, the area is home to some of the best dumplings and dim sum in the city, as well as the odd second-floor speakeasy bar - you’ve just got to know where to go!
4. San Francisco, U.S.
Established around 1848, Chinatown San Francisco is North America’s largest. Centered around Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, the neighborhood is so popular with residents and tourists that its attraction has become a problem -- due to lack of space. Fortunately, 2016 is seeing expansion plans realized, as well as major makeovers for the neighborhood’s famous alleyways. Which just means there’s even more reason to visit North America’s biggest Chinatown the next time you’re in the city.
5. Lima, Peru
Home to the largest ethnic Chinese population in Latin America, Lima’s “El Barrio Chino” -- or just plain Chinatown -- is located in the heart of the city’s historical center. Of the 6,000 or so Chinese restaurants you can eat at, some date back as far as the beginning of the 20th century. If you visit, make sure you sample the Chifa, Chinese Peruvian fusion cuisine.
6. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Wind your way through the perennial bustle of the Red Light District and out the other side of the lively Niuwmarkt square and you’ll arrive in Amsterdam’s Chinatown. Expanding rapidly after the Second World War, gambling houses, opium dens and restaurants sprung up in the area. These days it’s only the restaurants you’ll find in plain sight – not that that’s to say those nefarious parlors of ill repute aren’t lurking somewhere out there!
7. Johannesburg, South Africa
Initially arriving to work in the gold mines of Transvaal, the Chinese migrant population was large enough to establish two Chinatowns in the South African city of Johannesburg. The first is located downtown at Commissioner Street (Old Chinatown) and the latter in the eastern neighborhood of Cyrildene (New Chinatown). New Chinatown is king these days and home to the pick of the city’s Chinese restaurants, supermarkets and bars.
8. New York City, U.S.
New York is home to the second biggest Chinatown in North America, after San Francisco. Located in Lower Manhattan, the neighborhood grew so fast in the latter half of the 20th century that it almost swallowed neighboring Little Italy – although we won’t get into that right now. One of the liveliest and most eclectic Chinatowns we’ve ever come across, the area boasts cuisine from just about every Chinese region imaginable. Like London’s Chinatown, New York’s also provides a home to any number of seedy, chic and late night bars.
9. Vancouver, Canada
Bringing up the rear in bronze place with North America’s third largest Chinatown, Vancouver shouldn’t feel too bad for itself, after all, nowhere sums up the city’s vibrant and diverse culture like its Chinatown does. A balanced neighborhood, Vancouver’s Chinatown reflects its history with traditional restaurants and stores while embracing the future with its hip, buzzing bar scene.
10. Havana, Cuba
Given the title of the article, the fact that Havana’s Chinatown has seen far better days, makes it a slightly incongruous final addition. However, it once was great, in fact, it was the largest Chinatown in Latin America. Nowadays, Havana’s Chinatown retains a sense of its past glories but has the country’s 1959 revolution to thank for the emigration of the once large, enterprising Chinese community.