Distinctly Flavored Chinatowns: From Hip Bars to Delicious Traditional Food
The Year of the Rabbit is upon us! The forthcoming zodiac cycle could be good news for those looking for a slightly more mellow period ahead.
DISTINCTLY FLAVORED CHINATOWNS:
FROM COCKTAIL BARS TO TRADITIONAL FOOD, THESE CHINESE ENCLAVES AROUND ASIA OFFER HIP CACHE AND PLENTY OF CHARACTER
The Year of the Rabbit is upon us! The forthcoming zodiac cycle could be good news for those looking for a slightly more mellow period ahead. The rabbit is historically known as the gentlest of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, the traditional classification scheme based on the lunar calendar that assigns an animal and its attributes to each year. Each animal is paired with an element, and it's the year of the water rabbit for the first time in 60 years. Water symbolizes movement and travel, an auspicious omen considering Lunar New Year comes hot on the heels of the news that China has reopened its doors to international travel!
The rabbit’s convivial characteristics are reflected in many of Asia’s Chinatowns where fresh ventures like hip bars and hotels are complementing age-old cultural and dining traditions. Here are some of our top tips. Kung Hei Fat Choi!
BANGKOK'S BAR ENCLAVE
In Bangkok’s Chinatown garish gold shops sit cheek by jowl with stores specializing in traditional medicine, wizened aunties tend sizzling woks, and market holders ply pirated Cantonese blue movies and People's Republic ephemera on the sidewalks. Recently, however, Yaowarat has witnessed an injection of vital energy courtesy of some of Bangkok's most creative bars and galleries. The area is especially well served with edgy cocktail bars. Thai impresario Niks Anuman-Rajadhon has four venues on and around Soi Nana, a narrow street lined with historic shophouses, that is now ranked among Bangkok's must-explore enclaves. Gin is the tipple of choice at Teens of Thailand, his debut venue. Asia Today majors in cocktails infused with Thai botanicals, while Tax stands out by utilizing vinegar in its drinks. His latest venture, Independence, specializes in using Fino sherry or fortified Madeira wine as a base for cocktails.
Suggested Reading: Old Town Tipples
COOL SINGAPOREThe fringes of Singapore’s Chinatown are more alive than ever. Much of the action is currently taking place on Duxton Hill, an enclave, tucked away between Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road in the Downtown Core. Traditionally a hive of iniquity, much of the area has now been gentrified with some of the best dining and libations options in central Singapore, as well as some intriguing independent retail outlets selling everything from upscale yoga gear to Japanese lacquerware. Duxton highlights include wine-bar Praelum, tucked away café Group Therapy, and Littered With Books, a two-story repository of literary works. Another upwardly mobile tract of Chinatown is Keong Saik Road and its immediate surroundings. The influence of hotelier/restaurateur Loh Lik Peng is strong in these parts. The Singaporean is responsible for boutique hotels Hotel 1929 and the New Majestic as well as critically-acclaimed restaurants Burnt Ends and Esquina.
Suggested Reading: Asian Venues Raise Bar at World’s 50 Best
PENANG'S PERANAKAN MELTING POTA large island by the Malacca Strait, Malaysia’s Penang has been a cultural melting pot for centuries, with a strong Peranakan Chinese influence. This is particularly felt in its colorful capital Georgetown, where the heritage-rich streets are lined with beautifully restored Chinese shophouses, many of which have been repurposed into cafes, art galleries, and boutique hotels. The local obsession with food is evident everywhere, and it’s not unusual to see groups of Malaysian Chinese lining up for more than an hour at their favorite kway teow stall. Street food tours are de rigueur here, while to experience authentic Peranakan, we highly recommend the charmingly-named (and newly minted Michelin-star) Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery. Georgetown has a rich, recent tradition of street art, and many striking murals provide an interesting backdrop as you explore the streets of traditional Chinese medicine shops, goldsmiths, clan houses, and old British mansions.
Suggested Reading: Flamboyant Fusion
SAIGON’S CHINESE RECIPE
From as far back as its 17th-century origins as a Chinese refugee settlement, Cholon—Saigon’s Chinatown—retains the ornate pagodas, shops, and restaurants bearing Chinese characters that betray the area's long link with the Middle Kingdom. Its culinary identity, meanwhile, also remains highly Sinicized, with a profusion of roasted meat stores, stalls, and restaurants proffering classic Chinese dishes. The catch: a whopping lack of infrastructure makes it a challenge to explore. But anyone seeking a comprehensive overview of food in Vietnam’s southern hub will want to check out its bustling street life and array of street food dining options. With the news that the Michelin guide is soon to land in Vietnam, we're expecting Cholon to be the vanguard of new foodie hubs in Asia. Mostly famous for the Binh Tay Market—from which Cholon ("big market") takes its name—more spiritual visitors will want to head to the atmospheric Quan Am Pagoda for a little culture.
Suggested Reading: Chowing Down in Cholon
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