I like visiting Chinatown early in the morning when it slowly transforms from an unassuming neighbourhood into a restless and bustling enclave.
If you come here at sunrise, you don’t need to battle through the hordes of tourists.
It’s the only time of the day when you can peacefully enjoy the views of the impressive Chinese architecture, streets decorated with cultural symbols of China or red lanterns gently swaying in the breeze during a Chinese festival season.
It’s fun to watch the vendors getting ready for a busy day ahead, heating up their fish-shaped frying pans or frantically decorating their shopfronts with finger-licking images of dim sum to entice visitors.
Being a vegetarian, I quickly pass by displays of hanging, roasted chickens and head towards my favourite bakeries and tea shops.
If you have a sweet tooth like I do, you will find the scent of fresh pastries wafting through the air irresistible.
And if you ever wonder which Asian treats you should try and how to get the best out of your visit to this fascinating area, here is a beginner’s guide to 8 things you must try in London’s Chinatown.
SINK YOUR TEETH INTO A FLUFFY TAIYAKI
One of the most popular Asian treats – Taiyaki – is a delicacy that you can’t miss out on in Chinatown. It’s a fish-shaped Japanese street treat made of crispy pancake batter. Traditionally filled with red bean paste, it can also be prepared with custard or chocolate filling.
I like watching vendors pouring batter into the rotating metal baking mould to make fresh Taiyaki right in front of you.
In the winter, you can enjoy your pastry piping hot, and in the summer, you can treat yourself to Taiyaki topped with a mouth-watering, soft-serve ice cream.
If you want fancy Taiyaki with toppings that are almost too pretty to eat, you can get them at the Japanese dessert shop Taiyakiya.
WHERE TO GET TAIYAKI:
Taiyakiya – 20 Newport Ct, London WC2H 7JS
Chinatown Bakery – 7-9 Newport Pl, London WC2H 7JR
Bake – 9 Wardour St, London W1D 6PF
DESIGN YOUR OWN BUBBLEWRAP WAFFLE
There is one more glammed-up dessert you absolutely have to try in Chinatown. It’s nothing else than a Bubblewrap Waffle.
This Hong Kong street dessert sells like hotcakes in Chinatown and enjoys viral popularity all over social media. It consists of a warm egg waffle curled into a cone and filled with fresh gelato.
You can customise it to your heart’s desire, choosing from nine different gelato flavours and many tasty toppings like Oreos, Kit-Kats and mochi.
Expect to wait in giant queues to get your wrap (unless you come here right before the shop opens). You won’t regret the wait, though. I promise!
Bubblewrap Waffle – 24 Wardour St, London W1D 6QJ
BOOST YOUR ENERGY LEVELS WITH A BUBBLE TEA
If you have saved some room for a refreshment, Bubble Tea is another drool-inducing treat in Chinatown.
This classic Taiwanese drink, also called Boba Tea or Pearl Milk Tea, consists of black tea, milk and chewy tapioca pearls (made from tapioca starch), all shaken together and served hot or cold.
I like it plain, but if you want a little bit of extravaganza, you can add some jellies, egg pudding or sweet red beans.
You will be surprised how many Boba lovers there are in Chinatown slurping up their teas through oversized plastic straws. If you want to join the Boba tribe, you will be spoilt with the choice of shops selling their own version of Bubble Tea.
I would recommend Yi Fang, where you can get all-natural bubble teas, especially if you’re looking for vegetarian-based ingredients.
WHERE TO GET BUBBLE TEA IN CHINATOWN:
Yi Fang – 100 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 5EE
Woo Tea – 26 Wardour St, London W1D 6QL
Cuppacha – 23 Newport Ct, London WC2H 7JS
Happy Lemon – 24A Newport Ct, London WC2H
Chatime – 4 Gerrard St, London W1D 5PE
GO ON A SHOPPING SPREE TO ASIAN SUPERMARKETS
As you already know, Chinatown is perfect for foodies. If you are interested not only in tasting food but cooking, too, you should not miss the chance to visit Asian supermarkets and grocery shops.
With my never-ending love for food, each time I visit any of them, I feel like a kid in a sweet shop! You can find many exotic spices, fresh raw produce and ingredients that might inspire your next Asian-themed dinner party.
If you are in the mood for some exotic food from China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore and beyond, that’s where you’ll find it. The variety of food is impressive, ranging from Thai jackfruit to Chinese lotus roots. Oseyo, a Korean Food Shop, is my favourite one for snacks, noodles and mochi. It’s also one of the most elegant Asian supermarkets in the area.
If you like shopping but are not interested in new food discoveries, you should visit other local Asian shops selling cosmetics, stationery, toys, gifts and souvenirs.
WHERE TO SHOP IN CHINATOWN AREA?
Loon Fung Supermarket – 14-5 Gerrard St, London
New Loon Moon Supermarket – 9a Gerrard St, London
Tianfu – 14 Gerrard St, London
Lucky Foods – 14 Gerrard St, London
SeeWoo – 18-20 Lisle St, London
Beijing Tong Ren Tang – 124 Shaftersubury Ave, London
Oseyo Soho – 73-75 Charing Cross Rd, London
CAPTURE CHINATOWN THROUGH YOUR CAMERA LENS
Chinatown is a magnet for photographers. You’ll see many tourists and locals with their cameras wandering up and down the streets of Chinatown on the lookout for photographic opportunities.
It’s impossible not to get drawn in by the chaos, vibrant colours, diversity and unique energy of the area. It’s simply a perfect playground for street and travel photography.
So take your camera with you to capture those unique images of Chinatown’s everyday life. It will also make you more attuned to your surroundings and will give you a better feel of Chinatown’s culture.
Anytime of the day is right for photography but Chinatown at night is particularly photogenic with its glowing red, gold and orange lights.
SEARCH FOR CHINESE CULTURAL SYMBOLS
While looking for photo opportunities, keep an eye out for the Chinese symbols hiding around every corner of Chinatown – especially dragons, stone guardian lions and lanterns.
Dragons hold a special place in Chinese culture. They symbolise good luck, positive energy and royal power.
The stone lions, sometimes called ‘Foo Dogs’ in English, are also for good luck as well as safety, and they can be found at the entrances to restaurants, hotels and houses.
During festive seasons, you can see many homes and public places in Chinatown decorated with red lanterns, representing wealth and prosperity.
Pay attention to street signs with the Chinese script, too.
PASS THROUGH THE CHINATOWN GATE
While walking around the Chinese district, you can’t miss the impressive Chinatown Gate in Wardour Street that marks the entryway to London’s Chinatown; it is one of the largest Chinese gates in the country.
With red pillars and a colourful tiled roof, it is extremely photogenic. There is a smaller version of the Chinatown gate in Gerrard Street that is also worth having a look at.
CELEBRATE THE CHINESE NEW YEAR
If you want to get a real feel for Chinese culture and traditions, you should visit Chinatown during Chinese New Year. The exact date of Chinese New Year changes every year based on the Chinese lunar calendar, but it always falls between January 21 and February 20.
I come here to Chinatown every year to watch the parade and famous lion dances, listen to live Chinese music and browse through the Chinese craft and pop-up stalls. Chinatown at that time looks really special.
I hope you will find this guide helpful during your own visit to London’s Chinatown.
If you’ve already visited the area, please share your impressions in the comments section below. I’m curious to know what you enjoyed the most!