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A fascinating visit to Johannesburg’s two distinct Chinatowns

One might have heard of a Chinatown in a foreign country. But have you ever come across two Chinatowns in a single foreign nation! If you still haven’t had a chance to visit even one Chinatown, then why not visit South Africa to see two Chinatowns in the city of Johannesburg.

A vivacious and sizeable Chinese community exists in Johannesburg presently. The first Chinese settlers were brought to Johannesburg to work as cheap labor in the city’s mines. It was in the early 20th century that the first Chinatown came into existence along the city’s Commissioner Street. The Chinese settlers have now spread across the city, thus leading to the establishment of yet another Chinatown. The “New Chinatown”, as it is called, has been established to the east of the city centre in Cyrildene.
Both the Chinatowns are culturally, historically and geographically distinct from each other. The cultural traditions are kept alive and these are amply reflected in the extravagant and spectacular Chinese New Year celebrations in both old and new Chinatowns. Here is a fascinating insight into the two Chinatowns in Johannesburg.

Old Chinatown
The original Chinatown, popularly called Old Chinatown, was established in the early 20th century in downtown Johannesburg between buildings 5 and 17 of Commissioner Street. During post-1994, the big businesses moved out of Johannesburg and the city lost its luster, but only to regain later on. This was the period when much of the Chinese community also moved from downtown Johannesburg to other parts of the city. Despite a section of Chinese community spreading to other parts of Johannesburg, the Old Chinatown still remained intact.

You can still visit the Old Chinatown for some superb Chinese food at the longest-surviving Swallow’s Inn restaurant here. It was established in 1940. The menu here reflects the culinary fusion harmoniously intermingling Chinese and African in a unique way. Walter George Kin, an old hand at the restaurant, divulges some important facts as you visit the restaurant for the typical Chinese fare. He will surprise you by effortlessly taking orders in Zulu, Cantonese, Afrikaans or English. He says that Chinese ingredients were hard to get for many years. In the absence of Chinese spinach, the restaurant started using cabbage as a replacement. He also says that South Africans eat less vegetable and want more meat, so the dishes at the restaurant have accordingly changed keeping in view the palate of South Africans. The dishes prepared at the restaurant are less spicy as South Africans would like it that way. The delectable “Shanghai steak” is among the finest offering at the restaurant. You can also look forward to savoring tinned lychees, battered spring rolls along with the Shanghai steak and ice cream at the Swallow’s Inn.

Another famous eatery worth visiting here is the Yung Chen Noodle Den. This café-style eating house is renowned for its broths instead of noodles, as its name suggests. You will enjoy plump wrinkly wontons, slivers of fresh ginger and first-class stock bases. Whatever you might order here, you will also be offered a complimentary enamel pot of yum cha tea and a side dish of roasted chilli.

New Chinatown
New Chinatown is situated on Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene. It is in stark contrast to the Old Chinatown. The entrances to the main street here are marked by an impressive pair of archways. Most of the stores here are Asian including hair salons, acupuncturist, massage parlors, tea shops, restaurants and supermarkets. Many vegetable markets and fish stalls can also be seen lining the streets. You will find many restaurants and eateries serving delicious Asian food. Whether you want to enjoy Korean, Thai or Szechuan cuisines, they are all available for you.

Derrick Avenue abounds in many eateries and cafes. Consider visiting Chinese Northern Foods, Fisherman’s Plate, Sai Thai, and Simplicity Coffee & Tea. If you want to enjoy exotic dishes like “little sheep with oil”, heaps of garlic, hot pots and dumplings, the Chinese Northern Foods is the best place to visit. The no frills, no-fuss Fisherman’s Plate restaurant is yet another eatery visited by foodies frequently. This Taiwanese restaurant is renowned for serving peppered beef, cashew nut chicken, curried prawns and more. If you are a lover of Thai cuisines, the multi-award winning Sai Thai restaurant is a must visit. You will be served an extensive menu of authentic Thai cuisines. The tiny teashop “Simplicity Coffee & Tea” is also a perfect place to visit for all those looking for a refreshing Chinese pearl milk tea.

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