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Explore the Orient in London's Chinatown

Published: Tuesday 28th of September 2010

Holidaymakers heading to the capital do not often expect to find themselves in the midst of Asian culture but as one of the best loved of all London attractions, Chinatown is still a place any visitor to the city should explore.

On arriving at the west London precinct, tourists can expect to see an area far different from the busy cosmopolitan city they are in.

With delicate red Chinese lanterns swinging from buildings and the frantic hustle of Asian market holders, it would not be absurd for holidaymakers to think they had travelled a lot further afield than simply down the road from tourist hotspots Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.

But this injection of the Orient is indeed in the capital and remains one of the top things to do in London for any tourist.

Nestled between London's West End, Covent Garden and Leicester Square, Chinatown could easily be missed off the to do list, overshadowed by its popular neighbours, but it would be a shame not to make a journey to this little corner of London - if only to taste some of the best Chinese cuisine in the capital.

There are 80 restaurants to choose from in the short parade and hidden under the majestic red arches that welcome visitors into the area are eateries that offer a variety of Asian foods including Cantonese, Szechwan, Malaysian and Mongolian.

Situated right next to the capital's theatre district, the restaurants are well-known for their fast service and set menus, where patrons can tuck away a five-course meal in under an hour and still make it to an early viewing.

However, those who want to enjoy a night in Chinatown for its own merits have the opportunity to enjoy a la carte menus where they can pick their favourite Asian dishes or experience authentic Chinese fast food diners, where they can grab noodles to go.

As well as a host of different eating establishments - which are difficult to choose between - tourists can step inside one of the many Chinese supermarkets on the strip.

Inside, they can soak in the strong aromas of oriental ingredients, see what goes into their favourite meals or even purchase a few products to use at home for their own culinary experience.

For an after-dinner snack, holidaymakers can treat themselves at one of the Chinese bakeries, which sell different delicacies including Marry Girl Cake, Jin Deui doughnuts and pineapple buns.

Having been a part of the capital since the 17th century, Chinatown is a well-established London attraction that people should make an effort to visit. As well as being an excellent area to taste traditional Chinese cooking, there are other activities that are likely to interest holidaymakers.

One of the most spectacular events that take place in Chinatown has to be the celebration of Chinese New Year.

Each January or February, thousands of people descend on the block to watch floats and people in costumes bring in the New Year in style.

The celebrations reach as far as Trafalgar Square, where last year there were displays of martial arts, Chinese dance, opera and acrobatics.

Performances from international artists also take place on a main stage in the heart of Chinatown, where attendees can see traditional lion dances and taste authentic fare from a variety of food stalls that are set up.

On Sunday February 21st 2011, visitors can join the thousands that are expected to take part in the unique event, with its popularity enticing more than 330,000 people to last year's celebrations.

Having survived some of London's greatest challenges since the Middle Ages including both World Wars, Chinatown became a truly established centre for the capital's Chinese community from the 1960s when it moved to its current location.

Now it is the home and workplace of thousands of people and with its introduction of pan-Asian cuisines, shops and cultures, it is expected to survive right into the 21st century, inviting people from all over the country to explore its lantern-lit streets and smell its sweet scent of sticky fried rice and crispy duck pancakes. 

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