Throughout our South America trip, we didn’t really see any Chinatown, except maybe in São Paulo where it was more like Little Japan. Oh, fear not, Feng found Chinese restaurants all the way, mostly in Santiago where Chinese food (and sushi) are popular, and rice is a staple food in all of Latin America anyway.
Back in Ottawa, I headed to Chinatown almost right away. I needed groceries and I like to buy from small businesses, it’s a nice change from Loblaws, Walmart, Food Basics or other giant retailers. For a while, after Mark was born, for the sake of efficiency, I shopped at the brand new T&T Supermarket, an all-things-Asian superstore. But it’s far, by the airport, located in another bland plaza in the middle of nowhere. These days, I’d rather go to Kowloon Market, on Somerset, a block from the red Chinatown arch.
Chinatown in Ottawa is small and unimpressive by world standards—it’s just a few blocks that stretch on Somerset West from Little Italy to Bay Street. The “street of the Tang people” as it is called in Chinese (唐人街) has an traditional arch (排放), a bilingual street sign, many murals featuring Asian themes, shallow bas-relief of stylized Zodiac animals underfoot and themed street furniture like red garbage cans and benches featuring laser-cut ideograms. Along the steep street, there are many Vietnamese phở restaurants (all serving the same menu items), one supermarket (the above-mentioned Kowloon), beauty salons, a pharmacy, travel agencies, Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean restaurants in various degrees of fanciness and many small convenience stores.
You can find pretty much anything in Chinatown if you can read a language other than English or French. What fascinates me is that you truly step into another world, and not just a small version of China. Dozens of cultures are catered for and help each other: the Korean shop rents Spanish karaoke songs, the Chinese restaurant has Halal meat, the Indian corner store sells chopsticks… You are at the crossroad of the world.
If you are looking for something in Chinatown, just slow down and read the signs displayed in stores, behind salt-covered windows, or affixed to doors.
Yeah, some are rather cryptic. You may need a dictionary.
Sorry for the picture quality, snapped with my phone and frozen fingers…