I love Chinatown. I love my Chinatown, I love Toronto's Chinatown, I love New York's Chinatown - both Flushing and Manhattan. I love Chinatown so much, I've written a cookbook about the ingredients you find in Chinatown. That's how much I love Chinatown.
Our own, just off Leicester Square, isn't huge. Three main streets - Wardour Street, Gerrard Street, Lisle Street - make up the main bulk of it, with smaller capillary streets running off and around it. It's rammed full of restaurants, shops, supermarkets and bakeries - it's never anything short of colourful and bustling.
Here are the places I like to shop for ingredients the most.
Dansey Place - parallel to Gerrard Street, it's a grimy little alleyway, and rather a daunting one to walk down. But it is home to Lo's Noodle Factory, a tiny little shop that sells rice noodles and buns. I can't say that this is the most comfortable shopping experience. It isn't really a shop - it's a bunch of cardboard boxes and industrial machinery in a room with a man who doesn't speak a great deal of English. They definitely don't take card. But they do sell silky smooth fresh flat rice noodles, called ho fun, and rice noodle rolls (chee cheung fun) as well as fluffy buns. It might be a point-and-grin situation but he's really friendly, and the noodles are so fresh they're often still warm in that slightly greasy plastic bag they're sold in. They're incomparable to dried, fresh are so much better, and it's £1 a bag. (I have a recipe in my book for seafood ho fun noodles in egg gravy...)
Down the same alleyway, is a teeeeny tiny shop that sells fresh vegetables. Apparently it's called Mrs Mao's, after the owner who grows the vegetables at her smallholding in Kent, but it doesn't have much in the way of English signage. Bok choi, chives, mustard greens, gai laan (Chinese broccoli) are all sold here, and in a way that you can choose your own portion rather than pre-bagged.
Young Cheng Fresh Seafood Shop often sells crabs and lobsters straight from the tank, and pigs blood, clams, whelks, prawns and a variety of fresh fish from slabs of chipped ice.
Back out on to Gerrard Street proper, Loon Fung is the largest of the supermarkets and I shop there for their butcher counter. There, you can buy tripe, minced pork, tongue, pork belly and various other bits, or they have a fridge section with it pre-packaged. This place is good for general Chinese stuff.
See Woo also has branches in Greenwich and Glasgow, and this tightly packed shop is where I buy my equipment (downstairs) and also has a great variety of vegetables. They're the only place I've ever seen that sells celtuce, and their greens always look fresh and perky. They also sell my favourite soy sauce, Pearl River Premium Deluxe light soy.
Of course, not all of us have access to Central London, so a few other places to shop:
Wing Yip, Croydon & Cricklewood
Korea Foods: New Malden, Cambridge, Golders Green, Bournemouth, Birmingham, Mitcham, Reading, Coventry
Wing Tai: Peckham, Brixton & Croydon
Wai Yee Hong, Bristol
Longdan (specialises in Vietnamese): Shoreditch, Leyton, Kingston, Elephant & Castle
Hoo Hing: Romford, Enfield, Leyton, Mitcham, Park Royal, Milton Keynes and online
Where do you like to shop? Where have I missed? Do you have any hidden gems? Do share!