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Chinatown is situated is downtown Toronto running through Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, pretty much right next to Kensington Market. From Union Station on Front Street West, Chinatown is a good half an hour walk away but it is possible to get there by streetcar which will only take about 10 minutes. I would advise walking there though as you will get a much better experience of the city and not miss any of the great things there are to see.
Chinatown isn't actually very old. It was only developed in the late nineteenth century but as of this year, it is one of the largest Chinatowns in North America. However, in Greater Toronto, there are multiple Chinatowns but this is always referred to as the main one. Other Chinatowns can be found in Markham and Mississauga. Unlike other specific areas in downtown Toronto, this one is not hard to find at all. Once you hit Chinatown, you know about it.
The first thing to notice about Chinatown is the variety of smells. Lining the streets of Chinatown are many restaurants and shops but the smell of cooking food is the first thing I remember about this area. You could be unlucky though and hit Chinatown at the wrong spot and not get to experience this first. I loved knowing exactly where I was when I got there and it sent my senses into overload.
As you may expect, this area is very colourful. Many of the shops and restaurants have traditional Chinese decorations in their windows so the bright red colours instantly catch your eye. Then you actually look in the shop windows. Many food shops have all kinds of barbequed animals hanging in their windows, duck was one I remember vividly though and it was an extremely strange sight to see. This kind of thing can either gross or freak people out though as it is a little bit different and weird but I quite enjoyed trying to figure out what things were.
Although I did not eat in Chinatown, mainly because I was too much of a wimp, there is so much food on offer. The menus of the restaurants here are nothing like the kind of thing you get from a Chinese take away in the UK. Chinatown offers dishes like octopus and rat among some of the more normal sounding dishes that I would have maybe had. There is no way I would have eaten much while I was here if I had been brave enough. Chinatown is definitely a place for those who are feeling extremely adventurous with their food.
Chinatown is not only about the food though. There are plenty of shops to look around as well as two small shopping centres. Strangely, you can buy the normal tourist souvenirs in Chinatown such as Toronto t-shirts and caps and keyrings etc. There are a lot of traditional Chinese shops as well though and jade was on sale in most of them for really competitive prices. The prices here are great for both Chinese and Canadian items, the Canadian items much cheaper than deeper into downtown. Something else that was a really big thing here was herbal remedies and Asian sweets.
Chinatown is not only occupied by Chinese people though. Now, Chinatown is made up from Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai businesses so there is a real sense of Asian culture as soon as you hit the area. The streets are extremely busy; a complete contrast to other parts of downtown and there is a massive feeling of rushing about here. Still, I thought that it made my trip to Chinatown very exciting and fun as I had to dodge people on the street many times. Also, as there are so many people rushing about here, the streets are somewhat messier and dirtier than other areas but it didn't take anything away from a great experience.
When in Canada a couple of years ago we actually bumbled into Chinatown accidentally when visiting an Art Gallery on Dundas Street.
Chinatowns main two streets are Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue and are an amazing site of colorful shops, amazing foods and smells and a diverse ethnic population.
Cantonese is the main language spoken in this area and all the street signs are also in Cantoneese, however many of them also have the English translation written alongside it.
When bumbling into this area we would be forgiven for thinking we had somehow wondered into China. The shops, people, cafes and even the atmosphere was an iconic and traditional Chinese setting with a bit of Hong Kong thrown in!
We happened upon Dundas Street around four o clock and set out to find some Eastern Cusine for Dinner. We ended up in a restaurant called Liu Liu Hot Pot which was an amazing experience which I would love to repeat even if finding it was accidental! It certainly was a happy accident.
You will find Lui Lui in Kensington Market on Baldwin Street and I definately recommend a visit.
We didn't realise what a hot pot restaurant even was but it didn't take us long to find out!! Soon three huge pots were taken to the table, one for each diner!
The pots had a brothlike substance and we were given a platter of meat and vegetables. The lady server seen the surprised look upon our face and speaking little English gestured for us to start cooking and eating!
She also pointed to a table with raw ingrediants such as cheese, eggs and other chinese herbs and spices.
My daughter had a whale of a time cooking it but wasn't so keen on fishing it out and eating it!! However once it was all on the plate everythng you had cooked had taken on the flavour of the broth used to cook it.
I am a vegetarian but hubby and daughter both eat meat and we found this was a great place for both as you could basically cook whatever you wanted in your hot pot!
This was just one of the great experiences we had in Chinatown and have never experienced anything close to this again.
After leaving here we ventured into Kensington Market which to our horror had a legalised cannabis cafe.
That was one of the problems which we found in Chinatown, that there were many adult themes blatantly displayed and flaunted infront of hundreds of children.
It got worse at night when Sex Shops seemed to spring out of no where. However if you manage to avoid these Chinatown is beautiful at night.
There are so many lights and people still bustling about. There is pigs being roasted in the middle of markets, and strange foods which we couldn't even identify!
We tried many new things that afternoon but if you are a vegetarian like me be careful what you are trying, as many locals will give you a sample only to tell you afterwards it was tripe or bulls privates!!
There were also herbal remedies for almost every ailment you could think of! We enjoyed the shop "Chinese Natural Herbs" which we found on Dundas Street west.
There was also a fantastic tea shop on this same street called "Ten Ren's Tea and Ginseng Company" which is a lovely place just to rest and put your feet up and watch the world go by.
There are also some large and unusual sculptures in Chinatown such as Henry Moore's "Large Two Forms" Sculpture outside of the Ago.
Even the entrance to the afore mentioned Kensington Market was an art form in itself. There were two huge poles with globes on the top with cheese and fruit and other delicasies orbing around them!
If we are back in Canada we will definately purposefully visit Chinatown again! We were staying in London which is actually really close to it. I am so glad we took the wrong turning or this hidden beauty could have remained undiscovered to us!