Just a block from Boston's downtown Theater District, the storefronts and signs begin to change and the familiar English words shift into Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian and Vietnamese characters. If you enter from the South on Beach St. you'll get a grander welcome from two traditional lion statues and a large paifang (or gate) that beckons visitors into Boston's Chinatown. The paifang also serves as a meeting place for the locals to gather and play Chinese chess, and it's transformed into a free movie theater showing classic Chinese films for a few evenings every fall.
You might need a day or more to truly experience Chinatown, but you won't regret your time spent here. The neighborhood has come a long way from its roots in Ping On Alley, where the first Chinese immigrants raised their tents in 1880. You can still find it between Edinboro and Oxford Streets, but it's not much to look at nowadays. Your time is much better spent wandering through the beautiful bamboo garden that grows on the corner of Essex Street and Surface Road, or joining the businessmen and women from the Financial District for lunch at the Gourmet Dumpling House. Vegetarians can enjoy Buddha's Delight with an entirely vegetarian menu at 5 Beach Street and you take your pick of the ordinary and more unusual brands of food found at any supermarket in the area.
Just walking down the street in Chinatown is an activity in itself. The corners are packed with vendors, inexpensive Chinese food, and small kitschy stores that carry everything you could ever imagine for a dollar— from butcher knives to hair dye. Storefronts are filled with roasting chickens and colorful old movie posters from films you may never see, and the conversations around you only contain a splash of English. The simple smell of food becomes an aggressive symphony in the busier parts of Chinatown, with competing scents coming from various Asian restaurants including Vietnamese, sushi, dim sum and Thai.
If you're looking for an herbal remedy, try Nam Bac Hong Chinese Herbs, or to relish a traditional Chinese meal, dine at the Ding Ho corner restaurant. During Chinese New Year the neighborhood explodes with firecrackers, the Lion Dance Parade, red lanterns and kung fu performers. Equally popular is the August Moon Festival, held on the streets of Chinatown, with dancers, tasty moon cakes and moon watching parties.
For something different, contact the Asian Community Development and set up a walking tour led by a Chinatown resident to explore the area with a local.
- • A-VOYCE Chinatown Walking Tours: 617-482-2380, firstname.lastname@example.org
- • Gourmet Dumpling House: 52 Beach St., 617-338-6222
- • Nam Bac Hong: Harrison Ave., 617-426-8227
- • Ding Ho Restaurant: 88 Harrison Ave., 617-426-3126
- • Public Transit: Orange Line to Chinatown Station, or Green Line to Boylston Station