Liverpool’s Chinatown

Liverpool’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in Europe. Not one of the oldest, but THE oldest. The earliest Chinese presence in Liverpool dates back to the early 1800s. Because of this glamorous title, Liverpool’s Chinatown has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.

That is why when we first arrived in Liverpool, one of the first places we visited before school started was this famous Chinatown place. We were pretty excited when we reached the Chinatown Gate, supposed to be the largest multiple-span Chinese arch in the world outside China.

Chinatown Gate

Our excitement was short lived though. Because what greeted us beyond the arch was this:

Chinatown Liverpool

A couple of Chinese restaurants and… some cars and… nothing! Basically just an empty street devoid of any human activity. Do you know what went through my mind at that moment? I was basically thinking three words: “What the f**k?

Sure, we saw some rather Chinese things along this street, like this parking vending machine with a Chinese design casing..

IMG_3257

We also saw the Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, complete with the Chinese name, 利物浦华人福音教会. This church is supposed to be rather famous among the Chinese community in the region.

Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church

But, this was not what I imagined a Chinatown to be. I am from Kuala Lumpur, and if you have been to KL’s Chinatown in Petaling Street, I guess you can understand my disappointment. In my mind, a Chinatown is supposed to be bustling with people and activity. I always thought the Chinese are well known (and sometimes well hated in Europe) for being extremely hardworking and neglecting work life balance. Shops is Chinatown are supposed to be open from early morning till late night. A Chinatown should not resemble a deserted town with all the shops closed in the middle of the day!

Before you comment that maybe the Chinatowns in Europe are like that, let me show you a picture of London’s Chinatown. This is taken in September, it is not Chinese New Year yet.

Chinatown London

We learnt very quickly that Liverpool’s Chinatown is not really a very good tourist destination. And there really wasn’t a proper Chinatown anyway. The shops are scattered sparsely along a few streets in that area where the arch stands.

If you are a tourist visiting Liverpool and have quite a bit of time to spare, then sure, make your way to the arch and take some pictures. It is an impressive arch after all. And it is like 2 minutes walk from the Liverpool Cathedral. But if you are on a tight schedule, then I think you won’t be missing a great deal even if you give this place a pass.

So, if Liverpool’s Chinatown is not good as a tourist attraction, is it good for anything?

Well, if you are an Asian who is going to be living in this city for a while, then why, of course this place is crucial! Moving to a place so far from home, you will inevitably miss home and crave familiar food at some point of time. This is when Chinatown is your life savior. There are 2 Chinese supermarkets in adjacent streets of the arch, 鸿图 Hondo Supermarket and 中华行 Chung Wah Supermarket. Well, I say Chinese supermarkets, but they are basically Asian supermarkets. You will be able to see familiar food and items here.

Chung Wah Supermarket

I know for most East Asians, rice is a staple. In fact there are many Malaysian Chinese who has this mindset of I must have at least one meal of rice every day, otherwise my life is incomplete. The problem is, most British supermarkets/grocery stores only sell basmati rice, long grain rice and risotto rice. They are not the same as the white jasmine rice that we are used to on our side of the world. To buy the kind of rice that you are familiar with, you best bet is always the supermarkets in Chinatown.

Oh, and your best friend in the middle of the hungry nights, the instant noodles. The Asian instant noodles. They might be priced 2 to 3 times more expensive than what you pay at home, but how can you not pay up when you are desperate, right?

For Malaysians, if you are lucky, you might even see durians. Actually, when you look at the price, you would probably not consider it as lucky..

IMG_0679

That’s not £4.78, that’s £14.78! For 1 durian! You go and do the conversion yourself..


This was in 2007. I’m actually not sure how the place has become as of today. I suspect nothing has changed though. There were a couple of redevelopment plans announced over the years, in 2010 and again in 2012 I think, but none of them gained any traction and was soon forgotten. If anyone has any more recent and better news, do share with me.

I thought I was writing a travel post, but I guess this post is for both the tourists and the longer term visitors. Anyway, I hope I have been informative again in this post..

30 Comments

  1. something awesome about chinese in the UK. Every city in the UK have a china town!

    And they are pretty happening during CNY. I love the ones in London and Newcastle. Have very good restaurants! Miss having dim sum, though super expensive.

    • I haven’t experienced Newcastle’s one, just passed by their arch in car, but it did look more lively than, say, Liverpool’s..

    • Even today, Chinese are everywhere in the world! I read that there are Chinese owned shops in Guam and Nauru (Pacific islands) 😀 .

  2. You have been informative…didn’t know that Liverpool Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in Europe leh.
    Hate that canned pickled lettuce!! Coz the only time I would eat it (with plain porridge) is when I’m really sick 🙁

  3. yeah the arch must not be missed huh?? such a distinctive structure and the landmark of Chinatown..

    and hoi, sure very expensive stuffs you get there but then many times you just care not because you are craving for that thing you could not find in UK except in the shop.. 🙂

  4. Ahhh Chinatown.. I think of dimsum and wantan mee already..I see luncheon meat, ooo wait, typo, pickled lettuce and maggi mee, can’t go wrong with both of that.. One, to eat with porridge.. The other one, crack an egg and it is a ‘luxury’ already (my sister said she had Bovril with cornflakes for a week when she was studying in UK lastime)..

    • Bovril with cornflakes? That sounds quite weird to me. We had lots of milk with cornflakes. I think collectively in my apartment, we consumed at least 100 liters of milk over the semester!

    • I quite like pickled lettuce, but I didn’t buy them (none that I can remember). When we saw it, we start to make fun of it and said it is “old people’s food”, so to avoid embarrassment, I just hid my desires and pretend not to like it too 😐 .

  5. that’s really informative! i would be very happy to find Maggi mee in the Asian supermarket! yea, i dun mind to pay for the high price when i m craving for it!

    • When we went to the UK, almost all of us brought 3 or 4 packs of 5 Maggi/Cintan/Indomee. They were gone within 1 week, a rare few manage to last for 2 weeks. Then we saw it in Chinatown, we start to buy sporadically. By the 2nd month, we started to buy by boxes 😀 !

    • It was one of my best times in life so far, all it takes is the correct picture to trigger an in rush of memories 😉 .

    • If I am running an imported goods business, I will also make sure to overcharge laowai by 2 to 3 times. After wall, laowai are desperate, they will definitely pay up, easy money there for the taking hahahaha! 😀

  6. The only Chinatown in UK that I have been to other than London Chinatown is Manchester Chinatown. This Liverpool Chinatown really looks deserted. The arch is pretty impressive though.

    I never consider Petaling Street as Chinatown because I am thinking what the heck, chinatowns only exist in Western country. Chinese are everywhere in Msia so why is there a need to call a place in Msia Chinatown. People don’t call a street in China, Chinatown do they?

    Anyway I ate basmati rice when I was living in UK. In fact I think it tastes better than our local jasmine rice. Thanks for sharing, now I know go to Liverpool Chinatown is just to take a photo with the arch, hehehehe. 🙂

    • Well, the thing is, anywhere outside China, Chinese like us are considered immigrants. Wherever there are enough immigrants settled, there would be a Chinatown. Our Petaling Street Chinatown has been around for probably more than 100 years, it’s just that it had remained that way, as a tourist attraction 🙂
      You might be surprised, not very many people are as “open” as us when it comes to food. Anything that are very much different from what we’re used to is a big NO for them.
      I’m glad I’ve given you a nice Liverpool travel tip 😀 .

  7. Well, what a disappointment that must have been. But, I guess the lack of a ‘proper Chinatown’ meant that you had out try more English food.

    And 14.78 pounds for a durian?!?! Please excuse me while I pick my jaw off of the floor! 😉

    • It didn’t matter though, we were cooking a lot.
      When we first saw the durian, I actually thought it was 4.78 and thought it was alright since it was imported. Then I realized the pound symbol seems off and realized it was a pound symbol and 1. Then I had the same reaction as you 😀 .

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