Cyrildene - ‘New Chinatown’

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China in Chinatown. Photo courtesy coda

Cyrildene is a suburb of Johannesburg with a very interesting history. Up until 2000 it was a predominately Jewish neighbourhood. Johannesburg’s old Chinatown in Newtown, became rundown and degraded and almost silently upped and moved into Cyrildene, the new Chinatown. Its streets, particularly Derrick Avenue, are lined with a myriad of Chinese Shops. Now there is a quaintness and authenticity that has given the suburb a feeling all of its own. There is a very cosmopolitan array of shops but the residential area still retains the feel of the 1950’s. L Ron Hubbard had a home here. If wanting an authentic outing with a Chinese theme, then this is the area to visit. It is a great place to celebrate the arrival of the Chinese New Year in late January or early February. A festival takes place on the 15th day and Derrick Avenue is closed to traffic. It’s a fun and noisy experience with lots of fireworks. Bringing your own wine is recommended for all restaurants.

The first Chinese immigrants are believed to have arrived in South Africa in the early 19th century. Once here, they grouped together, establishing communities to provide security and a sense of belonging in a new land.

Johannesburg’s original “Chinatown” was established just below Commissioner Street in the city centre. There, the Chinese community could find culinary ingredients and familiar food and products. More adventurous locals also visited the area to experience the exotic cuisine. As Johannesburg’s central business district shut down due to urban decay and crime, the Chinese community relocated to the eastern Johannesburg suburb of Cyrildene, next to Observatory.

If it’s an authentic outing with a Chinese theme that you are looking for, head down to Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene. The street is lined with restaurants, supermarkets, electronics stores and massage parlours, and it is a good idea to get some recommendations in advance, as the choice may be somewhat overwhelming. Knowing where you are headed in this street is helpful, as most of the signage is in Mandarin and some of the storekeepers still only speak their mother tongue.

Welcome to Chinatown. Photo courtesy coda

Some of the best Far Eastern food on offer ranges from Manchuria and Szechuan fare, to delicacies from Shanghai. There are also a few restaurants believed to serve the best Thai and Japanese food in town. The Fisherman’s Plate is well known for its authentic food, including sticky pork ribs, spicy prawns, chicken with cashew nuts and ginger crab. Shanghai Restaurant is inexpensive and its soups and dumplings very tasty. Sushi from the sushi bar next door is also tried and tested. The Chinese Family Restaurant, next to China Garden, and Mongkok are excellent. Sai Thai is one of the best stops in the city for Thai fare.

The Derrick Avenue experience is only for those looking for an authentic experience and who are prepared to get over the somewhat shoddy décor, open kitchens, basic toilet facilities and fairly bright lights. Head out in a group so that you can sample food from across the menu. If you have a less adventurous palate, don’t be put off by exotic, traditional dishes – it is possible to stick to mainstream choices and have a delicious feast. It is also advisable to take your own wine.

“New Chinatown” is a great place to celebrate the arrival of the Chinese New Year in late January or early February. Celebrations traditionally begin on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar and end with a festival on the 15th day. The street is closed off to traffic on this auspicious occasion and patrons are seated along the street to enjoy a set menu. A long dragon (housing many puppeteers) and two two-peopled lions bless all shops, accepting offerings and setting off fireworks. This is a fun and noisy experience – just be on the lookout for off-course fireworks as the exuberant crowd parties.

Derrick Avenue is near Bruma Lake and Eastgate Mall. Bruma has a lakeside market with African antiques, sculptures, curios, crafts and textiles from all over Africa and the Far East.

Directions

From Gillooly’s interchange, take the R24 towards Johannesburg. Turn right at the traffic light on to Marcia Street. Derrick Avenue is to the right, about 1.5km (1mi) along Marcia.