横浜中華街 Yokohama Chinatown
The things I like about China and the things I like about Japan generally are the things common to both Japan and China –good food, pandas in various forms, Buddhism, classical literature, etc. With so much culture shared between Japan and China, one might expect that the largest Chinatown in Japan would be authentic. Well, it isn’t. I went to a fortune teller, and had an awesome fortune told about the upcoming year and upcoming events. I expected I could have talked to the fortune teller in Chinese. Nope! He was Japanese. He didn’t speak any Chinese. The fortune was told in a combination of Japanese and some broken English. In any case, I enjoyed the story and will work to make the fortune come true.
Then there is the food. I spoke Mandarin to a number of proprietors. Most only spoke Japanese. Some were Chinese, but obviously not from China. most restaurants sold what I consider “fake Chinese food." For example, I saw Crab Rangoon (クラブラングーン) being sold in several places. I NEVER, not once, ever saw Crab Rangoon in China. According to Wikipedia, it was invented in the 1950s, likely in California. Maybe it is not surprising that amongst the few people that did speak Chinese, a number were actually from the San Gabriel Valley area near Los Angeles, California.
Still, while most of it was fake, I ended up extremely satisfied with food I did choose to eat. I found a new favourite flavour of Kit Kat, Almond Tofu. I managed to find a vendor of fresh sesame balls that not only spoke Chinese, not only gave me some freebies, but also was actually from mainland China. I could relate to her much better than most Taiwanese I interact with on a daily basis in Taiwan. I also appreciated the fact the balls were extremely hot, since my hands were just about frozen in the cold weather.
What is this? Good 刀削麵(Dao xiao mian). I have been to every single 刀削麵 restaurant in Taipei I can find and that I have come across. Not one even compares to the worst 刀削麵 I had in mainland China (where I ate it almost every weekday). In Taipei, the way it is made would be more suitable for automotive or bicycle tyres than as food. That is to say – extremely chewy, like rubber. 刀削麵 ought to be tender, and easy to slice through. Since many Taiwanese think of themselves as superior to mainland Chinese (often based on false and biased stereotypes), and since many think Japan is the promised land, this restaurant (Nissyou, 日昇酒家, 横浜市中区山下町215-1 岡本ビル１Ｆ) ought to be a required stop on any itinerary to Japan for Taiwanese people. The 涼拌蔬菜 (pictured on the right) was also quite good.
This being Japan, there were also some unique aspects to Chinatown, like a Crab shower. So even if the Chinatown is not exactly authentic, it is still an interesting destination to visit.