Situated on Moonta Street, nestled among the Adelaide Central Markets precinct, Adelaide’s Chinatown is flanked by Gouger and Grote Streets. Two Chinese guardian lions guard the entrance and create an imposing impression for visitors.
Originally established in the mid-1800s, since the 1970s, this city landmark has grown and evolved and today, hosts Asian businesses from countries other than China too. In fact, if you’re hankering for Korean, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese, Nepali, Vietnamese or Thai food, you’ll probably find it here.
You could stand, blindfolded, in the middle of Chinatown and have someone spin you around until you say ‘stop’. Wherever you face when the blindfold comes off, you’re sure to have a wonderful meal.
- Food court temptations – The brand new Chinatown Plaza food court was opened in June 2018 and has been really well-received. Its ornate timber accents and fresh green foliage have created an inviting setting where hungry diners are happy to select from a range of different food counters. Even the lighting is exceptional with caged chandeliers and rainbow lanterns adding to the ambience. This is a food court where you can get beer and wine to enjoy with your dumplings and pho.
- Retro Chinese – You can’t go past a menu that looks like it was printed in the 1970s! You just know you’re going to be in for a treat. Chicken sweet corn soup, lemon chicken, Mongolian beef, BBQ pork with rice and banana fritter with ice cream sound glorious, don’t they? The prices are cheap and the laminated tables, complete with lazy Susan feel warm and familiar. That’s how it is at BBQ City restaurant but go early because this is a popular place and it gets packed quickly.
- Yum cha – Nobody goes to T Chow Chinese restaurant for the décor. What you will love though is the quick service, low prices and wide array of dishes. Yum cha is always a fun experience, but you can also elect to have a set-price banquet, especially if you don’t know what to order. The wontons here are fabulous and the crispy skin pork and roast duck are highlights. Vegetarians love the fried bean curd and of course, there’s always dessert. Yam custard and mango pancakes are things you should try if you visit.
- Slurp your noodles – A favourite hotspot for Adelaide’s hungry uni students is Ryo’s Noodles, where the ramen is the ultimate comfort food to get you by when you’re under the pump. Choose from pork or chicken soup and go for vegetarian, ramen or cold dipping noodles. Add a side of tempura prawns or some scrummy gyoza and you’ll have a big smile on your face in no time.
- Japanese tapas – Speaking of those little parcels of yum, Gyoza Gyoza serves up Japanese Izakaya style tapas with all dishes starting at a very cute $6.80. The Chinatown location has brought to Adelaide what Melbourne has enjoyed over five eateries for some time. Choose your gyozas from a range of fillings: seafood, chicken, pork, beef, duck and vegies. And you can have them fried, steamed or even grilled.
- Designer cuisine – Previously, an art deco ballroom occupied the huge space that is now Mrs Q Asian Kitchen & Bar. Today, the vaulted ceiling remains but the only dancing happens on the tastebuds. Mostly Thai-inspired, there are also influences from classic Chinese, Indonesian and Vietnamese dishes. Definitely try the Pad Thai which comes veiled in an egg net, and the salty crab dip served with crisp, fresh vegetables.
Step away from the sterile mega-malls and into a different world of shopping at Chinatown.
- Hong Kong Grocery – This grocery store is like a treasure trove of fascinating and quirky products. You can pick up cans of Japanese iced coffee, colourful macarons and bubble tea along with your Asian cooking essentials. The well-stocked freezer is loaded with all kinds of fish, vegies, dumplings and spring rolls. If you’re looking for ingredients, you’ll get your shrimp paste, tamarind paste and proper Asian soy sauces too. It’s a bit squeezy in there but with so much to see, just keep your elbows in and shuffle through the narrow aisles as best you can.
- Adelaide Central Market – Right next door and technically in Chinatown is Adelaide Central Market, with more than 60 specialty stores. Shop for leather bags, silk fashions, Persian art, organic skin care, fresh flowers, shoes and chocolates, among other things.
- Kuo Chi Oriental Supermarket – Tick off your shopping list in comfort at Kuo Chi where the aisles are wider. Still, there’s an enormous array of products in store and it could seem a little disorganised if you’re not Asian but it’s kind of the way things are in similar stores across Asia. You can buy Chinese calligraphy brushes and pretty note paper, teapots, Chinese medicine, steamboats, religious goods and mah-jong games. As for foods and ingredients, Kuo Chi’s range is pretty impressive. From hard-to-get sauces to noodles, spices and fresh produce, the inspiration will come thick and fast when you’re in there.
- Adelaide’s Pop-Up Bookshop – Book lovers flock to this little outlet which used to be somewhat nomadic but now lives in one spot. Seek out First Edition, vintage, contemporary and even antique books.
Chinese New Year is a big deal across every Chinatown in the world. Adelaide’s is no different and for twelve hours, the festivities are ablaze with colour, movement and music. There is always, of course, the Lion Dance which enthrals the crowds and possibly even frightens little children. You’ll also see fireworks, traditional folk dancers and martial arts displays.
Loads of stalls hawk various types of goods like Chinese artworks, clothing, decorations and toys. Follow your nose to the aromatic delights as the street foods do their tantalising best to seduce hungry customers. Chinese New Year is always a busy, energetic event full of optimism and excitement, with beaming smiles everywhere you look. If you’ve never been, make the next one your year to experience it.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Chinatown is for Adelaide’s Chinese population. It’s truly for everyone and all cultures are embraced there. Have a great time exploring the different shops, restaurants and other businesses and get to know the people who work there. There is plenty of parking nearby and access by public transport is convenient too.