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Canberra’s Chinatown: Shops, Restaurants, Festivals

Canberra’s Chinatown is an area centering on Woolley Street in the city’s inner northern suburb of Dickson. It is very multicultural so as well as Chinese restaurants and businesses, there are South-East Asian, Japanese, Ethiopian, Italian, Korean, Thai, Greek, Malaysian, Turkish and Indian ones too!

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You simply can’t go hungry in Canberra’s Chinatown

Unless you are a strictly meat-and-three-veg person or you only eat Vegemite sandwiches every day, you will definitely find your bliss in Chinatown. Budget, mid-range and fine dining options are all there and you can select from a colourful array of cuisines.

  • Asian Noodle House – Good old Asian Noodle House (the original and best), always ready with a bowl of comforting noodles. The cuisine here is from Laos and Thailand so most people are pretty familiar with what’s on the menu. You can have your pad Thai and tom yum kung but give the larb duck a go for something different. The laksas are always a hit on a cold Canberra day.
  • Jimmy’s Place – Strictly Chinese – and exceptionally good – Jimmy’s Place is where you go when you want quality Chinese food, you want to go in a group and share a banquet or you don’t want to cook on Christmas Day! The vast menu has all the usual suspects – beef with almonds or cashew nuts, honey king prawns, shark’s fin soup, lemon chicken – but if you’re a bit more adventurous, you might like to try something different. The stir-fried boneless duck feet are said to be incredible. Or, for a starter, have a go at the jelly fish and shredded roast duck.
  • Rasa Sayang – For superb Malaysian and Chinese, Rasa Sayang is still delivering the goods even after decades of service in the same spot. In addition to the regular Chinese dishes, they serve Malaysian classics such as beef rendang, mee goreng, har chong chicken and udang asam. This restaurant gets very busy on weekend nights so book ahead. Happily, the noise levels are contained with smart partitioning.
  • Ruby’s Chinese Restaurant – Seafood lovers will adore Ruby’s where you can still go in and select your live lobster, mud crab, abalone and other delicacies and have it prepared for you. The menu is priced at the higher end of the range, as you’d expect for fine dining. The tables are draped in crisp white tablecloths, the lighting is warm and welcoming and the glassware is sparkling. For excitement and theatre, order the king prawn flambe! For the exotic, try the sliced live abalone in steamboat. There are plenty of choices for vegetarians and groups can take advantage of the banquet offerings.
  • Dickson Dumpling House – When you need a good dumpling fix, head to Dickson Dumpling House. They’re cheap, they’re tasty and they’re available in a range of fillings including pork, chicken, beef, prawn and pumpkin, tomato and egg and more. You might also enjoy the mains such as chilli basil chicken, shan tung lamb or sweet and sour pork, and there’s an abundance of seafood choices. Service is quick and the food is always fresh and tasty.
  • Kingsland Restaurant – This vegan restaurant serves only plant-based dishes. The menu lists chicken, duck, beef, lamb, pork and seafood but it’s all ‘mock meat’. Even so, customers love the flavours and go back time and again for more. You don’t have to be vegan or a vegetarian to enjoy a meal at Kingsland.
  • Alara’s Turkish Pide Grill House – See? We told you, not just Asian cuisine. Alara’s emphasis is on their exceptional pides, 17 of them! But fear not, they offer wonderful vegetable entrees and amazing main meals such as a Turkish mixed grill, salmon with garlic and herbs and delicious koftes. Don’t forget to finish off your meal with baklava or Turkish delight.

Shopping in Chinatown

Not gonna lie, shopping’s not why you go to Chinatown in Canberra. But if you need ingredients to cook up a great Asian meal at home, you’ll head there for provisions.

  • Mega Asian Supermarket – Asians go there for their foodie needs which should tell you something. Mega Asian Supermarket has everything you could need to create an authentic meal at home, from fresh produce to frozen deep-fried foods and herbs and spices to jars, packs and cans of products you really should try.
  • Dickson Asian Grocery Store – Friendly service is the order of the day in this Chinese Mom-and-Pop store. They carry bulk rice so if you think you’ll get through 25 kilos, that’s where you need to go. They also have a wide range of Asian cooking gadgets that you just don’t find everywhere. For groceries, gadgets and good vibes, this is the right place.
  • BWS Dickson – With a lot of the restaurants in Chinatown being BYO (and corkage is cheap), you’ll need to stop by the bottle-o before lunch or dinner. The BWS at 38 Woolley Street will sort you out.

Otherwise, if you feel like a bit of a random browse, there’s a Vinnie’s shop where you could scout through the racks of pre-loved clothes and shelves of bric-a-brac. Who knows what you could find?

Canberra’s festivals don’t really make it to Chinatown

Canberra’s Chinatown is still growing up. In fact, it’s not really a ‘town’ but more of a ‘Chinastreet’. So even though it doesn’t celebrate Chinese New Year or other important dates on the Chinese calendar in an organised fashion, you can still wander in to a restaurant and have a celebration all your own. Canberra’s Chinese Lantern Festival takes place on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, complete with lantern parade and fireworks.

As for Chinese New Year, the festivities happen around Glebe Park where the parade commences and ends up at East Row. Every year, around 2,000 performers participate in the event which is very popular among Canberra locals and visitors.

If you’re set on celebrating Chinese New Year in Chinatown, call around the various restaurants to see what’s happening. Maybe you can feast on a banquet, gorge on dumplings or slurp down a bowl of noodles and drink a toast to the new year!

References

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