Saturday, 17 December 2011

Tasting Kobe Chinatown

Just about every major city in the world has its very own Chinatown...nothing new there. These cultural centres reflect historical and cultural connections with China, all condensed within a small bustling area. However, there is usually one common and significant element that draws the wider community to these areas and that’s simply the food. With the Osakan love of all things culinary, it is therefore strange that there is actually no designated Chinatown area to visit in the city. However, you don't have to go too far, with the nearby city of Kobe taking the honors with a thriving Chinatown that has a great atmosphere and a terrific selection of food.

Certainly when Jules and I are in town we always pay a visit to enjoy the many freshly cooked dishes for which the area has become famous. Kobe Chinatown is set in the area of Nachinmachi, which is just a short walk from the train station and not too far away from the nearby coastal port. No matter what time of the day, this area is always teaming with people, keen to get a quick bite to eat and to enjoy the various festivities. There always seem to be street performances on the weekends and of course the terrific food attracts queues of people, particularly for the wide variety of street food on offer. It certainly is a colourful, thriving environment that has a unique visual appeal that is distinctly different from any other place in the Kansai region. We often comment on how genuinely ‘Chinese’ it all feels... so much so, that it almost has a 'theme park' feel. Not having been to China, we ask ourselves whether this is all truly authentic or just a foreigners notion of what a Chinese town might look like. For all we know, it may not be truly authentic Chinese food that we are eating after all, but rather a Japanese version of some familiar dishes? This is likely the case, but it is definitely different from the normal Japanese style cuisine. The truth is that we don't particularly mind, to us the food is simply hot, cheap and delicious!

This particular Chinatown has built it's reputation as a great place to stop for distinctly different food. While the area is buzzing don't expect nice tables and chairs to sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. This is food of the stand up variety. You will often see people huddled in side streets downing steamed pork buns or squatting somewhere to devour a deep fried chicken skewer. For us it’s normally an irresistible bite on the run that tempts you from the moment you smell those tasty aromas.

Whether it’s the food, the culture or the atmosphere, there is certainly something about this place that is quite unique and continues to attracts thousands of Japanese, as well as a couple of foreigners, to keep returning again and again.

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