The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Joburg to work on the mines when the city was founded during the 1890s gold rush. By the 1900s Joburg's First Chinatown had been established along Commissioner Street in Ferrierasdorp, where today you can still find a few Chinese restaurants and a legendary Chinese supermarket run by the third generation of the Pon family.
Nowadays, the city's Chinese community has moved and in recent decades, new Chinatowns have been established in different corners of Joburg. The 2000s saw much of the original Ferrierasdorp population establishing their base at the New Chinatown in Cyrildene. In more recent times, Joburg has seen the rise of the ubiquitous 'China Mall': vast, cut-price shopping malls generally found in more industrial areas of the city, selling Made in China clothing, electronics, accessories, and homeware at low, wholesale prices. The original 500-store China Mall is located in Amalgam in the south and across the region there are similar centres with names like 'Dragon City' and 'Oriental City', but often known locally simply as 'the China Mall'.
The cultural traditions of the old country are still upheld in Joburg's different Chinatowns, particularly the annual celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. These exuberant parties include incredible fireworks displays and traditional dance and music performances. This year's global festivities begin on Sat, Feb 10, 2024, marking the transition from one zodiac animal to the next. For Chinese New Year, Cyrildene will have its official street party on Sat, Feb 17, 2024, from 16:30 – 21:30. Find out where to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year in Joburg here.
Beyond the timed celebrations, there's plenty to discover in the city. Whether you are looking for authentic Chinese restaurants or want to explore Chinese-South African culture on a walk through Chinatown, here's our guide to Chinese Joburg.
Between buildings 5 and 17 on Commissioner Street is where the city’s original Chinatown was first settled in Ferreirasdorp, close to the site of the first mining claims and the bustling market square. The settlement of Johannesburg was established in 1886 following the discovery of gold and by 1893 the growing mining camp already had at least seven established Chinese general stores. They were all clustered around this area. In the tumultuous run-up to South Africa's first free elections, there was a hasty flight by big business from the City Centre, including a move of Chinese businesses from the historic 'First Chinatown' to other parts of the city.
Still, some stalwarts remain and today you can visit the area for Chinese food at the longest-surviving Chinese restaurant in the city, Swallow’s Inn (bookings at +27 11 838 2946), or enjoy a typical yum cha brunch on weekends at the Ming Woo restaurant (bookings at +27 83 861 3725), and shop for Chinese condiments, spices, and tea plus all kinds of other unusual items at the fantastic Sui Hing Hong supermarket.
If you are looking for a lifestyle antidote to Joburg's designer districts you’ll find it on Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene, Joburg’s New Chinatown. A pair of impressive archways mark the entrances to the street and a change in tone from the surrounding suburb’s 1950s genteel architecture. The storefronts are unmistakably Asian and include supermarkets, restaurants, tea shops, massage parlours, and hair salons, while the streets are filled with fish stalls and vegetable markets. There is an authentic grittiness, which only seems to add to the area's charm. CJ Supermarket is the largest store on Derrick Avenue, with endless aisles of imported noodles, snacks, and biscuits.
Places to eat tasty and well-priced Asian food abound, with everything from traditional yum cha to Szechuan hotpot and Thai food on offer. For the adventurous eater, there is a lot of fun to be had in deciphering untranslated Chinese menus. Popular haunts include the always busy Shun De (bookings at +27 82 059 2291) for weekend dim sum brunches (yum cha) and for steaming szechuan hotpot there's the no-frills Chong Qing Hotpot (bookings at +27 83 554 3054). For Thai food the distinctive Anong restaurant (bookings at +27 74 240 6712) makes you feel like you've stumbled upon a casual eatery in Bangkok (complete with its own Buddhist shrine in the parking lot).
For Chinese New Year, Cyrildene will have its official street party on Sat, Feb 17, 2024, from 16:30 – 21:30. Enjoy Chinese dragon and lion dances, cultural performances, and a Chinese national costume parade.
ORIENTAL CITY (RIVONIA)
Sandton's unofficial Chinatown is clustered around a collection of low-key strip malls in Rivonia where you'll find mostly basic and affordable Chinese and Korean eateries, plus a hidden Thai place called Thai Elephant. This Chinatown is centred purely around retail and dining (unlike First and New Chinatown where some Chinese-South African families still live) and has its very own China Mall called Oriental City, where you can buy all kinds of cut-price homeware, cheap Chinese electronics, luggage, clothing, and the like. If you enjoy classic hotpot and barbecue restaurants this area has several options. For a more polished offering check out Kokoro, a supermarket in Rivonia Junction Centre that stocks a wide range of Chinese (as well as Japanese and Korean) speciality items.
CHINESE RESTAURANTS BEYOND CHINATOWN
While Joburg's Chinatowns each offer a great variety of authentic Chinese dining experiences, some of the city's best Chinese restaurants are found beyond these neighbourhoods. Below are our favourites.
Occupying one of the small ground-floor premises at Melville's 27 Boxes' centre, this tiny Chinese eatery, Chopstix, opened in 2021 and quickly made a name for itself in the neighbourhood, setting social media ablaze with rapturous praise for its dim sum offerings. It's fair to say that this restaurant now has a cult following. High on the list of favourite dishes are the authentic steamed dumplings and crispy potstickers, fluffy pork buns, brothy noodle bowls, and a crunchy cucumber salad, all available to sit in or takeaway. Leading the kitchen is owner Charlie Chen who also loves to work on regularly bringing new and interesting traditional dishes onto the menu that local diners may be less familiar with.
Bookings at +27 83 289 1952
Emma Chen opened Red Chamber in 1989, named after one of China's greatest novels. In a roomy restaurant in Hyde Park Corner, with tables spilling into the walkway, the menu offers a range of unforgettable Mandarin-style dishes striving for a harmony of taste, texture, and aroma. The restaurant achieves a phenomenal class of consistency that other restaurants can only dream of. You can eat here for years and never have a bad meal (we certainly haven't). There are so many stars on the menu it's difficult to know where to start, but make sure to try the chef's recommendations such as the famous spicy garlic cucumber salad, Peking duck, sizzling beef, and the spicy aubergine with pork. The service is efficient and friendly and Chen is usually on hand to answer any questions about the dishes.
Bookings at +27 11 325 6048
Emma Chen has a second Joburg restaurant, the casual noodle spot PRON in Linden. Launched in 2015, Chen decided to go back to her roots and pay homage to the tastes of her childhood, specifically the northern Chinese food that she grew up with. This means no deep-fried dishes, no rice, and definitely no sweet and sour sauces. Chen's northern Chinese cuisine centres on noodles made on-site in the traditional northern Chinese fashion using wheat rather than rice to achieve a thick, chunky noodle with a bite, served in a hearty, subtly flavoured broth. Noodle options include spicy beef, tofu and vegetable, chashao pork, or Szechuan chilli chicken. Order some of the traditional crispy bread to snack on for starters, and don't leave without trying the kimchi (a spicy Korean condiment).
Bookings at +27 65 555 1211
This compact noodle bar specialising in hearty noodle bowls is tucked away in an unremarkable Parkmore strip mall. Obento Ramen Bar was launched in the winter of 2021, after running as a popular weekend market stall. At the helm are Daniel Liu and Ling Chiu who come from a long line of Chinese restaurateurs. Liu's parents ran the acclaimed Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant in Pretoria in the 1990s, while grandfather Z.C. Tamkei was born in Bulawayo and later moved to Guangzhou, China, before returning to Zimbabwe in 1972 to open the Spring Roll Center in Harare. The food at Obento is inspired by Liu and Chiu's travels in the Far East and by classic homestyle dishes enjoyed by their families. Rich, filling, and nostalgic, this is authentic Chinese cuisine made with love. The menu is short, listing only a few noodle bowls plus pork buns and fried chicken to start.
Bookings at +27 64 704 6265
This bookings-only pop-up restaurant in Forest Town is overseen by the vivacious Su-Yen Thornhill of Scottish-Chinese extraction. After securing a booking at Chez Fong, arrive at Su-Yen's home by the time appointed and get ready for a fun night out with a multi-course, Asian-influenced tasting menu of between eight and 10 courses. The menus are different every time and not always strictly Chinese with lots of Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese influences. Everything you will taste is homemade and beautifully plated. In addition to opulent 10-course themed banquets, Chez Fong also now hosts regular three-course lunches and early dinners.
Bookings at +27 74 361 9079
Bookings at +27 78 652 5533
Bookings at +27 72 286 1011
The magnificent Nan Hua Temple was built by the Taiwanese Buddhist community in South Africa and is the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. It is located in Bronkhorstspruit near Pretoria (about a 75-minute drive northeast of Joburg) and encompasses an entire suburb where the streets also have Chinese street names. The huge temple complex is elaborately decorated with giant golden Buddha statues, colourful gates, and sculptures of Chinese dragons. The temple has a regular programme of activities and meditation workshops and big celebrations are usually organised for major religious festivals, as well as Chinese New Year. The temple also serves a vegetarian lunch every Sun from 12:00 – 13:00. Visitors are asked to show respect for this religious site by dressing appropriately (no mini-skirts, vests, etc.). The temple is open 09:00 – 17:00 (closed Mon) and entrance is free.
This year's Chinese New Year celebrations at Nan Hua Temple are planned for Sun, Feb 11, 2024, from 09:30 – 15:00. The day begins with a light offering ceremony followed by an opening ceremony, a Chinese cultural festival, and multicultural performances (including martial arts performances and Indian dancing). Throughout the day visitors can enjoy an array of Cantonese and Taiwanese food, the lantern display, and Chinese zodiac painting.