Exploring Chinese Joburg

19 Feb 2021
A market on Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene, Johannesburg's 'new' Chinatown
A market on Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene, Johannesburg's 'new' Chinatown
Johannesburg In Your Pocket

Johannesburg has had a sizeable and vibrant Chinese community since the first Chinese settlers were brought over as cheap labour to work in the mines. The first Chinatown settled along Commissioner Street in the early 20th century, but nowadays Chinese Joburgers have spread across the city, particularly to the New Chinatown, east of the city centre in Cyrildene. The cultural traditions of the old country are still upheld and Chinese New Year in particular is celebrated at both old and new Chinatowns in extravagant and explosive style.


The city’s original Chinatown was settled between buildings 5 and 17 of Commissioner Street in the early 20th century. With the flight from the city of big business post-1994 the area lost the fight against urban degeneration, crime and decay and much of the community moved out to other parts of the city. This trend is now being reversed however, although the area hasn't yet fully recovered. 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. Nearby is the fantastic supermarket Sui Hing Hong, selling everything from fireworks to sex toys, crockery to condiments and any ingredients you’ll need to cook up your own “authentic” Chinese meal.


If you are looking for a lifestyle antidote to the hipster 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, an acupuncturist 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 its charm. Places to eat tasty and well-priced Asian food abound - and you can find anything from Szechuan cuisine to Thai and Korean delicacies. For the adventurous eater there is a lot of fun to be had in deciphering untranslated Chinese menus.

These are just some of our favourite places on Derrick Avenue:

Simplicity Coffee & Tea
A tiny teashop built into the foyer of an apartment block. A perfect place to stop for a refreshing Chinese pearl milk tea.
Fisherman’s Plate
A no-fuss, no frills Taiwanese restaurant. Bring a crowd and spin that lazy Susan full of plates so you get a chance to taste the curried prawns, cashew nut chicken and peppered beef and lots more besides.
Chinese Northern Foods
Dumplings, hot pots, heaps of garlic and exotically described dishes like “little sheep with oil” are all on the menu here. The fans say don’t go for the décor, this is a place to focus on your food. Also has a branch in Rivonia.
Bangkok Thai Spa
A range of Thai and Western-style massages to suit any preference at cut-rate prices. Weekday specials include a one-hour massage for R199. The rooms are spotless and you will be greeted cheerily from the front verandah by a profusion of silk orchids.
Hao Jue International Club.
Not easy to find but worth looking for, this club is situated a block or two in from the Friedland Street archway in a non-descript round-shaped office building. A few floors up is a karaoke club that rents party rooms complete with plush couches, big screens, powerful sound systems and fantastically translated English pop songs set to videos of Korean lovers strolling hand in hand across odd Swedish-looking landscapes.


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